Local Hero Profile: Old Friends Farm

Local Hero Profile by Talia Brown, CISA Intern
Published in CISA’s October 2020 enewsletter

Earlier this week, I spoke with Casey Steinberg, co-owner of Old Friends Farm. “I’ve always liked puzzles,” he said when I asked him how he got started farming, “and farming is like a complicated, multi-dimensional puzzle. You can make it as complex as you want.” The original goal going into this year, Casey told me, was to make the farm less complex. However, with COVID-19 arriving at the beginning of the growing season, in order to keep their full crew employed, and continue to provide accessibility to local food, complexity increased considerably.

At Old Friends Farm, taking care of the farm staff has always been the priority. Casey offered me an analogy—“In Europe, if you go to a restaurant your waiter or waitress will be a respected professional—it’s not a transitional job.” This, he explained, is what he hopes for the staff—for farm employees to feel valued and respected in the important work they are doing, to be able to support themselves and their families, and to be able to sustain and be sustained by farming as a profession and lifestyle. Employees at Old Friends Farm strive to work reasonable hours, and earn a good hourly wage. Many of their employees have been working at the farm for multiple years.

I asked Casey if the farm had any traditions for rest or celebration with the farm crew, and he was ready with an aptly-named answer—the farm crew has monthly “recharge” meetings. On these days, Missy Bahret (Co-Owner) and Casey cook a meal for the crew, and the group takes part in community building games and activities. Twice each year, the farm hosts a specialist in ergonomics to show the crew how to keep their bodies safe while working.

Casey says the farm has grown a lot since its beginning when he and Missy worked other off-farm jobs (for Casey, a job making and repairing concertinas, and working at Andrew’s Greenhouse for Missy) by day, and business planned by night. He says that he has enjoyed learning to empower, and step back so that other crew members can have their own areas of expertise on the farm.

Old Friends Farm works on and within a larger puzzle as well—the Pioneer Valley local food system. The web of relationships and collaborations they participate in is diverse and expansive. You can find Old Friends Farm ginger in Bart’s ice cream, Artisan Beverage Cooperative’s Cranberry Local Libation, and both their ginger and turmeric in Real Pickles’ Turmeric Kraut, Kimchi, and Ginger Carrots, among others. Recently, they mobilized their relationship with area farms and producers to help meet the needs of both farmers and the greater community during COVID-19. Casey was excited to tell me about the incredible program that they created—an online storefront where customers can order food (and some other special products) from both Old Friends Farm and other farms and producers around the valley and beyond.

The storefront offers an amazing variety of products—you can order flowers, fruits and vegetables, dairy products, bakery and pantry items, beverages, and even craft kits from local makers! The storefront allows customers to pre-order and pay online, and then pick up their groceries at three locations: Old Friends Farm, the Amherst Farmers’ Market, and Artifact Cider Project in Florence. See the online storefront (open year-round!) and more information about ordering deadlines here!

Among the products on the online storefront are Old Friends Farm’s Certified Organic specialties: triple-washed salad greens, fresh baby ginger (and turmeric coming soon), flowers, and seasonal veggies and fruits. The farm also sells its specialty products—which have been in development since the farm’s founding in 2003—made from their ginger and turmeric, including spice blends, loose leaf teas, and ginger and turmeric  honeys and syrups.

In the uncertainty of COVID-19, it seems that Old Friends Farm is a well-oiled machine—not one that operates alone, but one that fits and works well with those around it. It works well because of the care it takes of all of its moving parts.

Photos courtesy of Old Friends Farm.

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