Kegan Hillaire didn’t aspire to be a farmer as a kid, he didn’t grow up on a farm and didn’t study farming in school. A series of serendipitous events led him to farming after starting in corporate sales working in the insulation industry. It was meant to be. You only need to have a short conversation with Kegan about his work and you know he’s found his life’s calling. His passion for producing real organic food and enthusiasm for teaching others is so apparent.
My husband and I met with Kegan at the end of June. Once we arrived Kegan took us for a walk around his farm as he shared information about his journey into farming, what he grows and more importantly how.
It all started when he grew tired of making the weekly trek from Scranton to Philadelphia to be with his wife who was in graduate school at the time.
Kegans curiosity about the quality of our food started when he joined his first farm share while living in Philly. He had access to farm fresh eggs for the very first time. These eggs looked, cooked, and tasted better than any eggs I had ever had. The investigation into the differences led him down a rabbit hole that continues to this day.
His first job and step toward farming was a sales position with a 5th generation, conventional dairy farm. During his time working there he was able to apply his selling skills increase sales and revenue which is impressive. Dairy farming is a tough segment of the industry due to regulation. But, Kegan has a strategic mind, and he found opportunities to guide the business toward success.
From there he found his way to Plowshare where he worked as a farm manager helping the farm improve sales and marketing strategies while learning more about farming. Working for Plowshare, Kegan gained a deeper understanding of our food system and the importance of making an environmental impact through regenerative and sustainable agriculture.
Having industry experience, and business skills Kegan was a perfect matchfor Rodale institute where he can help other farmers apply strategies that lead them to success. Kegans specialty at Rodale is in Small Farms and Diversified Vegetables.
While still working at Rodale Kegan took the leap to start his own Blackbird Farms in 2020. Now in his second year he has a small CSA, sells at farmers markets and has a strong relationship with local chefs. He grows a lot on his 5-acre plot. Of course, it’s managed with organic growing practices. Kegan is determined to grow the most nutritious food and he isn’t shy about pointing out what that means. Every time I talk with Kegan I learn more about the terms used to describe the way food is grown but can be confusing – even misleading.
Once you start to learn the real truth about our food and its impact on human and environmental health, it changes your life. You can’t go back – for me, and many young first-generation farmers like Kegan getting word out and do something to make positive change becomes a reason for being.
Blackbird Farm is actually at The Seed Farm - an incubator located in Emmaus, PA that offers new farmers training in crop management, equipment use and business and marketing practices. He has access to equipment, green houses, water and a 5-acre parcel that he can use for a small fee while he grows his business and perfects his craft. Unless you’ve grown up on a farm, most people don’t have all of the knowledge and skills to be a successful farmer. Just ask Kegan’s young son who captured the struggle of learning to operate farm equipment on paper with a drawing of the tractor stuck in the mud.It was really nice to have an opportunity to experience Blackbird Farm, as we walked along listening to Kegan and sampling peas learn about the impressive methods used to improve the soil, manage pests and produce a wide variety of vegetables. We learned how buckwheat is a super regenerator and how daikon radishes are fantastic aerators. Kegan produces a lot on the 5-acre plot of land. When we were there we saw rows of Sweet Potatoes, Patty Pan Squash, a variety of Leafy Greens, Garlic and more Pepper Varieties than I can count. I’m really impressed with the depth of knowledge Kegan has and with his success.
For small farms looking for help in improving practices you can reach Kegan at Rodale Institute.
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