SCHENECTADY – In the book “In the House Above the Trees“ by Ethel Cook Eliot, the main character, Hepatica, is transported to magical worlds through nature. Inspired by the protagonist’s relationship with the earth, Arthur Kraamwinkle and Melanie Seserman named their farm after her.
Hepatica Farm is a poultry farm in Greenwich. They go to different farmers markets, including Schenectady’s Greenmarket, and sell different cuts of chicken and turkey. This year, they’ve started to raise laying hens as well and hope to eventually have eggs available.
Sustainability is key to Kraamwinkle — when buying the farm, the couple also put it in conservation. What this means is that the land has been classified as “forever farmland.”
Kraamwinkle is originally from The Netherlands and grew up in The Hague, but even in a big city, he had an affliction for farm life.
“Every minute I could I’d spend with farmers,” Kraamwinkle said, recalling childhood vacations to the countryside.
Farming goes far beyond work to Kraamwinkle, it’s his passion. He is also a licensed mental health counselor, but the farm is — in his words — his “great love.” Both another job and a hobby rolled into one, it’s where he spends most of his time.
“I think about farming from the moment I open my eyes until I close them again,” Kraamwinkle said.
In February 2019, Kraamwinkle and Sesermen realized their dream and closed on the farm. This week, The Gazette talked to Kraamwinkle about Hepatica’s history, present and future.
Q: What’s your favorite product you sell at the market?
A: “Well I sell mostly chicken so I’d say chicken. But the turkey is really nice too. We have ground turkey and it’s a really excellent product. Our chicken breast is really good and our whole birds are really good. I don’t really have one particular favorite but I’m very proud of the chicken we produce. They have a lot of flavor.
They live outside. They live in portable coops outside that I move every day. They always have fresh grass, they live in the sunlight. Industrial birds tend to live inside in artificial light in crowded situations where there’s a lot of fecal dust floating in the air they breathe in.
It’s just not healthy and it doesn’t produce a very good product.
Ours live outside, they eat the bugs that jump in through the coops. They eat fresh, healthy food. They have sunlight and fresh air — makes for a very different chicken.”
Q: Do you have a favorite dish to make with chicken?
A: “I like our chicken wings. My wife bakes them in the oven. The secret is, in the rub, she puts aluminum-free baking powder. When you bake it in the oven with that rub, it really draws the fat out and makes for a very juicy, juicy wing.
Q: What are some day-to-day challenges of operating the farm?
A: “Well, time is certainly a challenge, to have enough time to do everything. Every morning I do the chores. I start with the baby chicks. Then I go up to the fields where our turkeys are, feed them, water them, then I go to the chickens and do the same things there.
One of our challenges last year were the racoons. They really got into the chickens until I put up an electric fence around the coops. So they added a little bit of work because I have to move the fencing when I move the coop. The nice thing about it is I really try not to exterminate a lot of life. We have a lot of tree lines on the farm and that’s where a lot of wildlife lives. The reason I keep the trees is because we need to cultivate diversity in the ecosystem around us. I try not to kill predators, it doesn’t work anyway. So the electric fence helps, it’s an interesting challenge. I’m proud to be involved in figuring out farming while also maintaining the wildlife around us. So far they have left me alone because of the electric fence
Another challenge is to get it all done. It’s a lot of work. We’re a growing farm. This week I have to build two additional coops, one for turkeys so they can have their own housing, and I need to build housing for our laying hens. Because we’re expanding, I’m always building new infrastructure for the next animal. Later this year I hope we can start with pork.”
Q: What are some of the fun parts?
A: “Oh I love to do the chores. It’s such a nice way to start the day. To see all the animals, it’s a pretty satisfying experience to see them all content. It’s very nice to see them bathe in the sun and just be happy animals. Doing the chores, I just love it. It’s so nice to be out there in the morning when the sun comes up. Just me and the animals, I really love doing that.”
Q: What does sustainability mean to you?
A: “That we enhance nature, that we are not just farming in order to make nature fit our needs but when I farm I make nature thrive more. I make our fields healthier, increase organic matter in the fields, create biodiversity with the hedgerows, make the field a better piece of nature than it was when I started.
It’s like when you borrow something. At the very least, you return it the same and make it better if you can. I feel the same about the farm. That’s why it is designated forever farmland so it can continue to improve.
I am starting to farm in a biodynamic way this year. It really focuses on understanding nature and making it thrive. I don’t use any artificial fertilizer, nothing that becomes a burden for the ecosystem.”
Q: Who’s your favorite vendor to visit at The Greenmarket?
A: “I like Night Work Bread, they have really nice bread. I like Our Daily Bread right next to them, they have really nice scones and muffins. There is The Mushroom Shop, we often have their mushrooms. And there’s Lovin’ Mama, I really like her veggies. I’d say those are some of my favorites.”
Contact reporter Ameara Ditsche at [email protected]. Keep up with her on Twitter @amearaisawriter.
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