Caitlin and Jason Rodriguez Elberson completed UVM’s Farmer Training program in October 2013. The married couple, who met in a Spanish literature class at Villanova University in 2007, share a love for farming and sustainable living. We interviewed Caitlin and Jason to learn more about their experience in the UVM Farmer Training program and their plans for the future as owners of Sobremesa and as apprentices at Stony Pond Farm.
Q: You joined the Farmer Training program in 2013. Can you tell us about what you were doing before you joined the program?
A: Before we moved to Vermont, we were living in southeastern Pennsylvania. Caitlin has a Bachelor of Arts in humanities, a concentration in environmental studies, and a Spanish minor. She was working as the Director of Development at Kimberton Waldorf School and had previously worked in admissions and marketing. Jason received a Bachelor of Science degree in mechanical engineering, with minors in math and Spanish. He had just completed a season interning at the biodynamic Kimberton CSA. Prior to his experience at the CSA, Jason worked as a mechanical engineer for a small structural analysis consulting firm.
Q: Have you both always shared a passion for farming?
A: Our love for farming arose from a shared passion of cooking with quality, ethical ingredients. Caitlin’s love for farming arose from a childhood in New York City eating delicious home-cooked, nourishing meals chockfull of healthy vegetables. Her parents always made sure that enjoying family time around the dinner table was a priority. Jason grew up in Colorado and had always been interested in gardening and also loved to prepare special dinners. He remembers all the herbs and beautiful flowers that his parents tended when he was a child. Jason had a small vegetable garden below his apartment when we first met.
Q: What as the turning point when you decided to pursue farming full time?
A: When we began dating, Caitlin was taking a number of Environmental Studies classes, which helped us further develop our values around food and increase our awareness of organic and sustainably grown food. Right after graduation, Caitlin spent an invigorating summer working with Triskeles, a non-profit which actively engages teens in sustainable farming, cooking, and entrepreneurship. As our values evolved, we became more conscious of knowing our farmers. We soon realized that we felt strongly enough about sustainable agriculture to want to learn more about becoming farmers.
After leaving his engineering job in early 2012, Jason had a wonderful internship at the Kimberton CSA. His time there was very fulfilling. We made a decision that we were ready to make a lifestyle change and pursue agriculture full time.
Q: What made you decide to choose UVM’s Farmer Training Program?
A: We knew we were interested in pursuing formal agricultural education because the program covers a wealth of subjects, the faculty and guest professors are experts in their fields, and we knew that meeting such a large network of food activists was invaluable. We were thrilled that the program had a number of classes on developing sustainable business and marketing strategies. As students in the program, we were quickly welcomed into the larger Vermont farming community.
Each Thursday is a “rotation day,” spent on farms in the area – Bread and Butter Farm, Intervale Community Farm and Half Pint Farm – so there is exposure to many different farming styles. In a farming education program, students are encouraged to ask many questions and guide their own learning in a safe environment. UVM’s program is in a great location and we instantly felt at home in Burlington. There is an evolved consciousness surrounding food and its source in Vermont and we are grateful to be a part of it.
Q: What do you hope to accomplish as farmers?
A: Our main goal is to run a sustainable farm business that supports us, nourishes our community, and nurtures the land. We also hope to continue to learn as much as we can about farming from more experienced farmers in this area, thereby preserving Vermont traditions.
Q: Can you tell us about your new apprenticeship at Stony Pond Farm?
A: We had heard great things about Stony Pond Farm in Fairfield, owned and operated by Tyler and Melanie Webb. Stony Pond offers a farmer incubation program, and we met with Tyler and Melanie to learn more about the apprenticeship opportunity. Tyler and Melanie also encourage interns to begin their own small enterprises. Stony Pond sells 100 percent grass-fed organic beef and sells milk to Organic Valley, which is a farmer-owned cooperative. As interns, we will be living on the farm and milking cows, planning and participating in seasonal intensively managed grazing, feeding and processing of livestock, installing and maintaining fence and water systems, attending farmers’ markets, and more.
Q: What about your plans for Sobremesa?
A: We will also be managing just under one acre of vegetables, which will allow us to launch Sobremesa. We will also be selling our own fermented foods, vegetables, and herbs at farmers’ markets. “Sobremesa” is a Spanish word that can’t be directly translated in English. It refers to the time spent lingering around the table after lunch or dinner, and having food-induced conversations with the people who shared the meal together. Sobremesa is a time to digest and savor food, family, and friendship. This name is at the heart of why we want to grow food.
Q: What do you enjoy most about farming?
A: Caitlin: I love that farming makes me feel alive. The cycle of sowing seeds, transplanting, nourishing, harvesting, and eating – and then composting – is magical. It makes me feel truly in touch with the seasons, and I love living that way. Farming has allowed me to connect with every part of myself: my head, my hands, and my heart. Farming is intellectual, physical, and emotional, and I am grateful to experience these aspects of being human on a daily basis.
Jason: I love working with the plants and being part of their creation, evolution, and life. I feel connected to the natural energy cycle of the universe, and that growing food is the best way for me to experience the cosmic connection. We like to be as close to our food source as possible. Since growing and preparing food is our passion, it is amazing to imagine sustaining our livelihood by doing what we love.
To learn more about UVM’s Farmer Training program, visit learn.uvm.edu.