Hudson couple practices suburban farming with digital media footprint
— Meredith Poczontek does not fit the traditional stereotype of a farmer. She’s young, upbeat, funny and, during a recent tour of the 14-acre Gray Fox Farm in Hudson — which she owns with her husband, John — she jokingly shares this piece of chicken sociology: “It’s like a junior high lunchroom every day in the chicken coop. The bottom of the pecking order is not a nice place to be.”
Poczontek and the Gray Fox Farm represent the present and possible future of local farming: one that’s plugged in to its customers via social media, and one that educates its clientele and includes them in the farming process. Befitting of her personality, Poczontek’s social media and blog posts are often witty and informative with factoids about food and health, along with a firsthand look at the farm’s operations.
As an example, she posts a “daily chick pic” on Twitter (#chickpic),” with smart phone portraits of the farm’s feathered denizens, and she’s amassed a number of customers and followers through the family farm’s social media presence.
The Gray Fox Farm sells eggs, chickens, vegetables and turkeys through CSA (community supported agriculture) programs.
“Farm is cool right now and local food is cool right now,” says Poczontek, 32. Even though her and her husband are admitted introverts, she’s often available to customers through digital media. “How much more fun than to have a conversation with your farmer on their Facebook page?” she asks.
Although organic food, local farming and healthy living are in vogue, running a farm business takes a strong constitution and a whole lot of hard work. The Poczonteks are outside every day regardless of the weather.
“If it’s pouring rain or 95 degrees, you still have to come out and feed the animals,” she says. “The days that are the worst are the humid days when the mosquitoes are snacking on you for lunch.”
And for anyone whose only past experience with fresh chicken is the supermarket, processing these animals takes a strong stomach, she admits.
The Gray Fox Farm remains busy year-round— processing 30 turkeys for the recent Thanksgiving holiday and more recently, processing 55 meat chickens for its CSA.
On a recent chilly afternoon, Poczontek takes us around her property, pointing out the killing cones used to process birds, or “hillbilly wind chimes,” as she affectionately refers to them.
One of the chickens perches quietly for a picture. “This is why we do so well on social media, because our birds cooperate,” she says. A hoop-framed greenhouse contains 55 meat chickens, and a nearby coop that resembles a small barn houses a number of egg-laying hens. In the back of the property, a buckwheat “cover crop” occupies space during the off-season to help maintain the soil and prevent erosion.
Although her husband comes from a family of farmers, this is her first foray into farming. “We used to live in Cuyahoga Falls, and we had a little postage stamp yard, and once we planted carrots and raspberries and a grapevine in the front garden bed (we thought that) maybe we needed more space.”
This rural stretch of road in Hudson is an ideal place for a family farm. In fact, near to the Gray Fox Farm are alpaca farms, garlic farms and other local food producers.
“There are several farms on this road, all of which are good friends to have,” she says, adding that the zoning in this area aligns well with the use of the property. “There’s a difference between permitted agriculture and ‘permit-ed’ agriculture,” she points out. “This zone is rural conservation and we’re good to go with any type of agricultural activity.”
Although daily work is involved, the farm isn’t the couple’s only source of income. Her husband has a FedEx franchise, and owns eight routes in Summit County, which enables him to carry a flexible schedule. “We set it up that way so we could be here to do this.”
She adds: “In terms of hobbies, yes we do make money but it’s supplementary. It’s a constructive hobby; instead of having a consuming habit (like shopping) this is a way to have downtime that’s constructive instead of consumptive.”
The Farm’s website has a “Farmstagram” account, along with a thriving Twitter and Facebook presence. Poczontek says social media maintenance is its own part-time job, with up to 10 hours a week spent interacting with other farmers, and educating customers and community members. This transparency enables customers to see photos of the animals, tips on how to cook the food that’s grown and a look at the growing process.
“I send out an e-mail every week (to CSA members) with how we grew whatever it is and how to store it,” she says. “People are learning new cooking techniques by being in the CSA.”