Outlook 2013: Couple gets help, makes dream of farming happen
Busting into the farming industry isn’t something a whole lot of twenty-somethings aspire to these days, but that was the dream of husband and wife Luke Deikis and Cara Fraver.
With little in the way of farming skills or spending power, they set out to make it happen.
For three years, they apprenticed on farms downstate to learn to grow vegetables, all the while looking ahead to the day when they could turn their own soil and pull their own weeds.
“We had been looking for land the entire time we were apprenticing, in fact before we even started farming, and then realized we should learn how to farm before we try to find a farm,” Deikis, now 33, said with a laugh.
Shopping for farmland proved discouraging. Fifty acres of fertile ground doesn’t come cheap, they found, and the couple didn’t have the means to afford much of a mortgage.
After a five-year search, in May of 2010 they stumbled across Battleview Farms in Easton, a 49-acre plot of fertile bottomland and well-drained higher ground that skirts the Hudson River, across the way from the Saratoga National Historical Park. The farm, which had been run by the Wright family since before the Revolutionary War, was up for sale.
“It was almost hilariously close to our sort of wish list for what we wanted out of a place,” Deikis recalled.
But there was still that pesky financial issue.
Their sights set firmly on their dream, the couple hunted down every possible resource that could help them to purchase the property.
To their relief, two organizations voiced interest: The Agricultural Stewardship Association and the Open Space Institute.
The OSI makes it its business to protect scenic, natural and historic landscapes throughout the country, while the ASA focuses on preserving New York state farmland exclusively in Washington and Rensselaer counties.
“They were very interested in seeing the property preserved, and so they sort of worked together with us and said basically, ‘If you have an interest in writing a conservation easement on the property, we will help you purchase it,’ ” Deikis explained.
A conservation easement restricts the type of development that can occur on a property, so for a farm like the one Deikis and his wife had their eye on, that meant once the agreement was signed, the land would remain suitable for farming forever.
The benefit to the buyers is that it makes the property more affordable.
“Once you extinguish the development rights on a property, it’s worth less because it’s worth what it is as a farm, rather than as a housing subdivision,” explained Meegan Finnegan, communications and programs manager for the ASA. “It’s hard because a lot of times, good farmland, it’s level, it’s flat, it’s got water — it makes for a nice housing development. But with local food production being really important to people now — and hopefully in the future it will continue to be — it’s really important to save these resources.”
The OSI purchased the farm from the Wright family at its appraised value and the ASA helped pay for the cost of the conservation easement, through grant money and fundraising efforts.
The restricted property was then resold to Deikis and Fraver at its agricultural value.
When they heard the purchase price would be reduced by almost a full third if they agreed to the conservation easement, the couple jumped at the chance.
“It reduced the purchase price for us from a price that was completely unaffordable to a price that was almost affordable and really made it possible,” Deikis said. “There was no way that we would have even attempted to start a business having to buy this property at its market value.”
The taxes on the land were reduced as well, but not as drastically as the couple had hoped, Deikis said.
There’s a limited patch of property around the couple’s farmhouse where they can put up more buildings, but outside of that, with very few exceptions, the land must stay undeveloped. That’s fine with Deikis and Fraver, who have visions of acres and acres of organically grown arugula, kale, heirloom tomatoes and butternut squash.
Last season was their second one growing vegetables at what is now called Quincy Farm. Right now they grow produce on about four acres, but over the years, hope to ramp that up to 25 of the 40 tillable acres on the property.
“Our goal, and we are moving toward it somewhat successfully, is to not have to put a cash crop through every acre that we can each year, so that we can really build the soil and be able to do a lot of cover crops and really build the ground. Especially farming organically, our success is largely dependent on the health of our soil,” Deikis said.
The couple sells their vegetables at farmers markets in Schenectady, Glens Falls, Saratoga Springs, Malta and Ballston Spa.
Last season they started a Community Supported Agriculture program that provides paying members with regular shares of the farm’s produce. The initiative was met with rave reviews, Deikis reported, noting that they hope to add a second distribution site during the coming growing season.
This winter, for the first time, the growing didn’t stop at Quincy Farm when frost hit the fields. Deikis and Fraver set up hoop houses and have been growing greens in them to sell at farmers markets. They lost some of the structures to a winter wind storm, but are taking the setback in stride. They plan to build a more permanent winter growing structure in the spring.
Deikis admitted that growing the farm has been a tremendous challenge to the couple’s finances, relationship, vigor and fortitude, but he looks optimistically toward the future.
“It’s a little crazy sometimes, but things are going well and we’ve been well received at markets. People seem very excited about our products,” he said.
To read all the stories from the 2013 Outlook special report, click here.