Ask A Local: Eusebius “Sky” Ballentine
Eusebius “Sky” Ballentine is the owner of The Anthill Farm and Lackawaxen Farm Company in Honesdale, Pennsylvania. We sat down with Sky to talk about food, the future of farming and all of his favorite local spots in the Upper Delaware Valley area.
LAWRENCE: How’s it going Sky?
SKY: Pretty well man. Observing the first snowfall of the year. Pretty early to see this.
LAWRENCE: Yeah, sure is. How’s the farm?
SKY: Just another year on the roller coaster that is farming. Mark Dunau at Mountain Dell Farm says farming is like gambling. So I guess it’s a gambling roller coaster, which actually sounds pretty fun, unless of course, you lose. Right now we’re harvesting storage crops and filling up our root cellar. We’re also getting our winter greens ready in our high tunnels. I’m also starting to feel the cold rush in– it’s actually pretty rejuvenating to me.
LAWRENCE: How did you get into farming?
SKY: I left college during my second year in Santa Fe, NM and started working on a nearby produce farm–that was my first experience working on a farm. But I grew up working outside. My dad was always working in the yard, telling us about plants and landscaping. It didn’t really come together until I moved back home in 2005 and bought the farmland with my three siblings. We actually grew up at the Himalayan Institute, but we lived right outside of Honesdale, PA.
LAWRENCE: I often refer to Honesdale as being in “Upstate PA.” I suppose the more accurate description is the Upper Delaware. What can someone coming to this area expect to find in the landscape and local culture?
SKY: Well, we’re definitely in the heart of four seasons country. Its weather is constantly changing and we can get some pretty extreme heat and cold. Our area is a rich highland environment with lots of lakes, streams, ponds, forests and wildlife abounds. I’d say the towns along the river are all works in progress. I think we’re very fortunate to have a lot of motivated and creative people around here that have vision and a strong desire to improve peoples’ lives, regardless of political affiliations.
LAWRENCE: There are some newer businesses that have opened up in the past few years in Honesdale. What do you make of it?
SKY: I’m super excited about everything that’s going on. There are a lot of people out here working really hard to make this area a nice place to live and it’s really inspiring. That’s really why I moved back, besides getting chewed up and spit out by the city. A small community is an easier context to work within. Community building and using a holistic approach to improve quality of life is fun because it improves our own lives too–it’s called enlightened self interest. I think food and health are at the heart of a strong community of able and aware people and that’s why I feel really strongly about creating a situation where folks can make a living growing high quality food. That’s why I started my farm.
“There are a lot of people out here working really hard to make this area a nice place to live and it’s really inspiring. That’s really why I moved back, besides getting chewed up and spit out by the city. A small community is an easier context to work within.”
LAWRENCE: Food is one of our most basic needs and being so close to the source and working tirelessly like you do, to make local food more accessible to people, you must have a good handle on what people are eating and what they’re looking for there.What are the best products that a region like yours could produce and how does that play a role in the local economy?
SKY: Well, if we look at our growing region, it’s actually a pretty good growing climate. Generally it’s pretty rocky, but the soil is decent and can be improved quickly. Based on our geology, climate and the plants that naturally grow well here, we have a lot of options. I would say grass fed beef and dairy are a good one. This area was huge in dairy until the industry became monopolized. There are a lot of tree crops like apples, and tree related fruits grow very well here with the proper practices. And blueberries go bananas here. We have a variety of hazelnuts that I think can be a big crop potentially. Vegetables work really well in certain spots in our region. I think we’re ripe (no pun intended) for a few crops that could really define our area agriculturally and economically and could be a part of our regional identity and culture. These crops would need to be developed and then expanded. There’s also a ton of potential for integrated systems or polycultures where you do a mixed planting, say a row of hazelnuts and then a row of Asian pears and so on. You have to keep it on the simple side but it’s good to diversify your planting from both a financial and ecological perspective. Developing these regional crops could really draw a lot of people to the area.
LAWRENCE: Interesting. So tell me more about CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) because I know your model is a little different than the traditional.
SKY: A CSA is traditionally about pre-purchasing a share of what a specific farm produces in a season. It is yet another creative way for farms and their customers to support each other and perhaps get around some regulations at the same time. Lackawaxen Farm Co. does a multi-farm CSA where we source from 15-20 farms and that enables us to have amazing variety in our shares each week. We spend a lot of time sourcing the food and curating the boxes in a way that people will be able to enjoy. The multi-farm aspect of our CSA takes the pressure off individual farms to have consistent variety from a production standpoint and they can focus on what they do best. It’s also a great outlet for farms to move larger amounts of product.
LAWRENCE: All this talk about food has me hungry. By the way, what are some of your favorite local restaurants to eat at?
LAWRENCE: And what do you do for fun around here?
SKY: I have two young daughters so my sense of fun centers around activities to do with them. The Cooperage Project always has something interesting going on, anything from music to theater to family game night and open mics.
LAWRENCE: If there was one piece of advice you would give to those wanting to move up here, what would that be?
SKY: Come up and get involved in the community. A lot of folks have done it and our area has really benefited from the influence of New York, Philadelphia and other metro areas. There’s an incredible spectrum of people that live in the Upper Delaware Highlands–it’s really amazing.