Hilltop Community Farm: Persisting with Positivity - American Farmland Trust

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April 20th, 2020

Hilltop Community Farm: Persisting with Positivity

Erin Schneider and Rob McClure

After a cumulative 40 years of experience as owners and operators of Hilltop Community Farm, Erin Schneider and Rob McClure have perfected a positive, can-do attitude that has carried them through the continuous challenges of being farmers. McClure founded Hilltop in 1993 and began offering CSA memberships, providing fresh vegetables to his community members in Madison, Wisconsin. In recent years, Hilltop has been leaning into their fruit and flower production for weddings and restaurants. Sales of this nature make up 70% of their farm income and have all but vanished with the arrival of COVID-19. “What do you do when you put so much time and work into building relationships and then suddenly everything we spent the winter lining up is just not there? That’s been the hardest thing,” Schneider said.

Hilltop Community Farm Tulips, photo by Rob McClure

Vanished event and restaurant sales have compelled McClure and Schneider to narrow their market segment to focus on their neighborhood, connecting with individuals and buying clubs that purchase directly from local farms. But even in the face of their greatest challenge yet, they have not forsaken their positive attitude. “We’re all asking questions about how this will play out, but we think we might as well adapt and experiment!” Schneider said. Hilltop has also been working to expand its online presence, to offer the experience of a farm without physically being there. “How can we give people the sense of being on the farm through a virtual portal, rather than actually being there with one hand in the soil?” Schneider asked.

Schneider has been encouraged by the newfound feeling of authenticity she has experienced on social media, which she attributes in part to the coronavirus crisis. “It seems to me like there’s been this collective opening to showing up for each other in more authentic ways online,” she said. This acceptance of honest online interaction can be particularly helpful for a farmer hoping to share the realities of farming with the world. “The challenge with social media is using it in a way that is real and true to self. I hope that this feeling carries forward and we can be more real as farmers and share the grit as well as the growth.” But when it comes to being honest, asking for help has been a challenge for the couple. “We have a strong sense of self-reliance, and it’s hard to receive sometimes. We’ve been humbled by receiving people’s generosity when we do need help and asking for that,” Schneider said.

As McClure and Schneider continue to adjust their plans and experiment with new ways for serving their community, they hope to come out the other side stronger. “It’s the time of year where we are adding a lot of compost and turning a lot of mulch piles, and I just think, what in all of this can be compost? All the fears and anxieties, may it just be turned over and transformed as nourishment for whatever’s next through this.”

Top photo credit: Colin Crowley, New Beat Photography

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