By Khadijah Anderson
Fools Hill Farm spans 25 acres near a narrow, hilly road in Spencer, N.Y. Rows of broccoli and cauliflower will soon grow into fresh vegetables. Tree branches tepee-formed near the farm’s gate are bean trellises. In the chicken coop lined with layers of hay are 30 laying hens. The farm’s watch dog runs back and forth on the path to a large pond in a nearby field that’s big enough for swimming and fishing. On the outskirts of the woods are withered wild blueberry bushes and mushrooms. The owner of this farm is 31-year-old Travis Hutchins. Hutchins will also be getting more chickens and rabbits for meat produce in June.
Two years ago, Hutchins bought the farm in hope of growing organic, or pesticide-free, food for local low-income families. But his plans had to change.
“Certification can be expensive,” Hutchins says. As a result, his crops will not be certified organic. Instead, he plans to call his food “natural,” hoping a trust will be developed between the customers and farmer.
Hutchins intends to keep some organic practices on his farm. He won’t use any chemical pesticides, herbicides or petroleum products except for vehicle use. He plans on adopting a red worm compost. For manure, he will use droppings from the American White or Blue rabbit which is the “only manure you can put on your soil without composting it first,” he says.
Hutchins’ dream is to help people who can’t afford to pay the premium on locally grown foods. In efforts to subsidize costs for lower-income families, Hutchins hopes to sell his produce on a sliding scale. He also plans on creating an application process where people with financial need can sign up to become members of the farm. They will get a membership card with a discount on it, for their purchases at the Ithaca Farmers Market. At the beginning of April next year, Hutchins will sell tomatoes, cucumbers, salad greens, artichokes, asparagus and meat. This year, it is about organizing, making a business plan and getting ready for what Hutchins wants to come next.
Hutchins had a dream of farming ever since he was in high school. “I’ve always wanted a homestead [to] raise my own food,” he says.
As a child, Hutchins grew up in the worn-down factory town of Kokomo, Ind., where 50 to 60 percent of the population lived below the poverty level. Because his mother and stepfather were in search of employment, the family moved to southern California while he was in fifth grade. There they lived in a school-bus-turned-camper as the “real Beverly Hillbillies,” he says.
“Growing up the way I did, growing up poor, I had a desire to go,” Hutchins says. He tried taking some business courses at a local college after he graduated high school, but soon realized it wasn’t for him. Instead, he decided to follow his favorite band, Phish, on their U.S. tour. During his journey he traveled to Phoenix, Ariz., and Buffalo, N.Y. Eventually while in his twenties, he returned to Indiana and ran a screen printing business for five years.
While visiting friends in the Ithaca area with his fiancée, Carrie Nolan, a special education teacher, Hutchins knew he wanted to live there. That weekend he got a job at Blue Heron, an organic farm in Lodi, N.Y., where he learned about farm labor soon finding he needed to do something more in his life. “The only way I’m going to be happy,” he says, “is when I’m helping out.”
John Cornwell, 32, a farm laborer who worked with Hutchins at Blue Heron, says Hutchins is enthusiastic and dedicated to his work. “He’s a very passionate person — his main passion lies in farming.”
Nolan was excited when Hutchins decided to go for his vision. “He really loved farming — he wanted a job where he helped others,” she says.
Last summer, Nolan helped work on the farm, doing such jobs as planting, weeding, picking and helping with the chickens. “Everyone was disappointed when I didn’t have any to bring in,” she says, mentioning she sold eggs to her co-workers at Fall Creek Elementary.
At the moment, Hutchins’ immediate goals are to begin gardening and raising livestock. Since fruit trees take years to grow, he plans to plant an orchard of apple, grape and pear trees in addition to different types of berries.
Cornwellthinks Hutchins’ initiative is “selfless,” since marketing to low-income families will likely affect the profits of the farm. “For him to be doing that is something special,” Cornwell says, “and he’s more than capable of doing it.”
Khadijah Anderson is a junior writing major. E-mail her at [email protected]
Travis Hutchins’ farm’s Web site is down but please visit www.foolshillfarm.com in a few weeks.