Once you’ve experienced the joy of raising fruits and vegetables to feed your family, it becomes much easier to imagine what it would be like to become a market farmer who grows enough to maintain a successful business. My guest this week, Conor Crickmore, left his tech career in New York City in 2009 to become a homesteader in upstate New York, and soon after he and his wife, Kate, founded Neversink Farm, a 1.3-acre certified organic farm that is one of the most productive farms per square foot in the country.
What’s unique about Conor and Kate’s story is that they had little experience growing before they set out to become market farmers. They started out weekending at a cabin by a river with a small vegetable garden. The lure of the country life was so appealing that they moved there full-time, hoping to sustain themselves through homesteading. Soon they realized that to sustain their new lifestyle, they would need to grow enough to sell. They leased, and eventually bought, 1.3 acres, and today they grow and sell produce all year long in zone 5b of the Catskill Mountains.
Conor also sells garden tools of his own invention, makes educational YouTube videos and teaches courses on-site to share the skills necessary to become a market farmer.
He is originally from Westchester County, New York. He earned a degree in romantic English poetry before traveling throughout the United States and Europe. He eventually settled in New York City and realized that if he wanted a lucrative career, the money was in informational technology. He taught himself IT skills and landed tech jobs. One of his favorite ways to spend his paychecks was on dining at fine restaurants, and when his brothers opened one of Manhattan’s first farm-to-table restaurants, he was a small investor. His love of food would later inform his new career as a market farmer.
For a full recap of my conversation with Conor, see the show notes from the original airing.
How to Make a Successful Small Farm
When Conor and Kate founded Neversink Farm, they wasted no time setting up the infrastructure. Out of necessity, they learned how to make their operations as efficient as they possibly could.
“Without that infrastructure, without those systems in place, nothing’s going to happen,” Conor says. “It’s not just growing vegetables and selling them. It’s much, much harder than that and takes not only infrastructure but an incredible dedication to making things easier and being on top of everything.”
Conor’s philosophy is to systematize everything, which may be a remnant of his IT background. It’s how he is able to grow so much in such a small place.
“It seems simple, but it is a complicated thing to do because you are not just systematizing it for yourself,” Conor says. “You’re systematizing it for your employees.”
Systems designed to keep things efficient can often become burdensome. Conor’s approach is to make systems so simple for employees that they don’t even have to think about it. “If it’s full of charts and spreadsheets, it becomes a nightmare,” he says.
Efficiency is about putting in the least amount of effort — and not about the least amount of money and infrastructure, Conor says. The less effort for himself and his employees, the happier everyone is.
Care for the Soil and the Soil Will Reward You
When it comes to food and wine, Conor prefers a product that is less “messed with.” He feels the same way about farming, which is why organic practices came naturally to him and synthetic inputs are contrary to his vision for Neversink Farm. He also applies no-till methods — reducing soil disturbance as much as practicable.
Building soil health is one of the best investments that Neversink Farm makes in its own success. Quality soil amendments can be expensive, but Conor knows they make for more productive crops. On such a small farm, investing in the soil makes sure that every square foot is pulling its weight. Conor may take as many as 30 soil tests a year to finetune the soil health in all of the hoop houses and outdoor growing areas.
Conor only adds soil amendments such as calcium, boron and copper sources when a soil test shows that the amendments are needed. Adding amendments blindly or in quantities that are more than necessary for a vigorous crop can have negative effects on soil and plants and is also not a good use of money.
The native soil at Neversink Farm is sandy, so over the years, Conor has added clay, compost and peat to improve the soil tilth. With beds in constant production, Conor relies on a mixture of organic sources — fish meal, kelp, blood meal, soybean, alfalfa, etc. — when a soil test indicates a need for nitrogen.
If you haven’t listened yet to my conversation with Conor Crickmore of Neversink Farm on what it takes to become a market farmer, you can listen to this episode now by scrolling to the top of the page and clicking the Play icon in the green bar under the page title.
What methods do you use to be as productive as possible in a small growing area? Let us know in the comments below.
Links & Resources
Some product links in this guide are affiliate links. See full disclosure below.
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joegardener Online Gardening Academy Beginning Gardener Fundamentals: Essential principles to know to create a thriving garden.
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joegardener Online Gardening Academy Perfect Soil Recipe Master Class: Learn how to create the perfect soil environment for thriving plants.
Disclosure: Some product links in this guide are affiliate links, which means we get a commission if you purchase. However, none of the prices of these resources have been increased to compensate us, and compensation is not an influencing factor on their inclusion here. The selection of all items featured in this post and podcast was based solely on merit and in no way influenced by any affiliate or financial incentive, or contractual relationship. At the time of this writing, Joe Lamp’l has professional relationships with the following companies who may have products included in this post and podcast: Corona Tools, Milorganite, Soil3, Greenhouse Megastore, Territorial Seed Company, Earth’s Ally, Proven Winners ColorChoice and Dramm. These companies are either Brand Partners of joegardener.com and/or advertise on our website. However, we receive no additional compensation from the sales or promotion of their product through this guide. The inclusion of any products mentioned within this post is entirely independent and exclusive of any relationship.