Featured Member Story: Root ‘N Roost Farm
A Farmers’ Tale
Root ‘N Roost Farm owners and operators, Sean and Cheyenne Zigmund, are passionate advocates for sustainable, diversified farming. Having met less than 5 years ago, the couple has created a haven for like-minded individuals who want to learn how to grow farm-fresh products by hand or simply how to eat healthier.
A Catskills native and systems engineer with a longtime interest in renewable energy, Sean spent 2008 and 2009 driving around the Pacific Northwest, Alaska and Canada in a vegetable oil-powered mini school bus. He then headed back to Vermont, where he earned a certificate in natural building from Yestermorrow Design/Build School. His professional plan was to move to California or Oregon to create structures and shelter from earthen and natural elements.
A visit home to help winterize the family property in White Sulphur Springs, NY, a hamlet of Liberty in Sullivan County, changed all that. His mother suggested that he combine his interests of natural building and healthy eating by farming her one-acre property.
“I thought that it would make more sense to be here and provide a legacy for our family,” Sean says.
That was 2010.
Not long after Sean returned home, Cheyenne (Chey), a New Zealander who learned at the knee of her entomologist/ herbalist mother, also was returning to the Catskills for a second apprenticeship at Apple Pond Farm just outside Callicoon Center, NY. “Within a few days, I met Sean,” Chey recalls. He came to speak about renewable energy and the farm manager suggested Chey give him a tour.
Sean and Chey became fast friends and fell in love. Sean began building his farm with Chey jumping in to help on her one day off a week.
A year later, Chey moved in and the couple started expanding Root ‘N Roost and working their neighbor’s property. They grew the start-up farm into with bees, fowl, pigs, gardens, fruit and nut trees and berry plantings, and a variety of re-use and natural buildings. Permaculture is a design-based system focused on using regenerative ecological practices that work in concert with nature, instead of against it.
The Zigmunds and the seasonal interns that come to work and learn are farming the land in a way that one might describe as pre-industrial. They are working to make Root ‘N Roost an agent of change.
“We’re not Amish, but in terms of how we farm we are not part of conventional agriculture,” Sean says. “I don’t want to be tied to a machine.”
Tractors are not part of the landscape at Root ‘N Roost, a human- and animal-powered sustainable farm. All of the vegetables, herbs, flowers, fruit, mushrooms, poultry, eggs, transplants and nursery horticulture stock are grown and produced using only hand tools and no petroleum-powered machinery. The farm’s pigs, ducks, chickens, turkeys and bees actually help the farmers work the land, soil and plants.
“What we’re doing with our food is 100 percent natural,” Sean says “It cannot be linked back to pesticides, GMOs (genetically modified organisms) or petroleum.”
Sean and Chey practice no till-farming and never use synthetic chemicals on the property, including the 18 additional acres they now lease from another neighbor. They just completed work on an 11 kwh, 50-foot-long solar electric array as well as a 72-foot-long greenhouse; agritourism cabins are in the works.
“We are an education provider,” Chey says. “I see it as our goal to educate people in how they can do small-scale versions of what we do.”
You name it, the Zigmunds do it: consulting to would-be gardeners, civic groups and summer camps; community supported agriculture (CSA); farm tours; and workshops focusing on humane slaughter, using an excavator to shape land, or raised bed gardening techniques.
“We are a community resource for other people who are attempting to grow their own food,” Sean says.
The couple recently became certified in permaculture design, which will allow them to offer permaculture classes, and eventually a certification course “that holds weight in the outside world”.
Root ‘N Roost’s immediate neighbors include farmers working in a more conventional tradition and even a logging family, but the larger community includes a growing amount of like-minded farmers, growers and makers, Sean says.
“If I drive to the next town over, there are pockets of farms, people that I’ve met through different happenings – art shows, benefits – in which we’ve established a community of farmers in that regard,” he says. “We lean on each other and are all there for each other. I’ve called about ten different farms and ask for something and always get what I need.”
Chey characterizes the Catskills vibe as supportive. “What I really like about farming here is I feel I don’t have competitors,” she says. “I’m just really excited when another farmer does something cool.”
Imparting knowledge to tourists and weekenders as well as interns looking to start their own farms is one of the most rewarding parts about her chosen profession, she says.
“It’s really the number of people who have come through our farm, having an experience here that has really impacted their lives, their careers, their thought processes for the better,” Chey says.