An EcoVillage and its berry farm

May 03, 2016 No Comments by

by Alexis Forde

Healthy and natural food is something that is greatly valued by Illana Houseknecht, who is a resident of the EcoVillage in Ithaca. This type of food can be hard to obtain though due to the cost, especially if you are a single mother raising two children like Houseknecht. The Kestrel Berry Farm, allows Houseknecht  to afford the healthy, natural food she enjoys while also giving her an opportunity for employment.

The EcoVillage in Ithaca is a place for people who would like to live sustainably and help the environment. Through actions like organic farming and green living, using solar power and planting trees, these people are able to live the sustainable lives they would like to. Though the EcoVillage provides different types of farms for its residents, only one is used to grow berries, and that is the Kestrel Perch Berry Farm.

This farm is one of three in the EcoVillage. The others include the West Haven Farm, a farm specifically for vegetables, and the Groundswell Incubator Farm, a farm specifically for new farmers.

Kestrel Berry Farm was founded by Katie Creeger, one of the farmers in the EcoVillage, about 10 years ago. After noticing that the EcoVillage only provided vegetable farms to it’s residents, Katie decided to come to the village to make a change.

Kestrel Perch Berry Farm is a combination of the community supported agriculture and U-pick models, which means that although most of the berries are provided for the residents of the EcoVillage, people who do not live in the village are able to pick berries for themselves as well.

“When I was moving up here, that was the second vegetable CSA that I saw struggling to grow small fruit,” She said. “So when I saw this situation with the vegetable CSA’s, I thought oh my god, we’re moving up to EcoVillage, there’s all this land, [and] I could do the fruit part separately.”

Creeger said there are many different types of berries grown at the Kestrel Perch Berry Farm.

“At the moment I have strawberries, then summer red raspberries, red currants, black currants, goose berries, purple raspberries… Three varieties of blueberries at slightly different timing so that there’s a spread, elderberries in the early fall and then the fall crop of the red raspberries comes throughout the month of September,” she said.

Though Creeger produces berries mostly for the EcoVillage and other people who like to pick them, she does have an arrangement with the restaurant, Just a Taste, in Ithaca where they take about three cases of red currants every year, and whatever else Creeger can come up with. Creeger said she only has an arrangement with one restaurant because it’s easier for her.

“I haven’t really pursued that because picking is the worst of the labor issues in berries. For a while the former farm manager at farm haven, which is a vegetable CSA right down the road, he was marketing my berries for me, but in that case I was having restaurants order like a quarter two a week,” She said. “When he left to go run the TC3 (Tompkins Cortland Community College) farm, that stopped and I didn’t pick it up myself [because] I wasn’t really interested in little bits of deliveries all over the place basically.”

Though Creeger mostly runs this farm herself, she does get help from others who live in the EcoVillage.

Houseknecht, who has recently been working on the farm, said the job at the Kestrel Berry Farm has been beneficial for her in terms of employment and healthy eating.

“I had just asked [Katie] if there was any chance I could work off the remainder of my co-pay for this year, and as it turns out she was looking for some help because the person that was going to be helping her more full time wasn’t able to work this season, as it turns out. So I’ve been coming up part time everyday, which is great,” Houseknecht said.

Houseknecht also said her favorite part is getting to help out at the farm.

“It’s always fun when the fruit is actually on the plants,” she said. “I mean it’s kind of nice learning how to actually get them to the point where they’re going to produce.”

Jim Grant, who also helps with the berry farm, said how his sister, who recently died of breast cancer, helped introduce him to the EcoVillage.

“I got to meet all these nice Ecovillage people, and to really feel how nice the community is and how much in so many different ways people are connecting to the world and it’s struggles,” he said. “So after several years, even though my sister died a year ago, she had arranged a place for me.”

Grant also he has made different connections with the plants since becoming a part of the EcoVillage.

“I’m making nice connections to all the living things and exploring the social justice aspects too,” Jim said. “You know these are all my friends and they need…we’re collaborating. We tend them, they give us things and we move along together.”

Creeger does not use chemicals on her berries, and prefers to use an all-natural process. Though this is the case, her berries are still not organic certified.

“I never sprayed anything that isn’t certifiable, but a certification is a lot of record keeping and a fair amount of expense, and this is a mom-and-pop operation without pop involved,” Katie said. “You know it’s basically just me and it’s not hugely profitable to put it mildly. If anybody questions it, they’re welcome to ask me and I can tell them and show them exactly what I do and why.”

Either way, Creeger said the EcoVillage is helping to put free land to good use.

“We’re like a hundred households sitting in a very dense development — 175 acres with which we’re basically doing not much,” she said. “I just think it’s important to use as much of that as  possible to grow food. I just think it’s important to put this land to productive use.”

Agriculture, Business, Farming

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