A fresh face 
on farming

A fresh face 
on farming

Sophie Soloway, of Providence, left, and Courtney Sartini, of Cumberland, right, are two of the three farmers at Hocus Pocus Farm in Glocester. Along with Alex Connors, the women, who are all in their 20s, have formed a Community Supported Agriculture program where participants can pick up produce weekly at the Cumberland Public Library on 1464 Diamond Hill Road. (Breeze photos by Brittany Ballantyne)
Three young women start Hocus Pocus Farm, plan CSA in Cumberland

CUMBERLAND – Courtney Sartini, Sophie Soloway and Alex Connors have taken on a task they say is not only a labor of love, but of magic. The three young women, all in their 20s, have begun leasing two acres of land in Glocester, where they’ll launch their Hocus Pocus Farm.

The women are planning to bring a CSA, or Community Supported Agriculture program, to Cumberland, where people from town or surrounding areas can sign up to receive produce at a weekly pickup at the Hayden Center at the Cumberland Public Library, 1464 Diamond Hill Road.

Those interested in joining the CSA can pay a flat rate in March for a share of fresh vegetables during a 16-week period from July through October. The farmers plan to start delivering the vegetables the first week in July this year, and hope to set up at farmer’s markets in the northern Rhode Island area as well.

Sartini, 23, of Cumberland, Soloway, 24, of Providence, and Connors, 25, of Groveland, Mass., met while working at Casey Farm in North Kingstown last year. Once the season ended there in November, the trio decided to start out on their own – something that’s uncommon today, they said, for young people to do.

Soloway and Sartini said younger people trying to start a business have a difficult time juggling entrepreneurship while paying for student loans, and noted that land in Rhode Island is expensive.

“Barriers to starting a business that’s profitable and sustainable are higher for younger people,” Soloway said. The average farmer today, she said, is more than 58 years old.

None of the women grew up on a farm, but all learned the tricks of the trade through working at numerous farms in Rhode Island, including Phantom Farms in Cumberland and Casey Farm, and participating in World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms programs.

Their degrees vary from political and environmental sciences to health care and poetry, but each of the women learned from hands-on work and 13 years of experience combined.

The farmers also picked up financial and technical training through Young Farmer Network Rhode Island, which a branch of a national coalition. Technically, Sartini explained, a young farmer can be considered someone who has worked on a farm for less than 10 years.

Soloway said though she and her two co-farmers are getting into the agriculture business at a time where many are leaving it, the demand for local foods at restaurants is on the rise and the future of other young farmers is promising to her.

The three women plan to host workshops at the Cumberland Public Library to educate people about CSAs and how they work. Sartini, whose father Eugene Sartini formerly served on Cumberland Town Council, explained that the few CSAs that are in Rhode Island are based in Providence, and very few exist in northern Rhode Island.

Soloway said this is one of the factors that contributes to the “lack of knowledge of what a local food system could look like.” She said Glocester and Cumberland hold potential, as both have a farming community history.

Through their Hocus Pocus Farm CSA program, community members can become stakeholders in their produce, Sartinti said, and wind up paying less than the market sticker price for a larger abundance of vegetables. The 16-week course can be purchased for $400. She called it a good deal that allows farms to exist, especially younger generations or those newer to the industry.

“Many (young farmers) don’t have a huge amount of capital, but own land in some way,” she said.

The three women plan to build a farmstand at the Listening Tree Co-op at 87 Reservoir Road, Glocester, and will begin planting seeds in the greenhouse they constructed in March.

When May rolls around, the trio will begin transplanting their plants into the ground. Soloway and Sartini said the biggest challenge for them will be making sure they’re able to maintain a profit while working many hours out in the field.

With lots of patience, they said, they hope to prove that young people and women can successfully do this work, not just families that have operated farms for generations.

For more information or volunteering opportunities, email hocuspocusfarm@gmail.com or call 973-787-4296.

Courtney Sartini, of Cumberland, left, and Sophie Soloway, of Providence, sort vegetable seeds in part of the greenhouse the two women constructed with co-farmer Alex Connors last month. Each of the women, who are in their 20s, met while working at Casey Farm in North Kingstown before deciding to venture out and lease two acres of land in Glocester where they will operate Hocus Pocus Farm and will harvest produce for a CSA program in Cumberland.
Courtney Sartini holds a greenhouse beam steady while Sophie Soloway tightens the structure.
Sophie Soloway, of Providence, left, and Courtney Sartini, of Cumberland, check on their garlic crop at Hocus Pocus Farm, located on the Listening Tree Co-op property at 87 Reservoir Road in Glocester. The farmers are gearing up for their first CSA program season.

Comments

This is a great story, congrats and best wishes!