We lost a tremendous advocate of the local farming community last week.
“I am passionate about many things in the world and had considered various ways to give back,” Nathan Winters said in 2009. “But when I dug deep and thought about which cause I truly cared about most and what I was truly most connected to…it was the preservation of nature.”
Over six months, Nathan biked 4,300 miles, from Belfast, Maine to Ballingham, Washington. All the while raising $50,000 for The Nature Conservancy.
Nathan Winters was a remarkable man.
He later moved to Vermont, married the love of his life, and ended up in Petersburg, NY (just east of Albany) on his wife’s family’s farm. “Nate was living the dream and loving all of it,” says Dean Sparks, our GM. “Every day.”
We had been in talks with Nathan and Eliza for Hill Hollow Farm to be a significant supplier of potatoes for the Hart’s Kitchen and produce department.
We send our deepest condolences to the families of Nathan and Eliza Winters. We are so lucky to have known and been touched by such a remarkable man.
Thoughts on Nathan Winters
by Dean Sparks, Hart’s GM
As a farmer having worked closely with critters I guess you get a little familiar with death. It never, ever gets comfortable.
We buried a great young farmer this weekend on his land, at his farm. At home. It’s where he’d expect to be, I suppose. Doesn’t make it any more right, however. Death nearly always comes too soon, but in this case death robbed all of us. It’s incredibly unfair.
I was amazingly fortunate and blessed to know Nathan Winters for the past 6 years or so. He was a local farm advocate who actually walked away from his high tech profession to pick up a pitchfork and strike out on his own, raising amazing food for family and neighbors.
Nathan would reach out for advice from time to time and I was happy to offer what I knew. We shared a similar history. Although 15 years his senior I, too, had walked away from the fast paced city life and, at the ripe old age of 35, started a farm. I had absolutely NO idea what I was doing. When Nate was considering a similar fate, he asked for my thoughts. “You’ve never been about money, Nate, so don’t worry…there won’t be much,” I told him. “But the rewards, the satisfaction, the connection to the earth and the soil…they’ll pay you back in ways you’ll find hard to explain or even understand.”
I met Nathan Winters shortly after his cross country bike trip to raise money for the Nature Conservancy. Nate admitted to me he’d never even really been on a bicycle much before, and that the first few hundred miles of his bike journey were murder on a body not in shape to pedal. We laughed, drank a few beers and enjoyed each other’s company a great deal. Story telling was his strong suit.
Nathan was a revolutionary in using social media platforms. At the cusp of the Twitter and Facebook revolution, Nate used his @follownathan handle to work his way across the country on his bike, traveling from Maine to Seattle chronicling the local food movement along the way. An avid photographer and writer, Nate re-told the journey in a series of articles for Grit Magazine, a fully yet-to-be-published manuscript and a bucket load of photos, stories and memories he made along the way. It took him about six months.
After the ride, Nathan had a short stint at Applecheek Farm in Vermont, posting videos of his farming adventures and the challenges that inherently come along with it. My sense at the time was that Nate had been bitten by the farm bug, and there was no turning back. I was genuinely pleased, happily welcoming him to a very limited club of adventurous young farmers, a dying breed these days. The local, sustainable food movement was just gaining steam….young farmers were the solution to the “sustainable” part of the equation.
We met up in New York City that summer, an interesting gathering place for two fellas destined to keep their hands in the dirt. I had an 8 acre piece of fallow land on my farm that was completely ignored, and during the visit I offered him the land as a place to start. He was grateful for the chance. We talked about markets for food in the area (near Binghamton) and parted ways. He called a few days later and passed on the land…Vermont was where his heart was. I completely understood.
He leased a small patch near Wilmington, VT and started a CSA. I went up one Fall to visit. He introduced me to his partner, Eliza, and we spent the weekend eating great local food, laughing, and sharing more farm stories. I helped with chores for a couple of days. I always enjoyed being in the room with him…his laugh was infectious, his passion spilled over in him, and his sense of wonderment had no limits.
When I left that Sunday I knew he and Eliza were destined to be one…she was simply lovely for him. A school teacher with farm ties of her own, Eliza balanced and stabilized a once vagabond traveler and he loved her endlessly for it. Match made in heaven. Destiny sometimes gets it right.
We watched through Facebook and Twitter as Eliza and Nathan returned to Hill Hollow Farm, her family farm in Petersburg, New York just west of Vermont. They wed, started a family (Mathilda celebrated her 1st birthday recently), started a CSA and began to plant roots in a simple, yet all so rewarding life together. Nathan reached out a few weeks ago to seek counsel on a new Jersey cow he brought home and couldn’t get to settle. In time, the cow fit in just right with the other menagerie of animals they’d collected.
We were getting ready to contract with Hill Hollow Farm to raise potatoes for us this year for Hart’s Local Grocers here in Rochester, NY. Our sandwich shop was hoping to feature potato chips from a local farm, and Nate and I were finalizing the details of this Spring’s plantings so that Hart’s customers could share and enjoy a bountiful harvest made possible by Nathan’s CSA. His pics posted last Fall of some fingerlings he’d raised convinced me we wanted to buy and share his food. We were happy to help Nate increase his acreage a bit this year and our hope was to expand our relationship with Hill Hollow Farm over the coming years.
Nate and his family are the embodiment of what we hope to accomplish at Hart’s…reaching out and connecting with small family farms in our area that make amazing food possible and giving them opportunities to grow their farm’s reach.
Nate was living the dream and loving all of it. Every day.
When word came last Monday of his passing in an ATV accident on his farm I really couldn’t take a breath. At 34, Nathan Winters had just begun. So much to share, so much to offer, taken far too soon. Word also came of Eliza’s pregnancy with their second child. She is due in September.
I have struggled this week to make sense of this death and have no real answers to share. Life is fleeting at best, and sometimes for no imaginable reason true embodiments of good are taken from us with no explanation. I will hold on to Nate’s memories and carry them with me always. He was truly special and will be missed by the thousands he touched in such a short time.
The Nathan Winters Memorial Fund
A fund has been established to “make it possible for Eliza to continue their work in building a story of success.” Within 24 hours, the fund exceeded its initial $20,000 goal. Over 435 people have contributed from around the world. If you would like to donate, you can find more information here.