Phoenix Rising: Phillies Bridge Farm Returns
By Ray Smith
From Issue 22: Spring 2014
Last winter, the maples bordering the drive into the Phillies Bridge Farm were graced with blue sap buckets—an initiative of board member Robb Magee and the Mountain Laurel Waldorf School—and in late winter, Anne Eschenroeder, principal in Big Little Farm LLC (BLF), was already growing seedlings in the greenhouse for the Phillies Bridge Farm CSA.
After farm distribution ceased abruptly last year due to lack of produce, how was it revived? “Some extraordinary leaders on the 2013 board continued their stewardship,” explained Sally Vasse, an original 1995 shareholder and board member from 2005-2010, who has returned this year as President. She says, “They managed office procedures and provided a regular presence and a small amount of u-pick vegetables. The education programs and summer day camp continued through the summer and fall with resilient success. We reconstituted the board with some old members and an energetic mix of new, varied talents. Amie Baracks returned as Education Director and is busy, as is Jason Krauer, the onsite Property Manager, living in the farm house with his family.”
Wendy Rudder, who served as President part of last year, is now Vice President; Susan Loxley-Friedle, a long time shareholder, is Secretary and Marc Moran, who had no previous connection with the Farm, is Treasurer. “I thought Phillies Bridge was an important community asset and wanted to help,” Marc said.
Anne Eschenroeder of Big Little Farm was the successful Farm Manager at Phillies Bridge Farm during the 2010-2012 growing seasons, so her connection is not new. This year, BLF will manage and run the CSA and can sell, for its own benefit, any produce in excess of the 120 farm shares needed for Philies Bridge members. Anne elaborated, “By marketing produce in excess of requirements for shareholders, I’m building name recognition and equity in my own brand, Big Little Farm. There’s more risk for me, but I like that. It’s great to be able to do my own thing and still be part of something I love.”
Phillies Bridge will pay BLF proceeds of all shares sold, up to the jointly agreed 120 share limit, or a minimum of $57,500. To compensate for last year’s sudden closure, 2013 shareholders, who re-subscribed before March 15th, got a $550 share for $285, plus $25 shareholder membership fee. (A donor covered the missing amount for each discount.) Shares at $550 plus $25 membership are available to others through May 31st.
On the 65-acre Phillies Bridge property, 13.6 acres are surrounded by deer fence, within which a total of 4.27 acres will be farmed—1.05 acres (25%) in cover crops to lay fallow this year and 3.22 acres (75%) in produce. Anne had already tested the soil and found it healthy. Treasurer Marc Moran says, “Share sales will pay for the farm operations and camp fees will cover the cost of the summer camp programs. We do have ongoing maintenance and repair needs, and part of our mission is community outreach, including our Farm to Families program, which donates up to 20 shares to families in need. So, as a board we need to attract very broad and diverse sources of additional financial support.”
Anne explained how the new farm/farmer relationship came about: “I wanted to return to farm at Phillies Bridge but wasn’t interested in the old model. I came to the board with the model we will be using in 2014, but encouraged them to look at other models and candidates. They decided they wanted to work with me in this new way.” President Sally Vasse elaborated, “With an experienced farmer like Anne who is well known to the Phillies Bridge Farm community, the arrangement is exciting for both sides. We get her skills not as an employee, but as an independent contractor. She and Big Little Farm manage the whole process, with potential for extra income and to build a brand and name recognition for Big Little Farm. It’s a new risk-sharing approach uniquely crafted and suited for Anne and Phillies Bridge.”
Sally Vasse and Marc Moran ticked off a number of continuing and new major donors who support both the farm’s mission and the new model: Mary and Jim Ottaway, who donated the property to the project in 2002 and are still supporters; the Open Space Institute, which has provided a $30,000 grant for capital equipment; Huguenot Farm Capital with a grant of $30,000 for operations; the Dyson Foundation which supported strategic planning last year; and the Community Foundations of the Hudson Valley, to whom application has been made to support the twenty shares for the Farm to Families program.
The Phillies Bridge Farm “Welcome Back” Spring Festival is on Saturday, May 17th from noon to 3:00 PM. Come find out what’s happening at the new farm.