We are so grateful to be able to offer our CSA members local, healthy, delicious add-on products through our partnerships with a growing number of amazing Upper Valley farmers and producers! Each month, we’d like to shine a spotlight on one of these incredible local partners by sharing an interview we conducted with them.
This month, meet Randy Robar of Kiss the Cow Farm located in Barnard, VT.
Q: What was your process for starting your farm/business?
A: We started to go down the path of finding out where food actually comes from, which is a very slippery slope. We found that most stuff in the supermarket is not food and probably not healthy for you. So we thought, ok, we’ll grow our own! We started homesteading, growing a garden, then we got a cow, then meat chickens. Basically we didn’t have a clue. We knew nothing about farming when we started this. I think that’s actually helped us because we didn’t need to unlearn more traditional, industrial ways. We did lots of reading, researching, NOFA workshops and conferences, and visiting farms and listening to people. The organic concept just made sense. We thought, yes of course, there was no other option. We started off on the right foot.
Q: Can you explain the relationship you have with the other farmers that you share land with?
A: We had our cow in the garage, a few meat birds and some layers, ducks, pigs, we started maple sugaring, and we kept doing more. Very quickly we outgrew our space. We noticed there was a dairy farm sitting unused up the road from us. Concurrent to that, there was a beef farmer looking for space to graze their cows, and a veggie farmer looking for land to start a business. We found out about each other, and decided to band together to rent the space.
The family who owned the land liked the idea, but their lawyer did not. Luckily, the Vermont Land Trust stepped in to buy the property and as a group, we leased it from VLT. The initial ideas and ideals we had of working together in a lot of ways never happened. Reality set in but, we still work together. Our most well-known cooperative endeavor is Feast and Field. It started out as our farmers’ market to sell our produce and products, then we added music and now it’s become a whole experience. Hundreds of people turn out every Thursday (in non-covid times) throughout the summer and fall.
Q: Can you explain what you mean when you say “farming is a way of life?”
A: Really why we do this is to feed our community. We have people calling us up from Texas and California asking to send milk to them. We graciously decline since we’re focused on our community. Our milk is truly rare. It is certified organic, 100% grass-fed, A2 milk. There are seriously few farms in the entire country that offer this and we’re one of them. It’s a unique product and people want it, but we’re not interested in selling to, say, Boston or New York markets. We just wanna feed our neighbors.
In our farm store and in our CSA, we offer products from other local farmers and producers. We sell Root 5 stuff (naturally!) along with over 100 other VT farmers and food producers. We are committed to reselling other farmers’ food products because it helps them out and keeps them going and our customers appreciate all the local food choices. I love helping other farmers because I get it. Farming is hard. I’m grateful we are in a position to be able to offer that support.
Q: Your farm is a part of WWOOF Int’l. Any fun WWOOF-er stories?
A: My wife and I are both educators with masters degrees in education. We love teaching kids about this lifestyle, about farming, feeding a community, doing work and projects that they find meaningful. It’s a lot of fun and one of the benefits of farming. There is very little monetary profit in farming, but we get the payback in different ways, with the appreciation of our community, the smiles of patrons when they get a scoop of ice cream, and by teaching young adults skills and cultivating their love for agriculture.
One year we needed more chicken pens to move the birds across the fields. One of the WOOFERS really wanted to get experience building something with tools. When she came, she had never even held a hammer before. So together, she and I built one of these chicken pens. I asked her if she’d enjoyed that project and she said she had. I said, that’s good because we need two pens and YOU are going to build the second one. Every day she would disappear into the shop and with a skill saw, drill, lumber, and a staple gun, she built it all on her own. She was so incredibly proud of herself that she had created this thing. What an amazing experience to give this kid! And she did a good job too, we still use the pen!
Q: What are some of your favorite/least favorite jobs on the farm?
A: My least favorite would be mucking out the chicken coops in the spring after the chickens have been in them all winter. It’s just a disgusting, backbreaking job.
My favorite jobs would be hanging out with cows, and being able to provide opportunities for kids to learn and watching them grow.
Q: What has been one of the most surprising things you’ve learned?
A: (Laughs) In my previous life, I worked in the corporate world. I got out of that primarily because I was tired of spending my day answering emails, talking on the phone, being in meetings, and managing people. I just wanted to commune with my cows. And wouldn’t you know it, now as a farmer, I’m on email constantly, have lots of phone conversations, and I’m managing people. I call it, “computer farming.” Even on my days off, I’m still farming! Seriously, if anyone has bookkeeping skills, save me!
Q: How has the pandemic affected your farm?
A: Like everyone that had a CSA or farm store with direct access to customers, we were slammed last year. We were not only normal busy, we were beyond understanding busy. We didn’t have time to cope. Thankfully that’s chilled off now. We were just trying to get through it. We’re one of the lucky ones, our sales actually went up. We had to buy in more cows, because we didn’t have enough milk for people. We couldn’t make ice cream for two months, because we didn’t have the milk. Quarantining the kids coming in to work for the season was an added challenge. The first kid couldn’t get here from down south, because there was no public transportation. We didn’t do any farmers’ markets last year because we didn’t think it was safe. We feel a responsibility to try to keep all of our staff safe and healthy.
Q: How’d you get your name?
A: I used to read a book called “Kiss the Cow” as part of an educational program at a museum. Plus we do a lot of cow canoodling! It just seemed to fit who we are.
Q: What excites/inspires you about what you do?
A: Cute cows. I often joke that you can hug a cow, but you can’t hug a cabbage.
Q: Anything else you’d like our CSA members to know about you and your farm?
A: You are always welcome. Our store is always open, so come on by. We have really cute cows. And we’re looking for a bookkeeper!
For bookkeeping inquiries contact Randy at firstname.lastname@example.org
Visit their website at https://www.kissthecowfarm.com/
Interview by Hannah Jeffery
Root 5 Farm