The Letterbox Farm Collective, located up in Hudson, is a young farm worked by young farmers growing organic vegetables and meats. The farm was founded in 2014, when the 64-acre property was purchased with the help of ambitious fundraising events as well as crowdfunding and the Young Farmers Grant from New York State. The farm is run by Faith, Laszlo, and Nichki, three young farmers committed to sustainable farming and running their farm in almost a co-op business model. In just a short time, the team at Letterbox has grown the business from neglected lands into something marketable and economically viable, providing high quality produce and meats to the Hudson Valley and even as far south as Manhattan.
We were greeted by Moo, the friendly and excitable farm sheepdog, as we arrived, and then Faith led us on a tour of the fields, greenhouses, and livestock houses. The farm produces primarily for restaurants (including the farm-to-table restaurants in Hudson), for farm markets, and also for local CSAs. About 80% of the farm’s revenue comes from wholesale selling to restaurants and the farmer’s markets, with only about 20% coming from the CSAs. The team at Letterbox works year-round, with over 300 plantings a year. Faith showed us the peas that had just been planted, as well as microgreens, beets, scallions, herbs, and turnips, all growing in the greenhouses. In addition to these businesses, to help increase profits the farm acts as a venue for weddings as well as a site for a rural Airbnb. Faith also works as an agricultural educator, teaching (and learning) about market gardening and cooperative farming. All of their hard work has really paid off, as their sales have grown 19 times since the farm’s founding in 2014.
The farm crew works with small equipment, densely growing their crops on small plots of land in order to maximize yield from a given space. They implement various methods to ensure that the soil remains nutrient rich; these include ground cover and various methods of fertilization, including a chicken tractor which deposits chicken manure as it moves across the farm. Small scale farms require this imported fertility, as the land is farmed intensively. Another method for maintaining fertility is crop choice; for example, Faith showed us their pea crop, which fixes nitrogen and increases soil nutrients for the next crop. Market gardening, the business model that Letterbox Farm has adopted, tend to make more money per acre due to their farming techniques and crop choices. Overall, the farm dedicates 3 of its 64 acres to intensive vegetable production.
One of the keys to the Letterbox Farm Collective’s success has been its establishment of many “enterprises,” as Faith calls them. In addition to produce, the farm also raises meat chickens, pigs, and rabbits. About 80 birds per week are raised and processed on the farm’s pasture system. With so many different endeavors taking place on a relatively small property, Faith admitted that the greatest challenge on the farm is creating consistent and efficient systems so that all enterprises can run smoothly without unnecessary challenges. As we know, depending upon the weather for crop production is already challenge enough.
We ended the trip by visiting downtown Hudson, home of the world’s most expensive antique shops, as well as several ice cream parlors that don’t serve ice cream until May. A quaint and aesthetically pleasing town, it was very interesting to observe the type of restaurants to which Letterbox sells of its produce.