GRANITE CITY GROOVE: Foodrepreneurs Start Old Soul Farm

by Joshua Jeromegcg-old-soul-pic

This past summer the Barre Farmer’s Market began anew with a new location and day, mostly because the old guard of the market’s past simply gave up on the notion of having a market. Still, not all had lost hope. Barre’s newest and youngest farm, Old Soul Farm, is located just down the hill from the Booth Bros. facility on Bridge Street. The young farm resides on 13 acres of property, but currently has just one acre in cultivation with some interesting plans in the works. I met with Matt Systo, one of the farm managers recently and he gave me a tour.

What once was the old dairy barn of Norman and Madelyn Booth has now been converted into a farm store, chicken coop and worm farm. With an abundance of tomatoes, peppers, squash and other coveted garden produce, Systo explained how they had to double the size of the farm store after their first year to accommodate more produce. Off in a separate area of the barn were the 58 laying hens that produce around four dozen eggs a day. The healthy looking hens worked the ground for worms that were grown just in the next room in a giant tub. Why I asked? “The worms eat and break down the food scraps in the tub leaving behind rich compost and the worms are fed to the hens. Our system is based from permaculture,” Systo said.

Systo learned about permaculture while attending the University of Vermont Farmer Training Program in 2014. It was there when he met his partner, Kim Rich, who co-manages the farm  and both are proponents of sustainable agriculture through permaculture practices. As we toured the farm, Systo pointed out to me a trench that had been dug along the contour of the sloping hill and the fruit trees that had been planted. Systo explained that the swales capture water and diverge it to the roots of the fruit trees providing both a natural storm water barrier and protection against times of drought. An additional 50 apple trees are planned to be planted next year. They even have plans to re-establish a pond for irrigation and grow crops such as watercress on top.

In only their second year of production, the two young farmers have begun the process of becoming a certified organic farm and would like to get bigger, but not much bigger. Their goal of staying as a very small agricultural enterprise is intentional and modeled after a farm in Quebec. With just a couple acres in production, it is easily managed by Systo and Rich alone without the help of employees and expensive farm equipment. The farmers have a small community supported agriculture program under 20 people and the addition of Square to their business has allowed them to be flexible with their community supported agriculture and farm store customers.

As we make our way through autumn, Systo and Rich are preparing for next year’s crops amending the soil, cleaning up their greenhouses and patiently waiting for the remaining tomatoes and watermelon to ripen. Systo and Rich believe their small scale agricultural system is important to the community and the world. It’s not just producing food they feel is important, but taking an active role in their community by helping to bring back the Barre Farmer’s Market, reaching out to local businesses to partner with and providing learning opportunities for young and old alike on their farm. Systo and Rich embody the youthful entrepreneurial spirit that is helping grow the local economy while providing the marketplace with alternative and sustainable sources of food. I’m grateful for their commitment to the land and community and no doubt, we are better off to have them.

The author is director of The Barre Partnership.