Matthew Feinkind and Panthea Bishop have a passion for farming.
The two former New Jersey residents are working to make plants and vegetables grow as first generation farmers at their small two-acre family operation located at 34387 Bennett Road in Warren. They are doing so during an era when many farm operations across the nation have gone out of business or are on the brink of financial disaster.
Overcast Farm is primarily a vegetable farm operation, growing for 20 families using a CSA vegetable box subscription system as well as supplying a few downtown Portland restaurants, according to Matthew.
“CSA means Community Supported Agriculture,” Panther said. “The subscription is a 24-week, once a week box of veggies they either pick up, or that we deliver. We vary what veggies are in the box as things are in their prime.”
“We also offer flower bouquets at our farm stand on the weekends and some tea and herb blends,” he said.
Matthew adds that family farming in Columbia County is challenging.
“While everyone likes to paint a rosy picture of local agriculture right now, it’s never been easy,” he said. “It took me years to find a suitable piece of property to grow food, one that ended up being far costlier than I bargained for.”
Matthew said margins are thin.
“And far too many people like the idea of the food but not the price tag: a likely result of a food chain that has had all the wrong priorities,” Matthew said.
Describing farming as a job with long hours and aching bodies, Matthew said the biggest challenge of all is starting the couple’s first year farming in the thrall of a worldwide pandemic.
“In the span of two months, we completely changed the entire business plan, bought a whole new round of seeds, and built an online selling platform all while preparing for the season,” Matthew said. “It’s been harder to connect with our community and there’s a constant weight on our shoulders. If we were to get sick, the entire business could fall apart. Most of all, we could inadvertently endanger the people who have given us their trust.”
Matthew said farming has always been an occupation of hope.
“While all of these challenges still exist, I’ve been incredibly surprised at the local enthusiasm and support I’ve received from the community,” he said.
Beyond the community support, Matthew said the couple sees other rewards in farming as well.
“As a farmer, I love watching the seasons progress not so much measured in days or months but by when it’s time to plant the peas; when the first tomato blushes red,” he said. “I get to spend all day with my hopelessly codependent dog Hudson. I can do something for our community that I feel is truly important.”
Matthew said he and Panthea met in Portland after they both left separately from New Jersey. Matthew said he went to school for horticulture, Panthea for art and graphic design. The two describe themselves as young, maybe a bit quirky, first generation farmers. Matthew is farming full time, while Panthea is both farming and doing elder care in Portland.
“Our belief is everyone deserves healthy nourishing foods, grown in a way that makes sense for the environment, the growers, and the community,” the couple said.
“I started on this journey with a disillusionment of politics as usual at a large land grant research university.” Matthew said. “From my perspective, farming today seemed like a race to the bottom economically and environmentally. We’ve all seen the decline, and like a lot of us, decided to be a part of an alternative approach.”
The couple said they hope to be a part of a new model that can show small farms can not only be environmentally sustainable, but financially as well.
“This requires, among other things, the support from a devoted local community,” the couple said. “We also donate some of our food as well as organizing with other produce resources to help nourish underserved communities, which we feel is very important always, but particularly vital during these challenging times.”
Overcast Farm is currently not having community gatherings at the Warren location.
“Because we are hyper vigilant about social distancing, we are greatly interested in having our community visit once COVID-19 has become more manageable,” Matthew said. “In the meantime, we encourage people to come visit the farm stand on weekends from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. for flowers, veggies, and herbs.”
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