Chris Brittenburg and Aeros Lillstrom Brittenburg found their way to farming through a shared love of the outdoors and good food. They've come a long way since their first season - Who Cooks for You is now in its fifth year!
In that time, they've learned some important lessons, and are committed to staying open to the many more nature has to teach with each new season. We're grateful that they found time - in between the seeding, bed prep, and child-chasing - to answer some of our questions.
Tell us a bit about your farm.
Who Cooks For You Farm was founded in 2009. We are a small family farm located 60 miles north of Pittsburgh in New
Bethlehem, PA. We grow a diverse assortment of Certified Naturally Grown vegetables, fruits, and herbs. We emphasize vegetable diversity and aesthetic appeal. We specialize in super early grafted heirloom tomatoes.
How did you come up with farm name?
Chris is a bird enthusiast. He knows birds by their calls. When we were coming up with a farm name, we were trying bird names. Chris can call a barred owl, which says, “Who cooks for you. Who cooks for you all.” We thought, “That’s such a great name! Wait. Can we ask a question in a farm name?” Well, it’s a relevant question even if not associated with the owl. Why not?!
What did you do before you started farming?
We were all over the place really. Do you want a list? Server, landscaper, non-profit environmental research assistant, baker, café manager, and more.
And then why did you get into farming?
Aeros and Chris both started farming in their mid to late 20’s. We both thrive in the out of doors. We both really enjoy nature and figured our options were limited. Teach people about nature? Or feed people good food?
Who does the farming at Who Cooks for You?
We farm full time and hire 6 full times employees each season.
Have you ever wished you hadn’t become a farmer?
When first becoming acclimated to crop loss, we resisted and fumed. It’s never easy to lose investments. The early summer rains of 2013 turned our fields into ponds of drowned vegetables. The difference is our approach. It’s best to approach the season’s ups and downs with a mindfulness that is sustainable because tomorrow you’re going to be in the fields again. Farming will sort out those that can deal and those that burden themselves with defeat. The job requires a present mind to do the best work. So, get movin!
Why do you feel natural practices are important?
I love this question. Working with nature forces the individual to be present, pay attention to cycles, and learn from them. A respectful knowledge of this sort distinguishes not just the farmers and their practices, but, most importantly, the quality of the food they produce.
We believe in nature’s ability to balance the systems with which we work. It happens every year.
Why did you decide to become CNG members?
We wanted to get certified to encourage more business with our produce in our local food cooperative. We couldn’t deal with our produce labeled as conventional.
What unexpected customer interactions have been especially rewarding?
The Farmers Market creates an atmosphere for substantial customer interactions. We have been able to develop close relationships with families that make up our customer base. A great example is when families come to our farmer’s market stand with their new baby and say, “Here’s our Who Cooks For You Farm baby” thanking us for the good food.
There is a great sense of trust and reciprocity like we take care of each other. We get to know each other through the emotional roller coasters of life. We see each other’s families grow, graduate, get sick and heal. It’s rewarding being present for it all.
Talk about the biggest challenge you’ve encountered as a farmer.
Although most farmers that transition from an average job will say it’s the long days of work without days off or learning to run a business well. For us, the greatest challenge is where our passion as farmers met the business world and how the following reaction was business pushing around passion.
If you could magically change one thing about our food system, what would it be?
It would be wonderful to see most people and families participating in some capacity in food production. I’d want that participation to be culturally-sacred so we all understand who we really are.
Who is your hero in the food and farming world?
All the proactive people that seek out locally produced food, support it tirelessly and eat it constantly!