Andre Cantelmo is the co-founder of Heron Pond Farm in South Hampton, NH, currently in its twentieth season of production. Andre runs the farm alongside Greg Balog. The partners have been friends since their time together at Rutgers University in New Jersey, where they both studied soil science. Due to this background, Andre considers himself a soil chemist by trade, but his passion for farming stems from childhood.
“I began farming as a kid with my uncle, and grew up that way,” said Andre. His mindset in his youth was very unique. “My whole goal from the start was to become a farmer,” Andre said. “I was going to college, so that I could get a great job, so that I could afford to be a farmer and buy my own land”. He spent many years after graduation working at Barker’s Farm in North Andover, MA, and eventually started Heron Pond in 1998.
The farm is spread out throughout the town, with fields being rented or borrowed from neighbors as well as owned by Andre and Greg themselves. As Andre’s wife Anna cleverly phrased it, “it takes a village to run a farm.” They grow hundreds of different vegetables, and they are best known for their heirloom tomatoes. Their produce is sold at the Heron Pond Farm Stand, multiple farmer’s markets, through CSA shares, and wholesale through the Three River Farmers Alliance to restaurants and local supermarkets. Heron Pond Farm is one of the founding members of this Alliance, which brings farmers together in an effort to become part of the local food distribution chain.
This Alliance aligns well with Andre’s personal mission, which is “to make local food less sexy”. He described in detail the role that local food currently has in our community. “Local food is this really chic, sexy thing; going to the farmer’s markets, eating at farm to table restaurants. That’s great, and we needed that because we destroyed the local food system. Those are all important components of having a local food system, but we [as farmers] need to be on the lunch line [of a school]. Not with a sign that says Heron Pond carrots, just carrots.”
This mindset stems from Andre’s dedication and support of localism. He believes that the longer a dollar spends in a community, the more economically sustainable that community is. “It was only a generation ago that the local supermarkets were getting their produce from local farms,” Andre said. “It’s not that far removed. We’re not inventing something, we’re re-discovering something: regional food sovereignty. That’s the goal, and if we attain it it won’t be more expensive [than the produce currently in supermarkets]”.
In terms of farming as a career, Andre quickly learned how difficult a job it truly was. However, there are a variety of things that keep him going. “There’s the love of the land, passion for what I do… that’s the base, but it’s not enough. I make a living farming, but the lifestyle of farming is a perk in itself. It’s an honor to be able to do it, it’s humbling.” He went on to describe the weekly family dinners that his family spends in the fields, and the swimming hole that they enjoy together. “There’s not too many places left that you can take off all of your clothes and jump in the water. Those kinds of things keep you going.”
Andre had an interesting perspective on Seacoast Eat Local’s SNAP program at the farmer’s markets. “When people see that opportunity, they come, and once they are hooked on local food, the SNAP program helps to benefit both them and the local economy.” He has noticed that SNAP participants who are no longer part of the program are still loyal customers to Heron Pond, which demonstrates the true benefit that this program has on the community.