Most of the time, our “alumni” are farmers who have graduated from the Intervale Center’s Farms Program, moving out of the Intervale to farm in other parts of Vermont and, sometimes, other states. (Full Moon Farm and Elmer Farm are two great examples.)
This story is about a slightly different “alum.” Ben Dobrowski was an intern and UVM work-study student with the Intervale Conservation Nursery (ICN) for nearly three years. Now he has returned home to New Hampshire to work on the family farm, Greenhill Collective Farm.
We caught up with Ben via e-mail to get the scoop on his new farm enterprise.
IC: Tell us a little bit about your time with the Intervale Conservation Nursery.
Ben: I started as a UVM work-study field technician [assisting with the Nursery's operations from field maintenance, greenhouse prep, harvesting, making cuttings and collecting seed] in the fall of 2008 and completed my last season in spring 2011, right before my graduation. I really enjoyed all of my time spent with ICN and will value my experience for many years to come.
IC: Do you have a favorite memory of your time with ICN? Least favorite?
Ben: My favorite memory is the time when heavy rains during the spring of 2011 caused serious flooding to the Winooski River and I transported newly harvested bare-root trees in a canoe through a section of flooded road to a dry location where the truck was parked! My least favorite part of working at ICN would definitely be field inventory. This involved physically measuring thousands of young saplings out in the field. It was tedious and monotonous, but it had to get done.
IC: How would you describe Greenhill Collective Farm? When and how was it started?
Ben: Greenhill Collective Farm is a family-owned, off-the-grid, 100% solar-powered farmstead located at the end of a long and bumpy road in the foothills of the Kearsarge/Sunapee region of central NH. This upcoming season marks our second year of independent farming. My mother had bought the 50 acre property in 2000 with the idea of always starting an organic farm when the time was right. After I graduated from UVM in 2011 with a degree in Ecological Agriculture, I moved back home with my family to start our collective farming endeavor. The time was right!
IC: What kinds of crops do you grow? What are your farming practices?
Ben: We are a beginning small farm currently growing certified-organic diversified vegetables, herbs, fruit, mushrooms, and a variety of other value-added small farm products. Since our farm is in the middle of a forest, we incorporate many elements of agro-forestry and permaculture into our farming system. Ecology plays an important role in our land management practices, as we are constantly trying to observe and understand our landscape further.
This year the farm will attend one farmers’ market, help start a regional multi-farm permaculture CSA, as well as grow for a local health foods store and restaurant in Manchester, NH.
IC: Where do you see your farm in the next five years?
Ben: In five years, I see Greenhill Collective Farm as a major player in our regional food system. I see us collaborating with our public schools to reintegrate agriculture back into the curriculum. I see us constructing a commercial kitchen space on the farm where we can create more value-added farm products and make them more accessible to our community. And I also see us rotationally managing livestock to help transform some of our overgrown fields into productive silvopastures.
IC: Did you learn any skills or make any connections during your time at the Intervale Center that you use today, in your own farm business?
Ben: Yes. I learned some critical greenhouse management skills in the ICN High Tunnel that I rely on today in our new greenhouse. Our farm is located only two hours from Burlington, so I continue to maintain contact with many Vermont farm resources that were originally forged while working at the Intervale. Working at ICN has shown me the importance of keeping healthy riparian buffers intact — crucial to conserving healthy waterways and cultivating a more sustainable farm.