By Steve Sears
For 23- year-old Pequannock resident Kevin Flood, gone is the “paper blindness” world he experienced from November 2019 to April 2020.
He’s seeing again the green of the grass, the blue of the sky. “Working in the land, feeling the dirt again, it was nice to go back outside; I was happy with that,” he says with a smile. “I mean, when I was in the office, I was staring at paper all day. I was at a white desk in a white room with white papers.”
Flood currently works as a farmer for Rich and Sue Sisti at Catalpa Ridge Farm, which is located at 1358 Route 23 in Wantage, New Jersey. He graduated from Ramapo College last May with a Law and Society degree, got his first biopharmaceuticals corporate job in November, and when the COVID-19 pandemic hit, he as the new hire in his company was the one whose job was the first eliminated. “I was only in it – I guess you would call it the corporate life – for about four months or so. I’ve been working outside my whole life, and I went into an office environment, and it was like, ‘Oh wow, I get to sit at a desk for eight hours.’ I was taking a step forward taking a corporate position, and I had gotten adjusted to it.”
One door closed, but another opened. Perhaps, “reopened” is the better word. “That (the layoff) was in April, and in May Rich asked if I’d like to help out with the sales and stuff. I said, ‘Okay.’ And I show up and he says, ‘Do you want the (full-time) job?’ and I said, ‘Yes, I’ll take it.’”
The Sistis have owned Catalpa Ridge Farm for 36 years, and Flood started visiting and being exposed to farm work when he was 5 in 2002. “My dad, his old company, used to do something called a Global Day of Service, and Rich’s farm was one of the places you could go to volunteer for a day. My dad would come, he would bring me, my brother (Michael; both were Eagle Scouts), and my mom, and there would be a whole slew of other people. I think it was once or twice a year.” During the fall, he and the entourage would arrive at 6 or 7:00 am, take garlic bulbs and clean them, take apart the individual cloves, and after cleaning them would place them into bins and plant them out in the field. “That would be an all-day occasion; the whole field was pretty much all filled with garlic.” In the spring, the group would harvest whatever produce came in or aid in tomato plant planting. “After their Memorial Day sale, whatever plants that they (the farm) had left over would be planted.” Flood segued those spring and fall treks to volunteering at the farm through high school, especially at their Memorial Day and Columbus Day sales.
So, Flood is back at the farm, and Sisti, 69, is happy to have him permanently on board. “You have to have help,” he says.
“I do a lot of the picking, but he still does a lot,” says Flood of Sisti. “He’ll have me go out there and pick stuff, but he’s also out there with me. We have a lot of shishito peppers, and I’ll be out there picking those, but he’s also out there picking the eggplants, the okra, stuff like that. He’s out there with me.”
“It’s really more of a team effort.”
Although this is a transition period for Flood – he calls himself a “temporary COVID farmer” – he says he could see himself owning his own farm one day. “Honestly, I could see myself doing that. I have the experience in the industry. I know what it takes to run a farm, because not only are you planting crops for sale, you also have to make sure the crops make it through the season.”