by Trace Ramsey
Black River Organic Farm, a 16-acre farm in Ivanhoe, NC, has been certified organic for over 15 years. Black River supplies seasonal organic produce to Tidal Creek and also provides a spring/summer vegetable box subscription. Stefan Hartmann, who operates Black River Organic Farm, took a break from preparing for the upcoming season to answer a few questions.
When and where did you get your start in farming?
I grew up a city kid in Germany. In 1977, after high school, I resisted the mandatory military draft and did the alternate civil service by working on a big farm, which was attached to a mental institution in North Germany. That got me started in agriculture, and I followed that up by getting a degree in agriculture from the University of Goettingen, Germany. I came to my maternal grandparents’ place here in Ivanhoe in 1984, and have been farming here ever since.
Since I grew up a city kid, I didn’t have any preconceived notions of how farming should be. Environmental issues, limited natural resources such as oil, and economic factors including many farms going out of business, all contributed to my interest in growing organic. I was also very interested in developing sustainable agriculture techniques for countries in need. Furthermore, I didn’t want to expose myself or the food to chemicals. It was a quality of life issue.
Could you describe your work at Black River?
We work like crazy all the time, growing a wide variety of veggies and herbs, and increasingly growing in greenhouses. We’re growing on about 16 acres of land, with a big emphasis on cover crops and soil health. We’re also involved in timber/wood lot management on our timber acreage.
What crops do you grow on the farm?
What don’t we grow? Starting with lettuces, peas, mixed greens and going to squashes, cucumbers, corn, eggplant, peppers, tomatoes, Irish potatoes, sweet potatoes, melons, basil, parsley, dill, and ending with garlic, onions and leeks.
Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) programs are becoming important sales tools for small farms. Describe your CSA and why it is important for your farm and the community.
CSA programs are a great way to connect the farm with the customer, in effect a community builder, creating ownership by allowing people to “buy” into the whole farm by subscribing to our vegetables. In a time where less than 2% of the population farm anymore, where people don’t know where most of the food they eat is grown, CSA programs are a reversal of those trends. It also makes us farmers belong to the community and have face-to-face interactions with the consumers as opposed to just the wholesale buyers.