Sisters Hill Farm feeds multitude

David Hambleton joined Sisters Hill Farm in 1999 and says “there’s nothing more basic and elemental than feeding people.”

Natalia Zukerman

Sisters Hill Farm feeds multitude

STANFORDVILLE — As part of their mission, the Sisters of Charity of Saint Vincent de Paul of New York hired David Hambleton in 1999 to be the farmer and Director of Sisters Hill Farm in Stanfordville.

The property, known as Hill Crest Farm in the early days of the twentieth century, was willed to the sisters in 1917. They oversaw the property until the 1940s when the land was left fallow. Since 1999, it has flourished under Hambleton’s guidance, whose unique blend of skills and passions has reshaped the landscape, infusing it with innovation, sustainability, and a deep sense of purpose.

Reflecting the sisters’ mission of reverence for the land, women, children, and addressing poverty, it was decided that Hambleton would develop a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) program on the farm.

With a degree in environmental studies from Binghamton University and a background in carpentry and cabinet making, Hambleton brought his ecological expertise and a diverse array of practical skills to the task.

What began as a modest endeavor now feeds 400 families, while sharing 10% of the harvest with those in need.

The CSA runs from the last week in May until the first week in November. There is a drop off location at the College of Mount St. Vincent in the Bronx for about 60 participating families and the rest are locals who can choose from a weekly or bi-weekly pick up on the farm.

“We used a sliding scale for years,” explains Hambleton of their pay model, “but now people pay what they are able, so some people pay nothing, and some pay full price. And if you have a hardship, let us know what you can afford.”

Hambleton grew up next to a dairy farm in Thompson Ridge, a hamlet located within the town of Crawford, New York.

“I played in the farm fields and in the woods, chopping down trees, damming up streams, building forts and all that sort of thing. This is kind of like that on the best days,” he laughed.

Farmer David Hambleton at Sisters Hill Farm in Stanfordville where a CSA runs from last week in May to November. Natalia Zukerman

Indeed, it does seem as though Hambleton is still playing. An engineer at heart, he has an eye for design and a knack for problem-solving which has led him to refurbish and create custom-built machinery. From a custom fertilizer drop spreader to refurbished tractors from the 30s and 40s, to mobile high tunnels that maximize space and efficiency, Hambleton’s designs are meticulously crafted, a marriage of function and form. With an artist’s sensibility and a farmer’s pragmatism, Hambleton is constantly tinkering and innovating to improve efficiency and sustainability on the farm.

As a member of the Collaborative Regional Alliance for Farmer Training (C.R.A.F.T.), a collaborative effort of local and biodynamic farms that offers opportunities for apprentices, Hambleton shares his knowledge and expertise with aspiring farmers. The paid position is open to just a few applicants and beyond teaching them by just working on the farm, Hambleton also offers private classes on everything from metal working and wood working to tractor mechanics, to finances and bookkeeping.

There is also housing available on site, so the small group works closely together around the clock.

“We all get along really well and have a lot of similar interests,” said Kiva Carman-Frank, one of this year’s apprentices.

After the first few years living on site as well, Hambleton built his own house across the street from the farm, where he still lives with his wife and two sons. It offers him a bit of space from his work but for Hambleton, farming is more than a livelihood—it’s a way of life rooted in a deep connection to the land.

As part of an ecological agriculture class in college, Hambleton visited a CSA and recalled that the farmer was, “living a life according to his principles and that was something I really wanted to do.” Further reflecting on his work, he shared, “There’s nothing more basic and elemental than feeding people…and I wanted to do something basic and elemental and meaningful.”

To find out more go to www.sistershillfarm.org

David Hambleton with Assistant Farm Manager, Cole Freeman and apprentice Kiva Carman-Frank.Natalia Zukerman

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