By Maria Reidelbach
Living up to his name, farmer Creek Iversen’s life has meandered, twisted and turned, it’s had pools and eddies, and even a few falls. It also has the insistence and power of flowing water.
This spring Creek is launching a pair of related enterprises at Esopus Agricultural Center in Kingston: Seed Song Farm will produce a beautiful variety of sustainably grown vegetables, flowers, berries, herbs and forest products; and Seed Song Center – a nonprofit partner organization – will offer farm-based arts, cultural events and educational programs.
Born and raised in Cooperstown, New York, Creek studied arts and science at Cornell, but hungered for real life experience. He traveled the world for a couple of years, farming in Norway. When he returned, his love of ecology was nurtured while working for Hudson River Sloop Clearwater, a boat that was created to “save the river” by legendary musician Pete Seeger and others. Creek’s job encompassed everything from carpentry and maintenance to performing scientific experiments and playing guitar and singing with Pete. From there, he went on to become the resident Naturalist and Interpreter at the John Boroughs Nature Sanctuary in Dutchess County, as well as teaching ecology and music at other institutions.
But Creek missed farming and discovered Common Ground Farm in Wappinger Falls, the area’s first Community Supported Agriculture farm, one with a deep social mission. After that, Creek moved to Sylvester Manor Farm in Shelter Island, an intact northern colonial plantation run by a family-based nonprofit group with a musical bent. Creek, newly married to Lisa Mitten, not only farmed for the local markets and restaurants, he also initiated many of the farm’s educational programs and learned many traditional work songs. From there he headed to a short stint at the nonprofit Brook Farm in New Paltz; and then, in 2014, he landed at Whirligig Farm in Hurley. At each of these farms his tenure had ended when upheavals unrelated to farming had ensued, and in rapid succession he and Lisa were alternately settled and then farmless and homeless.
Moving from farm to farm is even more challenging than changing jobs. Farmers spend major energy analyzing, preparing and fortifying their soil and literally studying the lay of the land—processes that take years. You would think that moving four times in five years would have broken anyone, but Creek is singularly dedicated, so he and Lisa (who is Campus Sustainability Coordinator at SUNY New Paltz) once again searched throughout the valley. Finally, last year they hit pay dirt when they met a man directing a unique company dedicated to settling farmers on land on a long-term basis.
Northeast Farm Access is an LLC that brings together farmers, social investors and other allies, especially conservation land trusts, to provide secure farmland for farmers and abundant local food for the community. NEFA is the brainchild of Bob Bernstein, who’s been connecting people, farmland and affordable housing for 40 years. Three years ago, Bob realized that land availability for local farmers had reached a crisis point—largely because purchasing land in the Northeast has become very expensive, putting it out of reach of beginning farmers. If leasing, farmers need a long term commitment—decades, ideally—and most landowners are not willing or able to make that commitment. Along with a diverse team of professionals, Bob founded NEFA to help bridge the gap.
The Esopus Agricultural Center is the third project that NEFA has organized (the first two are in Copake and Chester). Purchased with funding raised from 12 local investors, the EAC is just on the edge of Kingston along the Esopus Creek near Tech City and comprises 214 rolling acres, much of it prized Unadilla bottom land, some of the best in the United States, and USDA Certified Organic. Creek and three other experienced farmers have signed 30-year leases. NEFA is currently expanding the EAC with additional acreage and worker housing into heart of the Rondout Valley.
Seed Song Farm is a CSA and will also sell produce at the Rosendale Farmers Market. The new greenhouse is full of germinating seedlings waiting for life out in the rolling fields. Seed Song Center has been holding educational, arts and cultural events since last summer. “I’m so happy to be close to Kingston and the diverse populations here,” Creek declared.
Seed Song Center, comprising area activists and educators, actively collaborates with organizations such A.J.Williams-Myers African Roots Library, John’s Bread, which will be building an oven on site and for whom the farm is growing three kinds of wheat, and Citizen Action, with talk of developing a green jobs program. The farm regularly thrums to the rhythm of drums and singing by Neetopk Keetopk, a Native group that holds seasonal ceremonies there. They plan a wigwam that kids will help build, a canoe and kayak launch, and a large “three sisters” field of traditional varieties of corn, beans and squash.
“What the Natives did with monthly, food-based celebrations, like the green-corn festival, the maple moon, the strawberry festival, is basically what we’re planning to do,” explains Creek. “At community harvest suppers and hoedowns anyone can come to the farm and help out in some way for a few hours and then we all cook and eat some of the bounty together.” He continues, “At barn raisings, corn bees, and other tasks that required a group of people communities traditionally evolved their culture—musicians learned new tunes, kids joined in and they played them together.”
All of this might sound romantic, idealistic or overly-ambitious if it weren’t for the fact that this multi-talented farmer has been dedicated to doing all these community-building activities for the past 30 years. Now that Creek’s got his own land and Seed Song can literally put down roots, the sky’s the limit.
Find out more about Seed Song Farm, Center and CSA (shares still available) on Facebook or by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org. Learn more about Northeast Farm Access at NEFarmAccess.com.
Maria Reidelbach is an artist, author and local food activist living, working and eating in Accord, NY. Email to Maria@Stick2Local.com.
Farmer Creek Iversen and his wife Lisa Mitten have founded Seed Song Farm and Center in Kingston.
A traditional May Pole dance is one of the many cultural activities planned by Seed Song Center.
College students help in the greenhouse at Seed Song Farm.
Kids will learn where their salad comes from in outdoor classes at Seed Song Farm.