Meet Our Members | August 2022
Name: Kate & Ben Dobrowski
Business: Greenhill Farm NH
Meet Kate & Ben Dobrowski, mother and son team running a certified organic off grid farm in central NH.
Where are you from?
Ben: I was born in Mesa, AZ, but moved to Manchester, NH when very young. Despite the urban setting we had a big garden in the back of the house and that’s where my first memories of gardening took place.
Kate: I was born and raised in Manchester, NH and was fortunate to have spent a lot of time with my immigrant Polish farmer grandparents and great-grandparents and my Irish grandmother Margaret who was a great cook.
Do you come from farmers or are you a first-generation farmer?
Ben: Some of my Polish Great-Great Grandparents were farmers from Poland who settled in Hookset. They sold blueberries and other crops. My Great Grandfather had a large garden and an old Blue Pearmain apple tree behind his house. He grafted trees from Hooksett for his own homestead in Manchester and also raised rabbits for meat. I wouldn’t call him a farmer as we think of today, but he certainly knew about growing plants and tending crops which was necessary in most families of that time period. Everyone had gardens and animals since there were no large grocery chains.
Kate: I’m not sure what generation of farmers we are but have always had a garden every year. Ben still uses the old Troy built tiller from his great- grandpa!
How long have you been farming? Why did you become a farmer and what keeps you farming?
Ben: Our farm has had its organic certification for 17 years now and we’ve been homesteading for over 22 years. I became a farmer through a culmination of experiences. Those early years in the backyard garden in Manchester were certainly important. I also went to college to study Sustainable and Ecological Agriculture (UMaine & UVM) which solidified my decision. The disconnect between the commercial food systems and the consumer helped me decide to make a change in my community back home. I continue to farm full time as I am passionate about making an honest living from the land while also helping to create a thriving diverse ecosystem that all beings can benefit from.
Kate: I’ve been growing food and studying botanicals for many years. I’ve always had to supplement our farm income through off farm employment and was a part time grower until COVID hit. COVID ended my off-farm employment and I’ve decided to retire early as a full-time farmer! When Ben decided to become 100% involved in the farm when he got out of school I was thrilled. Sons Luke and Mack were also a big help through the years but have since gone on to do their own lives. As their mom it’s good to know they know how to run a farm operation and grow their own food.
What do you produce on your farm?
Ben: We sell many different products from our farm. We started with potatoes and homemade lip balms in the early years. That morphed into garlic and other vegetable crops. All the while Kate was planting fruit trees and perennial food crops knowing someday we would have loads of apples, peaches, pears, and grapes, berries among many others. Today we offer everything from certified organic vegetables, fruits, herbs, flowers, and shiitake mushrooms to whole chicken, pastured pork, holiday wreaths, herbal salt seasonings, and even rough sawn & custom cut lumber.
Kate: Like Ben said, we are very diversified. We try to find the gaps and trends that our community is interested in.
What advice do you have for farmers interested in diversifying their farm?
Ben: Diversification can be a double-edged sword. If you’re looking to streamline your business and make the most money you can from your land, the obvious choice is to consolidate crops and products to become proficient at producing a few things. However, that way of farming sets your operation up for more risk. What if you lose your whole crop to a pest outbreak or disease? You have little left to fall back on. Diversification allows a farmer to have some insurance and lessens the risk of losing everything. Yet, I have found that with over diversification sometimes it feels like I never get anything done as I have to manage the many moving parts of all these different cropping systems. In summary, I would advise others to find a balanced middle ground of crops that grow well on their farm and you enjoy producing.
Kate: As Ben said, diversification is a tough model as the rewards happen in the future. Diversification also adds great value by creating a diverse ecosystem which attracts and increases wildlife, insects, birds and soils. Ecosystem diversity is absolutely tied to human health. Our farming operation could not be successful without healthy land, soils, and water. And we need healthy food for healthy bodies to do the farming. I’ve always tried to look ahead using the 7th generation model of the original native people of this continent that so beautifully state that when making decisions we should consider how the decision will affect our descendants seven generations into the future. In regard to the land we farm, “We are on the unceeded land of Nd’akina which has long served as a site of meeting for Abenaki people from Pagôntegok, O’quasskikonaquan and beyond for thousands of years.” (1). My intention is to use the land as gently as possible and return it in better condition than it was when we arrived and to bring it closer to the diverse state that it was in when the original people, the Nd’akina were here.
Nd’akina historian, Sherry Gould, Bradford, NH
How long have you been a member of NOFA-NH? Why did you become a member?
