3 on 3: Kiva Zip Farmers Meet NYC Slickers

Born and raised in Westchester County, N.Y., which my NYC friends refer to as “Upstate,” you may be surprised to hear I’d never been on a farm before. Fortunately, Kiva Zip gave me the chance to change that with a two-day farm tour. I hop into a Zip car in downtown Manhattan with a dream and my farm-friendly boots. With Katherine driving, Ushma coordinating the trip, and myself navigating (and blasting 90’s music), the Kiva Zip NYC team is ready to begin our farm tour.

First stop, Schaghticoke. Ejay and his eager herding dog are waiting to greet us at R’eisen Shine Farm. We hear the serendipitous tale of how Ejay and his wife Kim found this amazing farm. While Ejay was in college, a good friend took him to her family’s farm, which had been in the family for generations. Several years later, Ejay and Kim decided that they wanted to start farming and eventually determined that they needed a permanent home. This happened to be around the same time that the good friend’s family was selling the farm. Ejay and Kim happily purchased the farm and live in the farmhouse with Ejay’s friend and family. Having a permanent home is wonderful, but it’s time to grow on the new land - this is where Kiva Zip comes in!

Ejay is using his Kiva Zip loan of $10,000 to fix a well to water livestock and offset the cost of building and outfitting a poultry processing facility which will allow Ejay to continue sustainably farming. When Ejay says he’s going to fix a well and build a facility, he means it. I learn that when you’re a farmer, you’re also a handyman, plumber, carpenter...a jack-of-all-trades. Ejay modestly assures us that there are YouTube videos so you can learn anything online, but I still have trouble imagining refurbishing a bathtub after watching a video (which Ejay has also done).

Ejay also shows us the fencing that he’s put up so that the chicks and pigs can go out to pasture. We can see how happy the chicks and pigs are out on the grass, but Ejay also explains the environmental sustainability of using livestock to care for land. Ejay’s farming methods are beneficial for the animals, land, and R’eisen Shine Farm customers who end up with more naturally delicious food.

Next stop, Fort Plain, NY (technically Stone Arabia) to visit Pam at Abundance Acres Farm. Pam used a $2,500 Kiva Zip loan to purchase seedling inputs and hire extra labor to start selling organically grown non-GMO, open-pollinated, and heirloom seedlings from her Amish-built greenhouse.

Pam brings us into the greenhouse where her partner, Chris, is building tables using wood from trees on their farm. Pam and Chris tell us that they sell some of the wood and also use it to make repairs on their house and barns on the property. Pam then shows us the seedlings that are growing in the house until the greenhouse is ready and it’s amazing to see the small buds that grow into broccoli, cauliflower, and broccoli rabe. Then, it’s time to feed the chicks!

We head toward the beautiful, yellow home of the chicks. The chicks are in their awkward, adolescence - their heads still look like babies, but their bodies are starting to grow into adult chickens, with feathers slowly sprouting. It’s a feeding frenzy for these growing birds! It isn’t just feeding time for the chicks though; next stop, the pigs! The pigs are out on the grass, so Chris spreads the feed in the barn, and yells out one, big “Sooie!” 30 seconds later, the pigs are in the barn, ready to eat. Suddenly, we hear a loud crowing. It’s Rodney the Rooster letting us know it’s time for him and the hens to eat. Last, but not least, we go to see the rabbits on Abundance Acres Farm. Pam and Chris began raising rabbits in their garage a few years ago. It’s impressive to see how much they’ve expanded since then and how much they have to manage in a day!

Final stop, Brooktondale, NY to visit Erica at Shelterbelt Farm. Shelterbelt Farm is located on a steep hill. Erica and her husband, Craig, point out the trenches they’ve dug to make the most of the rainfall. Before digging, rainfall would roll down the hill and the land on the farm would not have time to soak in the water. Erica and Craig wanted to take advantage of this rainfall, so they strategically designed and dug ponds and trenches to catch the water on its way down the hill. One of the ponds is home to a few ducks (one of whom imprinted himself on Erica and Craig’s daughter, Rowan, at the beginning of his life) and another pond is home to some wild rice.

Erica used a $5,000 loan to invest in a breeding flock of hair sheep, a hoop house to generate profit she could leverage to continue growing the farm, and a livestock guardian dog who lowered the predation rates and, therefore, increased profits. Erica takes us around to see the hoophouse, sheep, and the two new guardian dogs - Keira and Luke! Keira and Luke are excited to see us and we can immediately see what a playful duo they are. Erica explains how much they’ve helped keep the predation rates down, as this had been a huge issue for them in the past.

After seeing firsthand how Kiva Zip worked (there really is no catch and no strings attached!), Erica became a Trustee on Kiva Zip. Erica has successfully endorsed seven farmer borrowers on Kiva Zip thus far and continues to support farmers through her work at the Cornell Small Farms Program. It was wonderful for us to sit with Erica (over tea and honey from Shelterbelt Farm) and hear about struggles farmers face and how Kiva Zip can continue to be a tool for them when they’re in need of funding.

As we’re leaving Shelterbelt Farm, we see Phoenix, Erica and Craig’s son, splashing in his rubber boots in the mud. As I open the car door and look down at my own boots, you’d think I’d been doing the same thing over the past two days. Farm life can certainly be messy (especially during a harsh winter like the one we’ve just had), but all three of these sweet, hardworking farmers make it clear that it can certainly be rewarding.

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Posted by Emily Gutman, Kiva City NY Fellow

May 27, 2015

As a native New Yorker, Emily is excited to represent Kiva Zip in New York City. After attending Wake Forest University for two years, Emily transferred to Barnard College where she studied Economics. Post graduation, Emily worked at JPMorgan for three and a half years, most recently working as a credit risk analyst covering the Public Finance sector. After reading about Kiva in “Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide”, Emily considered the possibilities of implementing these ideas in the U.S. Upon hearing about Kiva Zip, Emily was impressed to learn that safe, affordable access to capital was being provided to those in need in the U.S. and internationally. Through her Kiva Fellowship Program, Emily is looking forward to doing work she is passionate about, applying her strong analytical skills, and further exploring her interest in microfinance.

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