Rob Schacht, along with his wife Teresa, have a new challenge on their hands.
Schacht, 45, has been cultivating Hunts Brook Farm since 1995, although he and his wife had always worked other jobs to make ends meet. Rob Schacht was a contractor, his wife a massage therapist, and while they wanted the farm to make money, they weren’t dependent on it.
About a year ago, that all changed. While they both occasionally do some work on the side, their main source of income is now Hunts Brook Farm. That means the couple must rely on the Quaker Hill farm to support themselves, their mortgage payment and their 3-year-old son.
On Thursday, we met with Robert Schacht, who talked with us and then gave us a tour of his vegetable farm. Here are some excerpts from our interview with Schacht.
How did you get into farming?
In the early 1990s, Schacht was going to college, studying environmental resource management, and got a job working with fisheries. He loved it, but he didn’t love what the future held.
“I had a great job, they gave me a boat and a truck and told me to go catch fish,” he said. “But I couldn’t really earn a living wage doing it. And I watched my boss, who was doing it, and he had to spend most of his time correlating data and writing reports to justify his budget. And I know ultimately, that’s not the career I wanted.”
In 1994, when he was still in college, the farmhouse at Schacht’s parents' house burnt down, and he decided to rebuild it. It was during that time he decided to start a farm.
“I just started looking at the field across the street and thinking that if you really want to work with the environment, be a farmer,” he said. “I’ve also always been a foodie. I’ve enjoyed food and feeding people my entire life. So farming has really combined my passions.”
Is it hard to stay profitable?
“Sustainability for a farm is a really hard thing to accomplish,” Schacht said. “We have gotten better and better and better about it, without having any prior farming experience and kind of learning as we went along.”
Schacht said he makes most of his money through the Community Sponsored Agriculture (CSA) program, where people buy a “share” of the farm and get fresh vegetables every week. He also goes to local farmers markets, including the Waterford Farmers Market, and sells his vegetables at Fiddleheads Food Co-op in New London and to La Belle Aurore in Niantic and the Oyster Club in Mystic.
“We are very close to sustainability," he said. "After years and years of doing this, and building it up slowly, we were able to build all of this without accumulating debt. We don’t have that debt burden every month, except for our house mortgage.”
Your getting into the pizza business now?
Schacht said he recently bought a mobile pizza truck that he will be bringing to the Coventry Farmers Market on weekends. The idea is to sell pizza topped with his own vegetables.
“I’m not looking at it as we are getting into the pizza business, I am looking at it as another way to sell our vegetables,” he said. “Really, we are looking at it as this is a value-added way of taking our vegetables and our farm name and getting it out there in the world, in a way that we can make a little bit more money doing something a little different.”
Importance of health eating?
Schacht said his father, who had two heart attacks in his 50s, was always into healthy eating. So he grew up eating healthy, and is happy he is growing fresh, healthy food.
“For me, it is definitely in my mindset that (healthy eating) is an important thing,” he said. “I also grew up around the Waterford Country School with kids who are behaviorally challenged. And I’ve seen how a healthy diet actually helped modify behavior."
Importance of being organic?
Schacht said he never uses genetically modified seeds and strives to keep his farm organic.
“For us, we want to just stay as clean as possible for our customers," he said. “And I’m out there swimming around in our soil, my 3-year-old is out there swimming around in our soil. I just don’t want to even expose my family to the kinds of the things that have either proven or questionable toxicities to our body.”
What’s the inspiration to keep on doing it?
“The truth about the farming world is that as hard as it can be, it is a feel-good enterprise,” he said. “I very seldom had a person upset that they were buying something that was fresh and tasty.”
“There is a lot of romanticism about farming and the bucolic life that we get to lead out here, but we also run our farm in a way that we don’t try to slave ourselves to it. We try not to create something we can’t handle.”
To visit Hunts Brook Farm's website, click here.