I don’t think of Westchester County as a hotbed of farmers, but Hilltop Hanover Farm is making waves to change all that. Led by the Farm’s visionary director Lucille Munz, the four-full time HHF farmers aim to change that perception. All four have followed diverse paths to reach Hilltop Hanover Farm of Yorktown Heights, but they all perceive the land with great respect and concern.
Farm manager Brett Alcaro, a graduate of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, leads the other farmers by example. This great work ethic may have emerged from Brett’s father, who owned a grocery store/specialty meats shop in New Jersey. Brett worked with his father and during the warm months grew produce for sale in the store. After the family sold the business, he pursued a career in aviation down in Florida.
When the jobs were few and far between, he moved back to New Jersey and discovered farming. The farming bug had now bitten Brett as he stopped his aviation pursuit. He next worked on a farm in Maine and then returned to the tri state area. After looking on line for a local farming job, he saw the offer at Hilltop Hanover Farm. He checked out the area and was hooked. He started in 2011 as the assistant farm manager and since last year Brett has been the farm manager.
When asked why he entered farming, Brett responded, “I got into farming because I thought it was a noble and positive business to pursue. I enjoy the work and the many rewards that come from a hard day’s work. Agriculture has begun to change and even though large corporate farms dominate the landscape many young farmers are starting farms and running them as small businesses. I wanted whatever I did to benefit future generations. If I can make my small plot of land better for then, I have accomplished my goals.” Brett would also encourage young people to become farmers, for it may be hard work, but there’s an honesty about it that can in turn “help make a positive impact on your surrounding environment.”
Mike Fedison, the assistant farm manager at Hilltop Hanover Farm, travels from Harlem every morning to come to Yorktown Heights. He began his agricultural career in 2001 in NYC as a gardening teacher with the City Parks Foundation, where he cared for nine school gardens located in public schools around the city. After a few years, he moved back to Pennsylvania and apprenticed on several organic vegetable farms near his hometown. While holding those seasonal positions, he also spent time during the winters travelling and volunteering on farms in Mexico, Spain, and Germany. Later, he went on to teach agriculture and science at Palau Community College.
As a graduate of the George Washington University with a degree in geology, Mike has been able to put some of his scientific background to use in helping to improve the farm’s soil and in teaching classes with Westchester Community College’s certificate program in sustainable agriculture. Mike must be doing a great job in the certificate program, for a record number of 38 students are enrolled for the spring session at HHF.
Max Zanke graduated from New Hampshire with a degree in environmental resource economics degree. He farmed in Massachusetts for eight years and then was ready for a new challenge. Thus he joined the farm staff at Hilltop Hanover Farm in 2011. Max like being at HHF, for it allows him to provide input as the farm continues to evolve. He is able to be most effective as a farmer and educator. He must recently led the workshop “ Berries and Beyond.“ He also enjoys teaching the elementary students who visit the farm. He likes the children to get a little dirty so that they can bend down and pull a vegetable from the ground. During a recent farm tour the students visited the greenhouses and were able to take some sample vegetables home that included lettuce, kale, and swiss chard.
As the retail manager/crew member, Max’s job is to certify that the HHF produce meets the quality standards that people expect. He wants everyone who visits the farm stand or our tent at the local farmers’ market to have a memorable and pleasurable experience.
Wilson Chang, a Hendrick Hudson HS graduate, received his BS in Biology from SUNY Binghamton. He has always had a passion for the natural world and has maintained a kinship with nature through his life. It was this passion that led him on a six and a half month hike of the Appalachian Trail. He has tried to pursue a lifestyle and career that is consistent with his love and respect for nature. His first farming experience was during high school when he worked at Cliffdale Farm at Teatown Lake Reservation, in a 2 year pilot program with a 60 share organic farm. In college, he was an administrator for the student run Binghamton Food CO-OP and volunteered at the campus research greenhouse. After college he worked as an outdoor experiential guide his hike of the Appalachian Trail. He then gained further experience farming in California and returned to New York where he began working at Hilltop Hanover Farm in 2011.
In addition to his daily farming chores, Wilson serves as the farm's director of education for elementary students. He believes in the importance of not only having children have a hands on connection with where their food comes from, but also believes that exposure to nature is not only critical to their development but is an investment in the future. He often asks the students where vegetables come from. The response is often, "The supermarket." It is then Wilson's job to show them where vegetables actually grow. The students always leave the farm with fresh vegetables in hand and a better understanding of the connection between food, nature, and health.
In the long term Wilson hopes to take all the lessons and skills he has learned and begin his own farm. His dream is to create a farm and nature center that is not only sustainable but also regenerative to the land and community. In the meantime, Wilson helps the younger generation become better stewards of their health and the earth.
Next time you visit Hilltop Hanover Farm say hello to the farmers and thank them for providing nutritious, organic, and healthy produce at reasonable prices.