The Engelbert Family
Tioga County, New York
Brothers Joe and John Engelbert are pretty unusual in the world of organic farming: They’ve never known any other way to farm. That fact is thanks to their parents, Kevin and Lisa, who transitioned the farm to organic in 1981, before the boys were even born and before organic was even formalized. Now Joe and Deidre and John and Alyssa are raising their own children in a way of life that’s as comfortable as their own skin. The Engelberts have been members of Organic Valley cooperative since 2001.
“The credit goes to our parents, one hundred percent,” Joe says. “Other farmers talk about synthetic fertilizers or spraying chemicals and it’s Greek to me.”
Lisa adds, “They’ve never been exposed to chemicals, and that’s so important to us.”
Joe and John are both gung-ho about their career choice, but John had a period of doubt about what he wanted to do. Then, while he was in college, he “realized I didn’t want to sit in an office or a classroom every day. I like being outside and making my own decisions.”
But parents Kevin and Lisa had to insist that Joe take time out for college. “I was the five-year-old kid who wanted to grow up and be a farmer, and I never once deviated from that,” Joe says. “My college advisor asked me my goal when I started, and I said, ‘Get out of here as quickly as possible.’”
Kevin and Lisa have been transitioning the farm to Joe and John’s ownership since 2010, but, John says, “It’s been a process over our whole lives. We started working when we were in our single digits, and we learned each role: how to feed calves, then how to feed cows, and then how to do field work and operate equipment safely and effectively. After you learn all the chores and jobs, you start to get into the management aspect of it. Our parents always brought us in on decision making.” John laughs. “It must’ve been hard for them, but they were really good about it.”
Joe adds, “We’re very aware of how lucky we are that our parents are behind us. I know a couple of guys who farmed with their dads and wanted to keep farming but their dads wouldn’t let go, so they left. Whereas our dad was, like, ‘As soon as you’re ready, it’s yours.’ When we’re standing in a group now, me, John and our dad, and somebody like a salesman walks up, they always head straight towards dad and ask, ‘Are you the owner?’ and he says, ‘Nope, I’m just the unpaid help,’ and he points to us.”
As Joe and John were gearing up to their ownership and management roles, they endured more than the ordinary headaches. Two bodies of water, the Susquehanna River and Wappasening Creek run through the farm. Typically there’s a bit of spring flooding most years, but the family’s “trial by water” began in 2006 when the farm was inundated by a record flood.
“We’d never seen anything like it, ever,” Lisa says. “It was devastating. We were just recovering from that thanks to phenomenal support from Organic Valley when, in September of 2011, we had a flood four-and-a-half feet higher than in 2006. It was the first year Joe and John had really taken over most of the farm operations. The water came on so fast it was like a tsunami. We had started moving some of our feed and supplements out when we realized the animals were surrounded by water. The water rose so quickly they were swimming calves out. Once again, Organic Valley was there for us in the recovery process.”
People come to the farm year-round to buy from the farmstand Lisa started with their beef and pork and other items from farms in the area. “We have many loyal customers that come from pretty far away, but I’m seeing new faces almost weekly, and it’s really cool. They’re so thankful that they can come and visit a farm. Our farm’s an open book. I explain that we may be ankle-deep in mud if we’ve had heavy rains, but that’s what being on a working farm is about. Our cows all have names and we love what we do.”
ENGELBERT FARMS, LLC
Kevin and Lisa Engelbert & Family
182 Sunnyside Road
Nichols, NY 13812
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Engelbert Farms, LLC is a true FAMILY FARM!
Certified Organic by Vermont Organic Farmers
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