Are you someone who believes that food should be fun and even a bit quirky? If so, you have a lot in common with Ian Ater. His farm, Fledging Crow Vegetables -- which sounds a bit like the name of a rock band -- is the enthusiastic producer of light rainbow carrots and celery root for RealEats.
As soon as he starts talking about what it’s like to work 12-16 hour days on his small certified organic vegetable farm, you quickly understand why his favorite past times are drinking coffee, building seedbeds in a single pass with his Perfecta® II field cultivator, and hanging out with his little girl.
“We work really hard so it’s important that everyone has a good time,” the owner and farm operator explains. ”We hire individuals who are not just looking for a job. We ask a ton of them, but everyone enjoys what they are doing and knows each other.”
Music is always playing when people work in the fields. Days start at 6:30 each morning with the whole crew commenting on their favorite and least favorite part of the previous day. The day ends with a shared delicious meal punctuated with banter. “You need to know how to dish it out and take it,” Ian jokes.
This attitude, plus discovering how to successfully grow organic vegetables, attracts workers from all walks of life. His crew ranges from ages 15 to 59 from places like Oregon, California, London, Amsterdam, Puerto Rico, and Jamaica. Volunteers also come to help out and learn.
Ian did not start out to be a farmer. Raised in the suburbs of Rochester, New York, he attended SUNY Plattsburgh where he studied environmental science. After working at produce and dairy farms in the United States and Ecuador, he realized that he was in love with farm life and could not imagine doing anything else.
In 2008, Ian’s college professor, Marco Turco, invited him to lease a portion of his land to fulfill his dream of owning his own farm. He started Fledging Crow with Lucas Christenson, his former business partner. From the beginning, he wanted to focus on being a certified organic farm. Certification guarantees that the farm uses no article treatments or pesticides, and that its crop management maintains or improves the natural environment.
From four acres of rocky hayfields and a tent to sleep in, the Keeseville farm has grown to 42 acres of certified organic vegetables; a crew of 16 people including his partner Jessica, and daughter, Amaya; and extensive greenhouses, shops, and housing.
Ian says three words best describe Fledging Crow Vegetables: enthusiasm, risk, and positivity. “You see a lot of loss on a daily basis. Prices are always fluctuating. Every crop we put in the ground is high risk. Being an organic farm, small business, and vegetable grower means that you have to constantly evaluate what you are doing and adjust.”
Fortunately, a company like RealEats helps him stay positive and enthusiastic because the quantity purchased allows him to mitigate risk and focus on fewer crops with larger yields. And Ian notes that distributors like Headwater Food Hub provide go-to-market strategies and support so he can concentrate on doing what he loves best – growing fun vegetables like light rainbow carrots and celery root.
By the way, if you’re wondering if fun food is also good for you, here’s the lowdown. Ian’s pastel carrots have more health benefits than traditional orange ones. Yellow varieties contain lutein and xanthophylla, which are linked to eye health and preventing cancer; purple carrots are rich in anthocyanin, which may help prevent heart disease. Celery root is a nutritional powerhouse. The bulbous vegetable that tastes like celery is packed with fiber, vitamin B6, C, and K as well as phosphorus, potassium and manganese.
That’s how we like it at RealEats. Fun. Simple. Good for you. And straight from the farm.