By Lindsay Rebhan
Hannah Breckbill of Humble Hands Harvest is proving that where there’s a will there’s a way. This is Hannah’s first season of production for her farm, located in Elgin, Minn. According to Hannah, “There are still a lot of unknowns, but I am devoting myself full-time to this enterprise.” She is growing two acres of vegetables on land rented from Hidden Stream Farm.
Hidden Stream Farm is a meat operation, producing cattle, pigs, broilers, and sheep, with well-developed marketing channels. For the past few years, the farmers have been buying local produce to distribute along with their meat to restaurants, groceries, and food-service places in Rochester, Minn. and the Twin Cities. They advertised through the Land Stewardship Project for someone to rent land from them and sell vegetables to them for distribution though their markets. Hannah explained, “I was in a place when I saw their advertisement that I was ready to move into farming on my own, and I didn’t mind moving to Minnesota to do it!”
Hannah graduated from college with a degree in math in 2009, and promptly started a farm internship managing a CSA in Texas. After a year a connection at Seed Savers Exchange brought her to Decorah, Iowa where she spent 2-1/2 seasons employed on vegetable farms with various scales and markets. Hannah highly recommends employment on vegetable farms for any aspiring farmer. “Organic-minded folks are so eager to teach and advise aspiring farmers,” she said. “After committing to this new business, I received so much help in the form of labor, material aid, and advice–I absolutely couldn’t do it without the community I’ve built around farming.”
Humble Hands Harvest has an arrangement with Hidden Stream Farm that gives access to one of their 2-acre paddocks, large equipment if needed (she used their big tractor to do the original tillage and seeding of some cover crops in 2012), and use of the cooler in addition to the market opportunities.
Looking at the 2013 season, Hannah explained, “The season has barely started, so it’s still not guaranteed, but the plan is that I won’t have to spend any time marketing my produce. I send one weekly e-mail stating what I have available–that’s a huge time-saver and one of the things that will allow me to grow 2 acres of vegetables fairly intensively.”
“In terms of future plans: this spring I’ve been thinking hard about land ownership. I am not ready to take that step on my own because I have next to nothing in the way of capital. However, I’d really like to work on a more perennial system than rented land allows–planting trees, for example, and making long-term improvements to water systems. I also know that I would rather not live alone, and that I would rather live on the land that I’m farming. This means that I’m on the lookout for fellow farmers, or land-based entrepreneurs, with whom I could build a community. For now, though, I’m excited to have a few years experimenting with Humble Hands Harvest, honing my growing skills, building connections in the area, and hopefully earning enough money to pay myself for my work!”
You can connect with and follow Humble Hands Harvest on Facebook. Hannah was also recently featured in the article, Breaking the grass ceiling: On U.S. farms women are taking the reins.
Lindsay Rebhan coordinates the New Organic Stewards, a joint project of MOSES and Renewing the Countryside.