Ben: I’ve been involved with NOFA-NH for many years through the winter conferences. I have also been active in NOFA-VT and MOFGA workshops and conferences.
Kate: We have been NOFA members off and on for about 20 years. Elizabeth Oblenaus brought us into the fold with her amazing welcoming personality.
Why is organic farming important to you?
Ben: Real Organic Farming is important to me because it is based around the fundamental way in which indigenous civilizations developed agriculture to feed themselves. People managed crops that grew in the soil. There were no chemicals, there were no fossil fuels. It was just the people their animals and plants. Certainly, over time thru scientific discovery we (humans) began to understand more complex management and became better at growing and breeding plants to be more productive. I like to think that organic farming is the backbone of humanity’s existence.
Kate: DDT was around when I was a kid. I read Silent Spring by Rachel Carson and had a father who was involved in Atlantic Salmon restoration on the Merrimack River which was the beginning of my environmental education. When I lived in Arizona every time the crop duster plane came over the nearby cotton field I got extremely ill. Then came the despicable Round-up. I saw and experienced the effects of toxic chemicals on health and knew there was a better way to grow food than immersing plants and soils in toxins. For us, the better way is Organic Certification and The Real Organic Program. I do not understand why the general population accepts that their food be grown in chemicals. Although we are a tiny farm, we do our part, go through the paperwork and track backs and pay the fees to remain certified organic not only as a business plan but also as a statement and philosophy. Unfortunately, the National Organic Program is under attack by many factions - and that’s another long story. Having grassroot alternatives like the Real Organic Program or Certified Naturally Grown are super important to keeping our organic food systems available and eventually the “Norm.”
What do you see in the future for small, family farms?
Ben: I hope the future is bright for small family farms. As people begin to see the breakdown of supply chains and their dependence on dwindling fossil fuels there may be a great realization. Small family farms will be what saves our communities from the inevitable collapse. People will look to our farmers for the knowledge of tending crops, animal husbandry, small scale forestry, and community-scale apothecaries among many other skills farmers hold.
Kate: I have always believed that in crisis, small farms and slow food will save the world. The next generation of young farmers and organic advocates are smart, savvy and talented but we need to recruit more of them and we need to make organic farming a viable profession that perhaps needs to be subsidized by the same government agencies that bail out the CEO’s of corporate America. The current trend in soil-less hydroponics, genetically modified meats, plants, beverages, products and intensely over-processed pseudo-food that big ag is shoving down our throats will eventually fail as the collective health and climate of this nation suffers and Real Organic will be the fallback.
How can farmers contribute toward environmental change and climate mitigation?
Ben: Farmers should continue to look long term at their management plans. They should begin to plan if they haven’t already started planning for high fuel prices, high seed and fertilizer prices, and high equipment costs. They should start to look for ways to reduce their use of fossil fuel use as well as to transition to grass fed animal management. We should be looking to the clean energy future for power on our farms.
Kate: Clean energy, seed saving, compost, healthy soils and WATER, plant more trees. Save your organic seeds and only purchase from seed companies that are Certified Organic or clean open source. Support businesses that meet EWG (Environmental Working Group) standards for environmental toxicity. Support other local organic producers and makers. Get involved. Join NOFA and become a volunteer to get your voice out there. Use social media to your advantage to tell others. Ask questions, speak up and do something when you know there is greenwashing unsafe environmental practices going on. Please plant trees and compost everything you can to enrich your soils. All of these things reduce carbon emissions and can be done on any scale whether you’re a large commercial farmer or an apartment dweller.
Pass the word - do the work! We need everyone doing a little to make a lot of difference!
What advice do you have for anyone thinking about becoming an organic farmer?
Ben: My advice to a prospective farmer is to get a job working on an organic farm. Try different positions at the farm. Learn the ins and outs of the operation.
Kate: Stay passionate, don’t give up and remember your contribution to the environment through organic farming is super important.
How does NOFA-NH membership benefit you?
Kate: NOFA has been a helpful influence in our decision making and great way to stay connected to other farmers and to learn new things and sometimes old things that need to be remembered. NOFA works hard to keep track of political and regulatory issues that farmers may not always have time to follow.
What are you harvesting now that people can purchase from you?
Ben: We are harvesting tomatoes, peppers, shiitake mushrooms, peaches, pears, cucumber, eggplant, chard, herbs, medicinal herbs, and flowers available at our Farm Stand 291 Birch Hill Rd Sutton, NH or by direct message to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Kate: You can also find us on FB and IG @greenhillfarmnh.
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