Alumni Series: Tim Biello, Organic Farmer

Tim Biello graduated from WashU in 2002, where he studied anthropology and biology. He now runs Featherbed Lane Farm located in the Eastern part of New York State, just north of the capital, Albany. Born in St. Louis, Tim taught environmental education and did trail work before setting his sights on owning and operating his own farm. Now, a few years after starting, Featherbed Lane Farm is becoming one of the well-established CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) farms in the area. Tim has been able to merge two of his passions: producing quality produce and building stronger connections within his community.

Mackenzie Hines-Wilson, communications intern at the Office of Sustainability, spoke with Tim to learn more about his career path since graduating from WashU. During the interview, Tim talked about the challenges and triumphs that come with running a farm and how he would like to see the farm progress.

 

How did you start working on an organic farm?
I worked a lot of different jobs involving outdoor education and trailwork right after college. I wanted to combine a lot of the features of those jobs, but I also wanted to produce something that was tangibly needed. I decided that if I worked on a farm I could work directly with people and produce food.

What makes your job rewarding?
Personally, I love that I get to work on my farm every day because I get to be very connected to the land. I also love the families that are a part of our CSA Program and having other people feel connected to the farm is really special to me too.

Can you describe some of the challenges you faced while working on the farm these last few years?
I would say that I’ve faced internal and external challenges since working on the farm. Personally, I wish I had more hands-on technical skills with carpentry, welding, and working with engines. Then there are all of the costs associated with starting up a farm business. The initial investment required for start-up is a challenge, especially since it takes some time for the farm to start producing and generating sufficient revenues.

Why do you encourage people to be involved in the process of getting their own food?
Since we have an on-farm pick-up, people have to come to the farm every week to get their food. They see the farm when it’s sunny as well as when it’s overcast and rainy. I think having them come to the farm encourages people to be connected to it in all conditions and seasons. They ask questions about how the food grows since a lot of them have gardens. We are proactive about encouraging people to be engaged and to learn about the aspects of the farm that interest them.

How has the farm created a stronger sense of community?
Personally, since I started the farm, I am more connected to the growers and farmers in this community. Additionally, the CSA program has provided the opportunity for people to connect around a shared passion for farming and food, which I think has strengthened their sense of being a part of this community too.

If someone was interested in owning their own farmland and growing their own food, what advice would you give them?
The first step is to gain hands-on experience by working on other farms. While you’re working and gaining that experience, develop a long-term plan considering the business and financial aspects of owning your own farm.

Where would you like to see the farm in five years?
I hope that we can purchase the farm because right now I have a lease to own arrangement.   I’m also hoping for more efficiency and to be in a better financial position for myself and our employees. Finally, I want to make the farm an even more beautiful place over the years.

 

For more information about the Featherbed Lane Farm or to learn more about Tim Biello, visit http://featherbedlanefarm.com/about-featherbed/