17
Jan
2017
ALLISON TOEPP

CO-OWNER & FARMER, BACK PADDOCK FARM

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A lot of times we hear from folks who are passionate about food but don’t think there’s any way to make a career out of it. Thankfully, that sense of hopelessness is getting transformed into possibility as more and more food-related jobs and education programs become available. Then you have folks like Allison, whose lives outside of work seem to revolve around food, and it takes a while for the idea to sink in that food and work could come together happily. 

Glynwood is currently accepting applications for both its 2017 Apprentice program and Hudson Valley Farm Business Incubator. To learn more, visit https://glynwood.org/training-farmers/.

When did you know that you wanted to work in food?

My dad’s dinners. Delicious food, creative cooking, grocery shopping missions, and, of course, the sharing of a meal; an event that always somehow feels like a celebration. It never occurred to me that my love for food could lead to a career. I worked for ARTstor, an academic image library, for a long time, and I loved it. I spent all day researching artist’s biographies and thinking about what I was going to cook that night and who I was going to invite over to share it with. On my lunch break I would go on fun ingredients missions around the city. After 7 years in an office, I was eager to get outside and work with my hands. and I wanted to teach. I had spent my high school and college summers farming and teaching at Sprout Creek Farm, so I went back! I milked cows, farmed with kids, cooked with kids, and managed education programming. Suddenly I was connected to the food that I was cooking and it all made sense!

How did you get your current good food job?

My current job has been in development for years now, but again, it took me a while to realize it. I spent a lot of my days at Sprout Creek Farm farming and teaching along side my colleague Patrick Knapp. We shared a similar approach to our long days of work. We learned a lot from each other and invested a good amount of time in brainstorming new projects and staying inspired. It wasn’t until my partner Dave and I began to plan for the arrival of our baby that I felt ready to take a real leap in my career. I wanted to share this life and work with my son and that was just the motivation I needed to be brave and get creative. Pat and I narrowed in and really started to visualize what our dream farm would look like, or at least where it would begin. We were getting somewhere, we had a vision, but it still felt intimidating and inaccessible. We hit the ground running to work out the details and make it all happen. We were accepted in to Glynwood’s Hudson Valley Farm Business Incubator program, we gave our business our all, and here we are! Back Paddock Farm has been grazing Red Devon cattle and working in collaboration with Harrier Fields Farm since April of 2016. Baby Lou is now 1 year old and he has been with us every step of the way!

How did your previous work or life experience prepare you for a good food job? 

My past work and life experience has been a continuous reminder that, for me, work is a great part of who I am. I have learned from bosses and colleagues and work itself that giving something my all can bring the reward that I am looking for.

What was the greatest obstacle you had to overcome in pursuing your Good Food Job dream?

To be honest, starting a business sometimes feels like a series of obstacles, and the key is to stay confident. I feel lucky to have a business partner – Pat and I are in it together and we have an incredible community of mentors: our friends and family. I use that support and conquer one obstacle at a time.

Name one positive thing that a former employer taught you that you continue to appreciate?

Having fun and working hard at the same time sounds easier than it is. My boss at ARTstor, Dustin Wees, has it figured out!

What can you identify as the greatest opportunities in food right now?

There are so many directions to go! I consider my agricultural career as a role with great ecological and social responsibility. There are great opportunities in raising and growing food, in studying the land, in nutrition, in policy, in marketing and sales, in accessibility, in teaching, in cooking, in restaurants, and the list goes on. They’re all important!

If you could be compensated for your work with something other than money, what would it be?

Veggies! I’m a terrible vegetable farmer.