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From Finance to East End Farming

Posted on 26 July 2013

Heller_Farmer Frank 7-16-13_6394

By Emily J. Weitz

When Frank Trentacoste left his high powered job in finance to start Bhumi Farm this year, he wasn’t running away from anything. He liked finance, and the challenges that it dealt him over the course of his lucrative career. He wasn’t maxed out or exhausted or disillusioned. Rather, he was inspired by something new. No, Farmer Frank wasn’t running away from anything. He was running to something.

“I was ready for something different,” said Trentacoste as we walked between rows of flowering squash and leafy bok choy.

Instead of moving out to the East End and diving more deeply into his CSA membership at Quail Hill Farm in Amagansett, or getting an internship at a farm to learn the tricks of the trade, Frank decided to go all in.

“I’ve always been drawn to difficult things,” he said. “To challenges. So I applied to lease land from the Peconic Land Trust.”

The three-acres that comprise Bhumi Farms are cozily situated among other Peconic Land Trust properties, behind Balsam Farms on Town Lane in Amagansett. He toils in his field beside the women of Amber Waves, the Balsam Farms crew, Garlic Frank, and a Quail Hill plot.

“A lot of variables came together,” said Trentacoste on his decision to make this massive leap from finance to farming. “I was a Quail Hill CSA member, and farming always relaxed and inspired me. There’s something very sweet about looking at something and watching it grow and then picking it.”

But he wasn’t satisfied with his place as a CSA member. To put it simply, Trentacoste didn’t think it was hard enough.

“You don’t work that hard,” he said. “Without that hard labor component, there was something missing. They did it all for you at Quail Hill. But when you put in a little sweat equity, you take ownership of the process.”

Trentacoste got what he wanted. No one would argue that he is working hard. He is in the field seven days a week, and excepting his time at the four farmers’ markets he attends (Southampton, Bridgehampton, East Hampton, and Montauk), he is working the land for 12 to 14 hours a day. And the learning curve has been sharp.

Trentacoste got his land in April, and also got access to a greenhouse that month. That means he was starting out his “freshman year” about two months behind other farms.

“Then, we had the driest April in 50 years,” he said, “followed by 10 inches of rain in four days.”

Besides the natural disasters, there were also the mistakes he made because he simply didn’t know better. Trentacoste gazed out at the rows of lettuce and kale before him.

“I’ve made a lot of mistakes,” he said. “I mismatched some crops, like putting lettuce next to kale. Kale has a longer cycle, so it is still going but the lettuce is done. But I can’t roll over the field because the kale is still going. Next time I’ll try to do a better job matching crops.”

This is exactly why Frank is doing it all alone this year. Looking out over the three acres of land, it’s daunting to think that he will weed every single row with his own two hands. But that’s how he wants it.

“I don’t want to lead when I don’t know what I’m doing,” Frank said. “Next year, I’ll have some experience to count on. I’ll be able to say,  ‘Oh, this happened last year,’ and I’ll know how to advise someone. Maybe I’ll learn that weeding fava has no increasing yield, so instead of allocating hours to that, I’ll put my time into another crop that has a two times yield. I want to experience all aspects of this land before I start to allocate jobs.”

Frank also believes that a primary role in running a farm, or managing anything, is to be able to teach.

“This year I couldn’t teach through experience,” he said. “I would only be able to teach through what I’ve read. But next year I’ll add my own experience.”

The other reason he is out there in the fields alone is that he’s still trying to figure out what the identity of the farm is.

“Short of a full season, it would be difficult for me to tell people what that farm personality is,” he said.

As the months pass, however, that personality is beginning to come out. With twenty families in his CSA, he has really appreciated the connection between farmer and family.

“I get to know the families, and the little kids,” he said. “That’s an element of farming I didn’t find in finance. I’m trying to make farming accessible to families. I am trying to make it possible for families to come and converse. If I’m busy, I’ll make time. In finance, that didn’t exist. And I am richer for the experience of farming.”

Richer for the experience, but clearly not in terms of the bank account. But Trentacoste rarely thinks about the money. As hard as he’s working, he truly believes the payoff is in the process. And in both the payoff and the process, he thinks that farming and finance are diametrically opposed.

“In finance,” he said, “you’re physically sitting in one spot. You’re at your desk the entire time but your mind is going 100 miles an hour. Farming is the opposite. In farming, your mind slows down and you can think of nothing, which is peaceful, or just focus on one thing. The physical action is very repetitive. In repetition comes the ability to free your mind and go somewhere.”

Whenever he feels exhausted from the long hours, he just brings his thoughts back to the families that are counting on him for sustenance.

“I have 20 families as part of the CSA, and I’m in four markets,” he said. “That’s a lot of work. But I know I am feeding these 20 families this week. They paid for it in advance, and that’s the contract we made. So I keep on weeding.”

To learn more about Bhumi Farm and Farmer Frank, go to bhumifarm.com.

 

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2 Responses to “From Finance to East End Farming”

  1. Raghunath says:

    Awesome and inspiring Frank!!!! seriously!

  2. Nick says:

    Hi Frank,
    My father was a poultry farmer and I am in finance and have moved to yoga. Your article was both inspiring and helpful. I found your lettuce and kale examples very interesting. Maybe that wasn’t a failure. Maybe a financial inefficiency however a plus whereby the soil can get a rest for regeneration for the crop next year. I am thinking too many farmers these days are thinking efficiency but are not thinking soil quality and mineral uptake into the vegetable. Food for thought.


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