Fifteen acres doesn’t sound that big until you’re standing in the middle of the bare land, gauging the amount of work it will take to transform the field into the sustainable, biodiverse farm of your dreams.
That’s what Three For All Farm co-owners Brandon Hosterman, Chris Hollobaugh and Ben Jones experienced about six months ago, when they began working the land they hope will provide fresh, nutrient-dense, food for their community.
“We knew going into it that this would be one of the hardest things we’d ever do,” Hosterman said.
After graduating from State College Area High School in 2009, Hosterman, Hollobaugh and Jones went their separate ways. Hollobaugh moved to California to study culinary arts, but his focus soon turned to the country’s food system, leading to a few years working on a farm. Hosterman kept in touch with Hollobaugh and followed his experiences with sustainable farming methods with interest.
When Hollobaugh moved back to State College late last year, the idea for Three For All Farm evolved quickly, with Hosterman and Jones immediately on board.
“It was fortunate that we all kind of got the bug to start farming at the same time,” Hollobaugh said.
The 15-acre field is located on Jones’ parents’ property and had previously been used for hay. Now, the owners of Three for All Farm have a vision of using the land to grow a variety of foods, raise livestock and give back to the community by offering a CSA and classes on gardening and making the most of every plant.
“I wanted to help people and be able to have healthy, nutrient-dense food for people around here,” Jones said.
The first step was to focus on the soil. For that, they turned to the community for help with composting. Restaurants around the area — Carnegie Inn & Spa, Panera Bread, Chronic Town — toss their food scraps into 5 gallon buckets that are collected regularly and brought out to the farm. Donations of horse manure are also part of the mix.
“We want to grow the best quality produce that we can, so we want to have good soil first,” Hollobaugh said. “That’s why we’re so interested in composting.”
Breaking ground on the farm proved a bit more challenging. To get the first plot ready for planting, they tried — and failed — to use tools like tillers and hand mowers.
“We started without resources that a lot of people who grew up on a farm would have,” Hollobaugh said.
In addition to the back-breaking work, other challenges have included coordinating the schedules of three people with full-time jobs. There’s often solo work on the farm, Hollobaugh said, with the three owners toiling together on Sundays, sometimes with volunteers.
“As hard as the work is, it’s really rewarding,” Hollobaugh said.
The 20,000-square-foot plot is now ready for planting, thanks to a neighbor who also helps with plowing the rest of the field. It might be late in the growing season, but they plan to soon plant a variety of cooler-climate crops such as squash and leafy greens that should start to come up in mid- to late-August. Three for All will practice sustainable biodiverse farming, Hollobaugh said, with crops rotated every year while focusing on supporting a healthy, dynamic ecosystem on the farm.
“We’re trying to build our own little sustainable ecosystem,” Hosterman said.
Future plans include chickens, cattle, sheep, a perennial flower garden, beekeeping and a greenhouse so they can be productive year-round. But the top priorities now are fencing and an irrigation system, and a GoFundMe page has been set up to raise money for the initial infrastructure on the farm.
The future of Three for All Farm could include sales at farmers markets and to local restaurants, but in a world where many people don’t know where their food comes from or the people who grow it, the owners say their preference is direct sales.
“For us, it’s less about the business and more about the ideology,” Hosterman said.