Meet the Farmer: Chris from Garden of Eve

Winter is the time when farmers in the Northeast get a much-needed break to reflect and prepare for next season. It’s also the time of year when farmers are a bit easier to catch for a conversation. This month we caught up with Chris Kaplan-Walbrecht who, with wife Eve (right), co-owns Garden of Eve Organic Farm on Long Island’s North Fork. Chris was one of four farmers who participated in the Farmer Panel  at our recent Just Food Conference. We’ll be posting video from this panel and other conference speakers over the next several weeks, so stay tuned!

In true farmer fashion, Chris was at work when we called, retiling the bathroom in a house shared by a team of farm apprentices. Over the past 10 years what started as a very small enterprise—a garden in fact—has grown into 40 acres farmed by Chris, Eve, and their team of farm apprentices, workers and volunteers. In addition to organic vegetables, the farm grows flowers, houses 1,000 pastured laying hens, and has an on-site market. Chris and Eve also have 2 young children, ages 4 and 6, who are always happy to get their hands in the dirt. The kids pitch in by picking spinach and lettuce for family dinners, collecting eggs, and helping to dig potatoes and carrots.

Chris finds it hard to pull himself away from the farm, but there was a time when he couldn’t wait to leave the countryside for the city. Chris grew up on his family’s dairy farm in upstate New York, where he worked seven days a week in his youth. “Growing up, we never took a vacation. We never actually left the farm really at all, so I didn't learn about the outside world. When I left, I thought that was it.”

But after 10 years of working in clean water advocacy, Chris began to feel the pull of the land. "I found I was kind of running away from the city more and more and trying to get into open space. I spent most of my leisure time in parks or hiking just to be outside." Chris started to think seriously about farming as a profession, but was skeptical that he could really make a living. "I started going to farmers markets and asking questions like ‘are you guys really making money?’ Growing up, my mom basically had to work to support the farm. So I wasn't quite convinced." Then he met Eve. Together they decided to give farming a go, and Garden of Eve Organic Farm took root.

In 2001, Chris and Eve were selling at farmer’s markets but were hearing about Community Supported Agriculture. "You'd see it occasionally come up in the news and in some farm magazines, but it wasn't really that popular at the time, it was just catching on. We met some farmers that worked with Just Food and talked to them about how CSA was set up. We really liked the model of it because Just Food does the background work with the group and the site.  It makes it so much easier for the farmer." Chris and Eve established their first CSA with 10 friends and family members. In 2004, they established their first New York City CSA with Just Food’s support.

For Chris, the CSA model provides financial stability that is key to the long-term viability of their farm. "The hardest part about doing markets is that you acquire a lot of debt. If the market season gets off to a bad start or bad weather, you've put all that money into it, but the customer won’t come out. So you might go back with 50 or 60 percent of what you brought. And if the weather is nice, there are so many other things on the farm that need done, rather than standing at the market all day.

"The influx of money now that we get from CSA is great. It means we can really plan for the season and buy the things we need when we need them. CSA is a great model--it allows us to operate our business in a fashion that's just a much more holistic way of running a farm.”

Chris and Eve are moved by the commitment of their CSA members. "The inspiration is when you open up a new CSA site and you immediately get 15 people and you're reminded, wow, people are really committed to this."