The snow is long gone, the birds are chirping, and the trees are blooming, which means that spring is finally here. To help celebrate this season of extended daylight, rising temperatures, and delicious local produce, meat and flowers, we’re starting a series of “Meet Your Local Farm” profiles to introduce you to some of the farms around New Hampshire and the men and women behind them.
For our latest profile, meet Greg Balog and Andre Cantelmo. Greg and Andre are the co-owners at Heron Pond Farm, a farm that’s been producing over 250 varieties of vegetables, fruits, herbs and flowers in South Hampton for over 20 years. Read on to learn all about Heron Pond and how Greg and Andre are building community through local agriculture.
Tell us about the history of your farm.
Greg and Andre: “We started Heron Pond Farm in 1998 on a small two-acre rented plot of land at David Bachelder’s farm. The farm has been growing and changing ever since, with the goal of becoming a permanent part of the landscape in southern Rockingham County. Through the very generous help of James and Jocelyn VanBokkelen, we were able to purchase a more permanent home in South Hampton the following year. In 2000, the farm came into the form you see today when Walter and Blanche Syvinki retired from Valley Acres Farm and turned operations over to us. The VanBokkelens’ commitment to open space has kept the land available, while the Syvinskis have been valued mentors in New England small farm practices. It takes a village to raise a child, so it should come as no surprise that it has taken a mix of all these folks to make Heron Pond Farm what it is today.”
What makes your farm special or different?
Greg and Andre: “We have a very special team of local folks who make up Heron Pond Farm. As a result of our size, we have team members with specific roles, such as equipment operators, mechanic, pack out crew, tomato crew, harvest crew, wash stand team, CSA team, farm stand team and more.
The way we farm is also unique. We are not certified organic, but we are a soil-centric farm, and we are continually building the biodiversity in the soil. Here at Heron Pond Farm, we strive to be biological farmers. Biological farming is the act of maximizing biological activity in the soil. Our commitment to the health of our land and our customers is stronger than ever as a result of sustainable practices we have put in place. We like to say our produce is unconventionally grown, and we have developed management plans that keep our air, land and water in mind as we grow a whole-farm ecosystem. We are one of the largest cover crop growers in the area, and we even recently worked with the Southeast Land Trust (SELT) to conserve parts of the farm. We are FISMA (Food Safety Modernization Act) and GAP (Good Agricultural Practices) inspected and certified, plus have water use and soil saving management plans.
This year, we are excited to start the implementation of a native pollinator protection plan. This plan was developed with help from the NRCS (Natural Resources Conservation Service) and the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation. We will be establishing permanent strips of uncropped land for use by native bees and other pollinators. These permanent strips will also help with reducing erosion.
We fertilize almost all of our crops with composted chicken manure and, just like many organic farms, we use biologically based pesticides. We use certified organic products including fertilizer for 90% of our crops. We don’t spray any leafy greens or our berries with anything, certified organic or not, and we never use GMOs. (Yes, even certified organic farms use pesticides.) We are lucky to have a farm that has many fields far away from one another, which helps with pest control because we can rotate crops out of the range of a particular insect or disease. The vast majority of our weed control is done with our flame weeder and tractor implements called cultivators. You will not find many organic farms better equipped to control weeds in this way. We view the use of non-biological pesticides as a tool only to be used where nothing else will work or is practical. We don’t like doing it, and don’t make decisions like this lightly. We have employees and families who live and play on the farm and their safety is paramount. Our farming practices are designed to be sustainable in every sense of the word: environmentally, financially and mindful of making time for other things in life.
An additional unique factor is that we are a suburban and patch work farm. We grow in neighbors’ yards and fields within a three mile radius of the farm stand, allowing us to have about 60 acres in production.
The way we sell our produce can be seen as unique too. We are not just a market farm, or a CSA farm. We sell to a large CSA, which has grown to about 700 members since the pandemic. We also wholesale to restaurants, offer home delivery, run a year round farm stand and attend both summer and winter farmers markets.”
What’s the story behind the name of your farm?
Greg: “Andre needed a name for the farm when we were at David Batchelder’s place. He saw a pond with a bunch of herons nesting there and decided to call it Heron Pond Farm. There were quite a few herons at the new South Hampton location, so the name traveled well.”
What are you best known for?
Greg and Andre: “A lot of people love our 15 varieties of potatoes and 30 beautiful heirloom tomato varieties. Customers especially love seeing the colors at markets and in their CSA. We are a four-season farm and grow in 14 greenhouses in the winter. This allows us to have a wide range of fresh local greens all winter long, which is a big draw for our winter CSA.”
Tell us about the most memorable day you’ve had working on the farm.
Andre: “My most memorable day on the farm would have to be my wedding. It kind of cemented that the farm is a huge part of my life. My son was also born on the farm, and my life is really centered around the farm especially with the events.”
Tell us about what you have been up to this season. Do you have any new milestones, products, events, or anything exciting planned?
Greg and Andre: “We have a children’s garden and pick-your-own blueberries each year. We are hoping to have more open events for CSA members and community members to show them around the farm. We are looking forward to a time in which we can see and share good food with everyone on the farm again.”
What keeps you passionate about doing what you do?
Greg and Andre: “The feedback from the CSA members, and our regular customers getting excited about what they are eating. We also like to eat good food, so we like to grow good food.”
What can people expect to find at your farmstand or farm store this year?
Greg and Andre: “They can expect to find great local food! We always look forward to strawberries in mid-late June. We grow over 200 varieties of produce, and we have a seasonal calendar on our website for more information on what is in season throughout the year. We also carry lots of quality local products that align with our values and support other local farmers and producers. This includes, but is not limited to, local meats, cheeses, jams, maples, honey, ferments, coffee, baked goods, spices and much more.
Will people be able to find you at any farmers markets this year? If so, which one/ones?
Greg and Andre: “You can find us at the Portsmouth, New Hampshire, and Newburyport and Somerville, Massachusetts, farmers markets. We also hope to return to the Seacoast Eat Local Winter Farmer’s Markers next winter.”
How can people best support you right now?
Greg and Andre: “Buy a CSA share. Tell your friends. Shop at the farm stand and farmers markets.”
The post Meet Your Local Farm: Heron Pond Farm’s Greg Balog and Andre Cantelmo appeared first on New Hampshire Magazine.