Hannah Converse calls her fledgling farming operation “Pedaling Vegetables,” and she’s hardly spinning her wheels.
As she tends her newly planted melon seedlings and prepares the three-quarter acre of rented fields at Open View Farm for her first season as a Community Supported Agriculture venture, the 26-year-old Hampden, Mass., native is already hatching plans to put her love for cycling to work for her.
Without a car, Converse climbs the hills of Conway, Mass., on her bicycle to get to the farm from where she’s living, about a mile and a half away. With help from a U.S. Department of Agriculture grant for start-up farmers, she recently bought a bike trailer, eight feet long and three feet wide, to transport vegetables and cut flowers to the farmers’ markets in Conway, three miles down the hill, and Shelburne Falls, nine miles away.
For Shelburne Falls’ Friday market, Converse plans to sell her heirloom tomatoes, basil, and cut flowers. But Conway’s Wednesday market will probably mean lugging carrots, beets, and other heavy vegetables, so she’s thinking about upgrading to a larger wagon, capable of carrying a 600-pound load. And Converse is already gearing up for other ways to pedal her way around the farm to cultivate, haul compost, and do other farm chores.
For this biology-environmental science major, the seed was planted when she started working in the student-run Colby garden, atop Runnals Hill. “I feel our health-care system doesn’t really take care of people; providing wholesome, healthy food does,” she said.
After Colby, and after working on a farm in Maine, Converse co-managed an urban farm in Worcester where she’s still a board member. It was tiny—just one-sixteenth of an acre in an industrial park—but using dense, vertically oriented techniques, they
grew vegetables for a family shelter and for sale at the farmers’ market and nearby restaurants.
While there, she worked on several bike-building projects, including helping to design trailers for a seed-exchanging expedition through Brazil, building cycle-powered grain mills in Bolton, and then nearly completing a “longtail” cargo bike that can be used for hauling lumber, materials, and even people.
“When I was apprenticing on a farm in Maine, I got to try out a bunch of hand tools, but none of them worked for me,” said Converse, who began looking into ways to harness energy from a bicycle while taking a bike mechanic class. And then she found a farmer in Milton, south of Boston, who was using a bicycle cultivator for his tomato crop.
Now her ideas—complete with preliminary drawings she’s done with skills gleaned from her mechanical-engineer parents—involve building “a four-wheeled contraption the width of your beds, with a bicycle welded in the middle of the frame to a bike tractor, a bike cultivator.”
“My goal isn’t just that I get to use bikes, but also to get people to rethink our transportation system and how we use things,” Converse said. “Our country’s so invested in fossil fuels, it seems impossible to do it any other way, for a lot of people. But if more people started thinking about this and supported alternative systems, I really do think it can be a viable option.”
A version of this story appeared in the Greenfield, Mass., Recorder newspaper.