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We’re pleased to share a report on the launch of the new beginning farmer initiative in the region, Catskills CRAFT. The group offers the opportunity for young and new farmers to learn from our region’s experienced growers and to get to know the Catskills farming community.
With funding from Farmhearts, an organization committed to supporting the future of Catskills farms, a fellowship position was created this spring to support the beginning farmer programming. Sonia Janiszewski Persichilli of Wildflower Farm in Delaware County has taken the reigns of the fellowship and provides us with a summary of the first farm visit.

Talkin’ tractors – a highlight of the tour for many!
The 2011 Catskills Collaborative Regional Alliance for Farmer Training (CRAFT) kicked off on June 13th at Willow Wisp Organic Farm, growers of a diverse mix of organic vegetables, herbs and cut flowers for the Upper Delaware River Valley and The Catskills. Host farmers Greg Swartz and Tannis Kowalchuk lead 30 beginning farmers on a field tour of their 12-acre farm in Abrahamsville, Penn. Participants buzzed with interest and excitement throughout the evening that ended with a potluck social.
Sharing his experiences and passion for farming, Greg took the CRAFT guests on a walking tour of his greenhouse and produce fields, providing tips, tricks and advice to the many inquiring farmers in attendance. Having spent seven years as an apprentice before purchasing and beginning his own farm in 2007, he offered a unique understanding for his audience, highlighting the challenges that have lead Willow Wisp Organic to its successes. In addition to explaining how and what was growing beneath their feet, the tour provided vendor and supplier of preferences; how specialized equipment has increased efficiencies in sowing and weed control; and how to identify and increase production of trend crops.

The sun breaks through on the main Willow Wisp field.
A short hike to a side-hill field overlooking the valley opened discussion of Greg’s personal transition to full-time farming. His adventure began with what he thought would be a six-month farm program and turned into apprenticeships at three different farms. Internships taught Greg how to learn by doing and provided numerous opportunities to manage and experiment with cropping systems. With each new project and experiment, Greg’s passion for farming grew. Thoughtfully, Greg and Tannis developed their farm business plan, purchased their farm and are investing in its future.
Attendees left with full stomachs, a good deal of information to digest, and looking forward to the next Catskills CRAFT farm tour. Direct access to mentor farmers is a necessary resource for any developing farmer. Catskills CRAFT bringing that access right to the farm.
Willow Wisp Organic Farm products are sold in equal parts at farmers’ market, through their on-farm CSA and to local retailers and restaurants, within 50 miles. Greg and Tannis are committed to supporting future farmers as their mentors have done for them. For more information about their farm or products, visit