The following is taken from the Summer 2020 issue of Vision.

“Praise for the farmers, tilling soil, planting seeds so food can grow, an act of hope if ever there was.”

Sisters Hill FarmThis verse from Christine Valters Painter’s Praise Song for the Pandemic aptly describes the work at Sisters Hill Farm. Farmer Dave Hambleton and Assistant Manager Ella Schwarzbaum have been tilling and planting for weeks. They were prescient in placing early orders for seeds, safety supplies, and everything else they could think of before the pandemic caused widespread shortages. By the time you read this, they will be well into the distribution of healthy, delicious food!

Due to their preparation, everything has gone quite smoothly. As in previous years, the two apprentices, Cassandra and Justin, arrived on April 1. The planting beds are 200 feet long, giving plenty of space for social distancing. They wear masks and gloves when working together. Ella is living in the hermitage next door to provide Cassandra and Justin more room in the apartment on the farm.

Sisters Hill Farm 2020

Left: Assistant Manager Ella Schwarzbaum and apprentices Cassandra and Justin; right: Cassandra planting Cosmos in the flower patch.

Not only are they ready, but they have expanded their service to meet a significantly increased demand. Usually, the farm will still have a few shares to sell in May. By mid-May this year, the farm had sold the standard shares, increased capacity by 10%, and sold all those shares, too. Farms in the area have seen similar increases, and one can understand why. As Farmer Dave stated, “You know that at most, only four people have touched your food before it arrives in your hands.” It’s like having a vegetable garden without the back-breaking labor.

In this pandemic time, the farm’s long-standing practice of donating ten percent of its harvest to charity is crucial. Ella explains how this works, “When we are taking our final tally of produce before distribution, we set aside cases specifically for donation. The produce is always the same quality we would give to our farm members; it’s never leftovers. The process has not changed this year since we primarily work with New York City-based organizations, especially Part of the Solution (POTS), a sponsored ministry of the Sisters of Charity.” Dave adds, “We also give four free shares to Casa de Esperanza, another Sisters of Charity organization that works with immigrant families. In addition, we provide 12 to 15 free and lower-priced shares to local families.”

Of course, the pandemic has made an impact. Sisters Hill Farm is not just a source of exceptional produce; it’s a community. The farm is usually supported by many dedicated volunteers who help with weeding, harvesting, distribution, and a myriad of other tasks that farming requires. Dave has had to turn away those volunteers.

The distribution will also be quite different in Stanfordville. Usually, large groups gather around the bins, socializing while choosing their produce. Some shareholders are happy to take a smaller portion, or even pass on a vegetable now and then. (This writer is still in search of a kale recipe that my family likes!) Because social gathering is not permitted, the distribution will be pre-packed in bins. The July 4 Garlic Fest, where the community gathers to bring in the garlic harvest, is unlikely to happen. And who knows about the great midsummer and end-of-season barbecue parties?

Despite the uncertainty, Farmer Dave is optimistic about the future. The farm will adapt its systems to provide safe distributions with as much community feel as possible. Hopefully, before the season ends, shareholders will be back to picking flowers and tomatoes and gathering produce into their baskets, a task they all enjoy.

The many who love Sisters Hill Farm are living the poem above, which ends, “And when this has passed, may we say that love spread more quickly than any virus ever could, may we say this was not just an ending but also a place to begin.”

By Lisa Shay, Associate