Growing food to grow community is a work of art.
In the Hudson River Valley’s Columbia County, Sky High Farm functions an independent local and operational model of sustainable agriculture. No chemical fertilizers, fertilizers, or outside compost is brought in; while all livestock is grass-fed and grazed in rotational paddocks.
It seems like a clever, sustainable business model, until you realize this 40-acre farm doesn’t sell a single thing it grows. Instead, Sky High Farm addresses food access and nutrition in New York State by growing and harvesting with the express purpose of donating organic produce and meats to those experiencing hunger. The food is distributed throughout New York by partnerships with food banks and pantries serving local, regional, and urban centers.
The buildings on the property were a collaborative effort between Sky High Farm’s founder, Dan Colen, Berman Horn Studio to design spaces that appear to have been in the landscape for a century or more. Among these is the L-shaped Black Barn complete with black wood siding that would befit any custom, contemporary condo. Inside are intern dwellings and a variety of livestock.
One artist’s vision was to bring organic produce to the masses, for free.
Sky High Farm was founded by Dan Colen, a professional artist whose work primarily consists of painted sculptures, painted text, and paintings inspired by graffiti. His work has appeared in The Whitney Museum, Astrup Fearnley Museum in Oslo, and the New Museum in New York City. Colen bought Sky High Farm in 2011 to function as his home and studio—but then he wanted to do something more.
“I got the property at a moment in my life when I felt a great need for wide open space and distance from the city,” Colen told Modern Farmer. “I intended only to turn an old barn into a sculpture studio, which I did.” But eventually, “it started to feel wasteful to have all the land—like all it really was something to point at and say ‘that’s mine.'"
A friend of Colen’s suggested turning Sky High Farm into a non-profit. “He suggested I set up a non-profit that supplied these communities with fresh food,” he told Modern Farmer. “I grew up in and around the city, so this idea of being able to give back excited me immediately.”
In addition to having already donated 10 tons of food to people throughout New York, Colen has also contributed to Henry Street Settlement, and organization on Manhattan’s Lower East Side that provides social services, arts and health care programs to more than 60,000 New Yorkers every year. Colen additionally designed a permanent art installation for the activity room at St. Mary’s Hospital for Children.
Sky High Farm utilizes 25 of its acres for animal pasture and two for produce. The 10 tons of food the farm has produced around 36,000 organic meals—a number expected to balloon as the farm enjoys its fifth year of production.