A Starbucks barista with a dream of having her own organic farm has found a home on Dick Button’s North Salem oasis.
Allison Turcan is about as loyal as it gets when it comes to Starbucks. She had worked her way up to store manager of the chain coffee shop in Mamaroneck, when she decided to take advantage of the company’s aptly-named “coffee break,” a program that allows employees who’ve been with the store for a decade to take a year of unpaid leave knowing there’s a job waiting on the other side.
Following her passion for gardening, she signed up for a year of work exchange with World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms (WWOOF), which places volunteers on sustainable organic farms around the world. The volunteers are given room and board in exchange for an opportunity to work and learn the tools of the trade.
“It completely changed my whole perspective,” Turcan said. “I wanted to re-create that experience.”
She thought through what she treasured about that time: getting up early and heading out into the fields with a group of like-minded folks, taking a break in the middle of the day when the heat kicked in to enjoy a long, relaxed lunch with fresh-picked produce, maybe a nap if time allowed, and then going back out for more. Most of all, it opened her eyes to the kind of community that could be created around food.
Upon return to New York, she dropped down from full-time status at Starbucks to 20 hours a week and launched a nonprofit farm, D.I.G., or Dealing in Good, with a mission of “reconnecting communities to the natural good of the farm.” She didn’t have a set place to grow her food yet, but she brought her program into schools anyway.
While Turcan was just finding her footing in farming, six years prior North Salem resident and two-time Olympic champion Dick Button had laid the groundwork that would eventually make Turcan’s dream a reality.
Though he’s a world-famous ice skater, hence naming his 50-acre lot in North Salem “Ice Pond Farm,” locally, Button is known for his garden. In 1997, when he opened it to the public for a viewing, the New York Times called it a “veritable explosion of color” with a design where “eclecticism reigns.”
He’s since stopped showing his garden publicly, but did sign up with the Westchester Land Trust to keep 1.5 acres of his land in agriculture production.
The land trust, through its role in the Hudson Valley Farmlink Network, connects new or beginning farmers who wouldn’t otherwise have the funds to buy property with places like Ice Pond Farm.
This opportunity caught the eye of Scott O’Rourke, of Deep Roots Farm, who was ready to expand beyond his family’s property in West Harrison. O’Rourke moved in but things went a bit too well and soon found that he needed to expand again. Turcan, a volunteer-turned-friend of O’Rourke’s, was in the right place at the right time. O’Rouke took his operation to Ryder Farm in Brewster and Turcan moved in with D.I.G.
“Scott and (his wife) Stormie are so cool and I started coming up and working with them,” Turcan said.
These days, Turcan’s life is a mashup of the things she loves. She’s at Starbucks for early shifts Mondays and Tuesdays and devotes the rest of the week to the farm. She’s built up a crew of about 15 to 20 volunteers that come throughout the week to help with the workload.
In addition to the regular volunteers, she hosts field trips for schools from urban areas, plays tour guide to Girl Scout and Boy Scout troops, and is a destination spot for big companies looking to get out of the office for a day of service work.
Recently, a group from Morgan Stanley traded in their business attire for jeans and t-shirts to get their hands into some soil.
Turcan also hosts a farmers meetup once a month where farmers throughout the Hudson Valley come for a potluck, and she does brunches and dinners set in Button’s gardens with food from the farm. It’s the only way now that people can still get a tour of Button’s property.
For Turcan—who wasn’t sure exactly how much produce the farm turns out—it’s about getting people to think about where their food comes from.
“We’re not trying to make thousands of dollars. We’re trying to connect with like-minded people,” Turcan said. “Everyone needs to eat and everyone needs to eat food that is grown responsibly and organically.”
Friday, Aug. 31 - barbecue fundraiser, $25 per person.
Sunday, Sept. 2 - brunch fundraiser, $25 per person.
For tickets to these events and general information, visit digfarm.org.