Sustainable agriculture at Heartwood Farm
5 min read / November 28, 2022
5 min read / November 28, 2022
At Heartwood Farm, Andy and Marina are harvesting on-farm wood to boil maple sap into syrup, improving the soil, sourcing inputs from the land instead of buying them, cutting back on travel time, and focusing on making more time for family.
Finding that balance has certainly made life sweeter (and maybe their maple syrup, too).
Zucchini, cauliflowers, kale, carrots, winter squash, potatoes, herbs, onions… did we say tomatoes? They grow a ton of vegetables at Heartwood Farm in Albany, Vermont, and strive for sustainable farming.
You can find them at the Montpelier farmers’ market. They also sell through the Hardwick co-op.
In his 20s, Andy began harvesting more veggies than he could eat. He started selling the excess to a local wilderness school. The income kicked off what has proven to be a fruitful career as a vegetable farmer.
Andy leased croplands in the Albany area for more than a decade as he built his business, Heartwood Farm. Leasing was a good option at the time, but it required him to drive back and forth constantly to move equipment and tend veggie plots. The travel meant extra effort and long hours, something that became increasingly difficult to balance once he and his partner Marina had their son, Cosmo.
In 2021, Andy and Marina worked with us to buy and conserve a single plot of land large enough for their needs, at a price they could afford.
They were thrilled to now own 202 acres of farm fields and open land, rambling forests, sugarbush, and wetlands in South Albany, located in the Northeast Kingdom of Vermont.
Amazingly, their farm is right next door to where they live, and it’s the farm where Andy got his start – for a few years he rented some of the land to grow vegetables and has tapped the sugarbush since starting Heartwood Farm in 2010.
“We’re so excited to have the opportunity to be able to build the farm back to where we want it on land that’s right here, close to home,” says Andy. “I left more than 10 years ago seeking more ideal growing conditions…now I’m back, because the ideal thing is close to home.”
Owning the land allows them to plan beyond the growing season. “We’re slowly transitioning onto this new land and it’s exciting, because we can actually think long-term,” says Marina. “It’s a huge shift in mentality and practice.”
“Even if a farm is small, you need to make time to put the systems in place,” she adds. “Where the fields will go, what equipment we need there. In some ways, in the past Andy’s had to chase his tail to make it all work. Having it all in one place affords us a different way of doing things.”
They’re also glad the land is conserved. “We’re delighted that the farm cannot be broken up and sold,” says Andy. “It would have been perfect to do that: a mile of road frontage, fields, etc. It could have easily happened. It’s happening around here. We’re seeing it firsthand. But – this farm is protected.”
It’s true: several industrious dam-builders have taken up residence at Heartwood Farm’s large pond and cedar swamp, which are part of 17 acres of wetlands along a headwater tributary of Seaver Brook and the Black River. On dry land, its forests harbor bear, deer, bobcat, coyote, ermine, and many different birds.
The animals nurture the vitality of Heartwood Farm’s sugarbush–and, ultimately, the quality of its maple syrup. Andy and Marina boil their sap over a wood fire, which improves its flavor, and harvest some wood on site, which improves the sustainability of their wood-fired maple syrup operation.
“We sugar the old school way: Buckets, wood fire, no reverse osmosis,” says Andy. “People really love it. We sell all our syrup that way. I love opening the sugar house in the spring and not having to buy anything.”
Sustainable farming is an important goal at Heartwood Farm. The vegetable farm is pesticide-free. Andy limits the use of fertilizer and compost, aiming for a little less each year. He hopes to take advantage of the woodland to improve the soil sustainably.
“We’re excited about the forested land that has the excess – the leaves and wood chips – that we can be using to feed soils,” he says. “It is what’s truly sustainable.”
“We just see ourselves as stewards of the land,” Andy adds, “and later someone else will take care of it… maybe our son Cosmo.”
Heartwood’s products can be found throughout northern Vermont.
You can buy fresh at the Buffalo Mountain Coop in Hardwick and the Capital City Farmers Market in Montpelier – get your veggie starts from Andy in the spring at the Montpelier farmers market, or pick up a jar of their special wood-fired maple syrup.
You can get in touch with Andy and Marina at (802) 755-9052 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Photos by Kyle Gray