Meet Adam Reed of Tangleroot Farm

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This is the second in a series of articles to introduce the farmers and vendors who come to the Glens Falls Farmers’ Market offering the healthy harvest of their hard work.  This interview with Adam Reed of Tangleroot Farm occurred on June 14, 2018.

                            Elegant Balancing

            What do Adam Reed and Susan Cerny of Tangleroot Farm in Essex, NY, bring to the local farming community?  In a word: elegance.  At a glance this might not be one’s first thought watching Adam work in their yard, greenhouses and fields in his bare feet.  But a conversation about who they are reveals a thoughtfulness and appreciation for the elegance that is inherently in nature’s impulse to grow, in designing sustainable farming systems respectful of that impulse and in balancing relationships throughout their community with financial realities. 

Raised in upstate NY, Adam and Susan returned to the local area about five years ago following a period of working and exploring their interests out west.  Susan majored in Biology, started with Teach for America and then worked in a wilderness therapy program in Utah.  Adam majored in History but has always enjoyed physical activity.  He looked for this element in jobs that he held in a number of western states while also enjoying fun opportunities like rock climbing.  He became hooked on farming as he offered his energy to multiple organic farms through the WWOOFing program, Worldwide Opportunities in Organic Farming.  This program connects individuals who want to volunteer with organic farmers who need extra labor in exchange for room and board.  These experiences brought Susan and Adam together and seeded their dream of farming themselves.

            After successfully working an acre of land they rented in Gaansevort, NY, for three years and selling mostly to a growing CSA (Community Supported Agriculture), they decided to purchase their own farm and started looking around. They were attracted to the Essex area as Adam had worked there at a summer camp.  Also in recent years a number of small farms had sprouted up in the area which offered a community of peers in which to start their new endeavor.  They have not been disappointed.  Adam expounded on the emotional and practical support available living near neighbors who understand, respect and collaborate with their goals.  The region is growing in both production and tourism and has already become “home” to Adam and Susan.

            Shortly into their first growing season they decided to apply for organic certification.  Adam shared that the process wasn’t as difficult as people think but some of the regulations don’t make intuitive sense.  For example, he would like to use his neighbor’s grass fed cow manure as fertilizer but this isn’t feasible due to application restrictions.  Their affordable option is to purchase an approved composted chicken manure produced in Rochester, NY.  Adam commented on the stress of being certified, “We are inspected once a year and even when you think you have all of your ducks in a row it’s nerve-racking because you don’t know if you accidently broke a rule.” But they understand that the organic certification is important to their customers and are pleased that they recently passed the inspection for this year.    

            Farming is a business and requires constant assessment of goals and strategies like any other small business.  The recent question has been how to balance the ideal of having relationships with all of their customers with the practicality required in making business decisions.  Successful farmers need to know when to put on that business hat.  Each purchase has a person’s face and story behind it while also being critical to the farmer’s financial stability.  While speaking with warmth about their CSA members, Adam shared, “Some farmers don’t see the numbers side at all and they go broke so you have to find the balance.”  Adam credited Susan with being in charge of their CSA membership that has grown to 104 this year. They are also at farmers’ markets in Glens Falls, Saratoga Springs and Chestertown and deliver to about a dozen restaurants and grocery stores throughout the region.  Clearly there are many names and faces in their world which they always greet with a smile and a “how ya doing?”  Yet making decisions that balance offering this personal touch with their business needs and time management takes continual review of more efficient and satisfying strategies.  

            Adam shared their plans to plant their current fields of about 2 ½ acres more intensively.  Their ideal style is to create simple and elegant systems around the farm so they do not need a tractor.  They do use a small tiller for some tasks but mostly they accept nature’s invitation to design natural processes that can be successful.  Adam is energized by the intersection of his love of physical labor with the creativity employed in designing these earth friendly but efficient systems.  He really enjoys “watching an elegant system behave” and knowing that he collaborated with nature’s natural desire to grow.  “The plants want to grow and I just have to control variables and when you do you see that they are very happy.  Seeing a crop that is performing well is very satisfying.  You feel an energy on the farm when it’s in full production that is like, well, it kind of thrums.  It has a life of its own and it’s exciting to know that you set it in motion in a certain way and it’s even more exciting to know that you didn’t screw it up!  If you do it elegantly it’s not backbreaking and it’s like choreographing all of the moving parts.”  Elegant balance is feeling the warm soil under your bare feet with acoustic tools in hand while humbly offering dance steps designed to both respect the natural flow of growth yet enhance that harvest for personal sustenance.  

            The last words are humor and humility.  During this interview an Amish buggy went down the road where they work at Essex Farm.  Adam shared that he often hears the horse’s hoofs at five in the morning and laughs sharing his reaction to their early rising, “Go back to bed; you’re making us look bad!”  And his closing words, “Eat your veggies!!!”  An elegant balance of the serious realities of farming with a humble appreciation of being in relationship with all systems, natural and designed.  

~by Valerie Brown, a Friend of the Glens Falls Farmers’ Market

David Porter