Earlier this year, Hannah Otten, class of 2012, was working on getting into medical school. She graduated from Bates College with a degree in Math in 2016 and returned to the area to take courses at UAlbany to pursue her growing interest in health care. She continued working multiple jobs, including as a musician, as she pursued her goal of medical school. Then the COVID-19 pandemic hit.
Like many others, Hannah found herself out of work, but one day her former employer, Laura Singer of Hilo Café, called her to ask her to help out with a budding project, the Catskill Community Micro Farm.
The Micro Farm was the idea of community member Dante Bardo and former Hawthorne Valley Farm apprentice Wesley Harper. Their goal was to address the increased need for nutritious food by providing free, fresh produce to the local food pantry. Dante negotiated the lease of an underutilized acre lot from the St. Stephen’s Parish on William Street, Wesley provided the planting plans, and they needed one more person to help with the logistics of managing a community organization. Hannah enthusiastically joined the team to fill that role.
Hannah worked to organize the project and ensure that everyone followed the protocols of mask wearing and social distancing. She spent many hours planning workdays, getting volunteers to sign up for shifts, and sending out reminders about shifts.
The community in Catskill embraced the project. Around 40 people volunteered at the Micro Farm throughout the season, helping with everything from building out the infrastructure needed, to planting starts, to watering.
“The mission of the Micro Farm is really to both provide fresh vegetables to the food pantry and also to give the community an opportunity to come together and get their hands in soil,” Hannah says. “This project really would not work without our volunteers. A lot of credit goes to them for what we accomplished this year.”
Hannah sees the Catskill Community Micro Farm as a chance to address the food insecurity that has long plagued Greene County in a way that involves the whole community.
“COVID took an issue that has been there and really smacked us in the face with it,” Hannah says. “The Hudson Valley is marketed as an agro-tourism hub, and there’s so much agricultural wealth here, but still residents struggle to put nutritious food on their tables.”
The Catskill Community Micro Farm grew and delivered over 1,200 lbs. of donated produce to the Catskill Food Pantry through the course of the season. Hannah and Wesley plan to continue expanding the Micro Farm in a way that affectively uses the entire acre lot and expand its ability to donate to area food pantries beyond Catskill. For next growing season, they are installing a hoop house donated by Black Horse Farms in Coxsackie.
“Help can happen in a multitude of ways,” Hannah says. “We had so many volunteers, and everyone had either a little or a lot to offer, and we are happy to meet them where they are and are thankful for what they give. We are also so grateful for the farms that have donated extra starts to us and extra root vegetables directly to the food pantry.”
Over the winter, Hannah and Wesley are focusing on fundraising for an automatic irrigation system and working on incorporating Catskill Community Micro Farm as a nonprofit organization which will enable them to create programming for area youth to introduce them to farming as a possible future vocation. If you’d like to support these efforts, please visit their GoFundMe page here.