Ryan Wood Beauchamp and Kara Fitzgerald operate Evening Song Farm, located in Cuttingsville, Vermont. Ryan and Kara grow unique, heirloom vegetables that are used to supply their CSA. In 2011, after Hurricane Irene made its way across the East Coast, Evening Song Farm was left in ruins.
Kara Fitzgerald was raised in a suburban community in Teaneck, New Jersey. “There were no farms where I grew up,” she recalls. Kara was first exposed to farm life when she joined Journey’s End Farm Camp. She spent most of her childhood summers at the Pennsylvania camp and it quickly became her favorite place in the world. “I learned that working hard, being outside and taking care of your own needs was fun instead of drudgery or a chore.”
A few hours away, Ryan Wood Beauchamp was helping his parents maintain their family garden in rural, upstate New York. As a kid, Ryan did not enjoy the gardening work. Several years later, Ryan began his studies at Earlham College, the same school Kara decided to attend as a geology major. The two met while working on the college’s student-run farm and a mutual interest in agriculture began to flourish. After graduation, Kara found herself working on a farm in Vermont as an AmeriCorps member. Still, she had no plans to become a farmer until she received a call from Journey’s End Farm Camp.
The Curtis Family has operated Journey’s End in Newfoundland, PA, since 1960. When the farm camp was experiencing some trouble hiring staff, a member of the family asked Kara and Ryan to work for them. “In exchange for a place to live and the ability to use their land, we would help the family out for a year,” explains Kara. Since their jobs on the camp did not pay, Kara and Ryan had to figure out a way to make money. Kara bought Sharing the Harvest, a book by Elizabeth Henderson, and read about starting a CSA. “I thought it sounded easy enough,” says Kara. So, in 2009, Kara and Ryan established the Journey’s End CSA. “It was so much fun and our passion [for growing] developed from there.”
Eventually, Kara and Ryan transitioned management of Journey’s End CSA to another farmer and moved on to start their own farm, Evening Song Farm, in Vermont in 2010. The farm is four acres and offers all kinds vegetables except for sweet corn. Ryan and Kara are the only staff at the farm, but they receive help from college and camp friends. Evening Song supplies food for 75 members of their summer-share CSA and 25 CSA members in winter. The farm also provides food for local restaurants and is a strong presence at the Ludlow and Rutland farmers markets. The summer of 2011 was the first year of vegetable production for Evening Song Farm. Hurricane Irene hit Vermont in late August of 2011.
“We lost our land and the ability to ever use that land again,” said Kara. Irene caused a neighboring river to overflow and completely flood Evening Song. The river also changed course, running right through the farm instead of alongside it. It took the farm’s rich soil—its life source—with it. Ryan and Kara continue to live on the farm’s property, but all attempts to plant on the land have been abandoned. After the flood, a friend allowed the couple to grow their vegetables on his land, two miles away from Evening Song’s original location. Ryan and Kara have been operating from two locations since then. The old farm still holds their cooler and CSA barn, so storage and distribution happens there. “It’s been really inconvenient for the business and the vegetables to not have a cool space right on the field,” says Kara. Ryan and Kara are now in the process of purchasing their friend’s property. The duo has been working on infrastructure building projects to be able to transition Evening Song to the new location. “So far this summer, we’ve built a CSA barn and a root cellar on the field. We’re just putting the finishing touches on two replacement greenhouses and we’re hoping to get our water and electric lines before the winter.”
Moving their farm to a new location has been a harrowing process. “Emotionally, it is extremely draining. We have to be upbeat business people publically, but this is still so raw and recent,” explains Kara. The couple has received a lot of support from the Vermont community, for which they are both extremely grateful. Their neighbors started a donation fund to help with the transition and are always willing to help with building projects. “The biggest help is to have people continuing to support our CSA and our presence at market.”
Although community support has been tremendous, Kara admits that there is still a lot of work that needs to be done. “It’s really just the two of us coordinating everything. We can’t rest.” Hurricane Irene left behind approximately $7 to $13 billion in damage throughout the East Coast. Ultimately, Kara believes that there was nothing entirely natural about the 2011 disaster. Ryan and Kara decided to relocate Evening Song Farm because they believe that extreme weather will be occurring more frequently in the future due to climate change. Continuing to farm near a river would ensure that their farm would be flooded again. “It’s just so clear to me that farmers are going to be hit especially hard with climate trauma as we move into such an erratic climate-changing world,” says Kara. “I’m of the belief that the extreme weather we are experiencing is a result of our fossil fuel addiction.”
At Evening Song, Kara and Ryan implement biodynamic farming. The practice focuses on sustainable methods such as composting and the use of natural fertilizers. Biodynamic farmers aim to use everything that comes out of the farm to stimulate growth and production instead of relying on outside sources. Kara and Ryan are currently in the beginning stages of transitioning their farm to ox power, which would go a long way in reducing their use of fossil fuels for power and transportation on the farm. They also plan to start an apprenticeship program this summer in hopes of teaching young farmers how to start up a farm business and successfully contribute to the food system. “We have a unique story and farm for young farmers to learn from.”
It’s been over a year since Hurricane Irene hit Evening Song Farm and Kara says that the community support is still going strong. She hopes that other communities will react similar to hers should a disaster strike their neighbors. “[Evening Song] is just one farm that was slammed by climate change. If we want to head into a healthier world, we’re going to have to support and rally behind our community farms because they will be providing our food in the tenuous future.”
- A recent PBS documentary about the Dust Bowl of the 1930s inspired a reader to Ask Farm Aid about how farmers take care of the soil today. Here is our response with lots more on the importance of healthy soil to the future of farming.
- Our Ask Farm Aid column from earlier this year answered the reader question, “How is climate change affecting family farmers? What are they doing about it?“
- For resources to find food from family farmers in your area, check out our Find Good Food page.