Close your eyes and think of a farm. Was it a three-quarter-acre patch of earth on Hamilton’s border with Allentown? Because that’s what Kat Mitchell sees when she thinks of a farm.
To be fair, this particular small parcel at 444 Sawmill Road in Hamilton is her farm. Well, hers and her soon-to-be husband Jay Reid’s. They don’t own the land they cultivate—it’s part of the larger Wind Dance Farm—but they do own the vision for what it could become. It’s a vision centered on community and good stewardship of the land, where pesticides are a no-no. Resilient Farms, honestly, could be an amazingly accurate name—if these two young farmers can make it work like they see it working and if they as young farmers can help rejuvenate an industry that itself is growing old on the vine.
But an organic farm, founded a year and a half ago, does need to spring from seeds. Reid’s sprouted in Hamilton, where he grew up.
Mitchell’s beginnings are a little more international. She was born Virginia in 1988, but in 2000 her father, a journalist for CBN News (Christian Broadcasting Network) landed a job in Israel; her parents still live in Israel.
She moved to Hawaii, in 2007, after high school as a break before college. After a couple years in Hawaii, she moved back to the mainland, following a guy she met in Hawaii to New Jersey in 2009.
Meanwhile, Reid, 33, spent three years in the Navy, based mostly in San Diego. He moved back home in 2009, and took a job as a bartender. There, he met Mitchell. Both earned their keep as bartenders throughout much of their 20s.
They began dating in 2013, the same year Reid got his degree in Spanish from the College of New Jersey. A year later, Mitchell decided she wanted to go back to school to be a social worker. The couple moved to San Diego, which had a few things going for it.
“We’re both pretty big surfers,” she said.
In San Diego, she pursued her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in social work at San Diego State. Not finished traveling the world, Mitchell went to Southeast Asia as part of an internship program. In Thailand, she saw how people steward the land.
“When I came back, I knew I wanted to be a farmer,” she said.
Back in San Diego, Mitchell and Reid had another reason to stay beyond surfing and school—Wild Willow Farms, an organic farm, where they learned what it takes to run a small, organic agribusiness as a profitable company.
The end of that last sentence is extremely important to keep in mind. Resilient Farms was not going to be some post-hippie lark by a pair of idealistic 20-somethings.
“We noticed right away that there were a lot of people going into [organic farming] extremely romantic,” Mitchell said. “We definitely went into it idealizing, but we were aware of the idea that we’d have to work our butts off.”
Both Mitchell’s and Reid’s butts still remain attached, but they have gotten a lot more fit. Reid is both the muscle on the farm and the social media guru for the business. For the past year and a half, he’s been chronicling the evolution of Resilient Farms on the company YouTube channel. Compare videos from June 2017 with those from June 2018 and you’ll notice how much more fit, and how less breathless, the two of them are.
But you’ll also notice moments when Reid turns his lens toward a clock face. It’s around 1:50 a.m., and he’s still working. That happens more than once, by the way. Most videos from Resilient feature a shovel or a broadfork, or some other hand-operated piece of farming hardware. All of them feature dirt-smudged clothes and a lot of physical work.
But in the evolution of the farm, you’ll also see the increasing savvy of the business. While Reid is the outgoing, make-a-new-friend type (he was a really good bartender, Mitchell said), Mitchell is the organizer. Spreadsheets? Schedules? That’s good stuff for her.
“People have asked me, ‘How do you express your creativity?’” said Mitchell, 30. “I do it through organizing. I look at spreadsheets like a puzzle.”
Mitchell said she and Reid are constantly streamlining, constantly honing, constantly looking into new things to make the labor less laborious and their time more productive as farmers.
This, Mitchell said, is part of the non-agriculture part of farming the couple are reaping for the future. She likes farm-centric spreadsheets so much she’s actually taught seminars on the subject, and to a surprisingly eager crowd of small-farm growers. She honed her spreadsheet skills as a youth social worker in San Diego, and it turns out this is the part of farming that so many newbies don’t quite know what to do with.
“There are a lot of resources on how to grow the perfect tomato,” she said. “But not a lot on how to keep track of yield, or how to do your taxes. There’s a lot of work behind the scenes.”
Then, of course, there’s the age range of Mitchell and Reid—firmly in the oft-maligned Millennial generation. But that, Mitchell said, is one of the couple’s great contributions to farming. The average age of the American farmer is in the 50s, which means if the industry doesn’t get some young people in it, on the smaller scale, we could run out of farmers in a few decades.
Mitchell said she’s encouraged to see more young people getting into farming and taking it past their idealism. The couple is working towards being profitable enough to hire a hand or two next year, preferably someone who could take over the day-to-day management of the farm—which they hope to move to a patch of land they will buy.
That’s five, maybe 10 years in the future, she said. In the meantime, she and her soon-to-be husband are also talking about children, which means the couple wants to have a successful enough business that they can work in time to be with their organically growing family and not be stuck at the farm.
“We’re trying to set ourselves up for the future,” she said.
Part of that is investing in some new equipment that will make the labor more efficient, but Mitchell and Reid are also smart enough to diversify their revenue streams. That means a number of crops, yes, but also farm shares, of which they already have 26, and eventually maybe paid workshops or books.
“We’re also looking at getting into real estate and land investment,” she said. “Doing some other things so that the farm is not live-and-die. That ‘live-and-die’ anxiety, for me, makes the farm harder.”
Of course, it wouldn’t be a farm without cash crops, the biggest of which for Resilient Farms is salad greens. Mitchell said Resilient has several Princeton restaurants constantly on their backs for more salad greens. But it’s the Burlington County Framers Market that’s really showtime for those sought-after crops.
“Saturday morning [is] the best day of our week,” Mitchell said. “It’s one day a week that we go out in public not in our farm clothes.”
The weekly market, at the Burlington Agricultural Center in Moorestown, draws hundreds of people, many of them whom have become regulars of Resilient’s produce.
“There are some people, we watch them come from the parking lot directly to our spot,” she said.
They’re regulars, like Mitchell and Reid used to get in their bartending days. Except there’s this aspect:
“It’s really nice to not be serving alcohol, but be serving them local food,” she said.
There’s also this: “It’s just very incredible how emotional people get about local, yummy food.”
So the couple doesn’t plan on taking it away any time soon. Even if they’d like to go to bed before 2 a.m. more often.