Andrew Plotsky and Rita Champion at their Stitchdown Farm in Bethel, Vermont
To get to Rita Champion and Andrew Plotsky's Stitchdown Farm, you meander down country roads (both paved and gravel) until you see a cluster of white buildings at the top of a grassy hillside. Their glass house greenhouse sparkles in the sun (complete with its own disco ball) and colorful fields of flowers greet you as you make your way up their driveway. Their home is warm, inviting, and filled with creativity and projects. Dried flower arrangements adorn window sills, curing hamon legs hang from the ceiling, cider sits fermenting in glass jars, pickles and preserves piled on shelves, it is a wonderland of farmstead goodness. A brunch feast is being prepared for us and some of their farmer friends. Most of the ingredients are sourced just a few feet from where we eat. This is why Andrew and Rita came to Vermont - good food, community and hard but rewarding work.
A shared appreciation of food, farming and creativity brought Rita and Andrew together seven years ago in the Pacific Northwest. They met while they were both working on Vashon, a small island located a short ferry ride from Seattle. Rita, originally from a small mill town outside of Portland, Oregon, was no stranger to country life. She has fond memories of riding her horse after school, and helping her dad build their barn. After graduating college, she decided to go into farming. She found it to be nourishing and rewarding work, and providing food to others gave her a sense of purpose. She worked for several different farms on the island before meeting Andrew.
Andrew was born and raised in Washington D.C. He was a third generation Washingtonian and the first in his family to leave the city in pursuit of his agrarian roots. After Andrew graduated college, he became planning a trip to run across the country, documenting his travels online. While he never embarked on the run, Andrew did spend the next few years traveling, meeting and connecting with people he admired. He wanted real life knowledge on how people pursuing more simple, land-based existences, lived.
Andrew saw the deep cracks in our food system and decided that he wanted to help bring sustainable food to others. At first, he began working on vegetable farms, and then forayed into animals. He worked as a meatsmith on Vashon Island, where slaughtered, butchered, and cooked animals for three years until he met Rita. During this time, Andrew began to explore photography, writing, and illustration in order to document the people, places, and ideas that he came across. Eventually, this led him to open Farmrun, his agrarian graphic design and photography business.
Andrew and Rita’s partnership began through establishing a diversified vegetable farm on rented land in Vashon, which they named Stitchdown Farm. While they loved the Pacific Northwest, the cost of land made it impossible for them to plant permanent roots there and the couple longed to live in a smaller and more tight-knit community. They piled into their old red pick-up truck and made their way across the country. The old truck now earns her keep hauling flowers to market.
Getting started in Bethel required some quick action and integration into Vermont's rich agrarian community. They decided to host a Memorial Day pig roast and invited Vermont farmers, friends and people from their community. This simple gathering has turned into an annual event that draws people from all over. Last year, Martha Stewart's Living magazine did a feature on Stitchdown Farm and their culinary and floral delights.
Their first year was overwhelming, Rita got straight to work planting and reestablishing her flower business. She reached out to local wedding planners, secured a spot at a nearby farmers market and started a flower CSA for seasonal summer/fall blooms. Andrew, with already established design and photography clients, was able to continue working remotely and began reaching out to East Coast based farm businesses to help with their branding. The couple has since continued to diversify their income by building a cabin near a stream on their property that they rent on Airbnb and offering seasonal farm dinners with guest chefs in their "glass house" greenhouse.
Andrew and Rita feel very fortunate that they have managed to build a sustainable life for themselves and their son Francis with their farm-based businesses. Two years ago, Andrew's brother moved to Bethel and opened Babes Bar, a local watering hole. Now the entire Plotsky family is living within a few minutes of one another. While juggling multiple operations has been a challenge since the arrival of their son, they say they honestly wouldn't have been able to keep everything going without help and support from their nearby family.
They feel lucky to have landed in the community of Bethel and to be a part of Vermont's rich community of growers. Their summers are a flurry of work and activity so they truly treasure the slower paced months in the winter when they dream, get creative and set goals for the upcoming season. In this farmhouse in Bethel, they have found their forever home.
Q & A
Initially, why did you decide to leave the city?
I felt lonely, isolated and unfulfilled. Had a deep curiosity about food production and sufficient lifestyles.
Why did you choose to leave Washington state and move to Bethel, Vermont?
To be closer to Andrew’s family on the east coast, and Vermont is the greatest place in the world. There is abundant water, seasonality, strong support and precedent for small business & agricultural enterprise.
Initially what was the hardest part about making the transition from city to small town?
I was used to spending a lot of time away from my home. It took a while to calibrate to a situation where my purpose is principally located in the same place that I live.
What challenges came later?
The challenges we face are human challenges, not rural challenges. How to be a good citizen, a good parent, contribute positively to our community, build strong friendships and be good to each other and ourselves.
How have your professional lives changed since moving away from the city?
Farmrun has grown so slowly and evolved so consistently that there was little change from urban to rural and from Washington to Vermont. I’ve always worked with remote clients so the transitions have been pretty smooth.
Do you feel like you have more creative opportunities in the country or less?
We can and must be creative every minute of the day. We live close to the source. We have the opportunity and often demand to build new skills regularly. Our creativity is borne of utility. The farm is our canvas. We are artists because this is where we express ourselves and we are designers because we have discrete goals that we both hope to and must accomplish. There is no more creative lifestyle.
What do you appreciate most about the life you’ve created here?
There is purpose every day. We work hard and eat and drink like the peasants we all idolize in Tuscany or Provence.
Is there anything you miss about living in a more urban area?
Ethnic diversity & riding bicycles.
Would you ever consider moving back to a city?
What advice do you have for people who want to leave the city but don’t know how to start planning their exit strategy?
Just f&@ing do it!
Did you have any experience growing food or flowers prior to moving here?
Yes we both had intern experiences and ran our own vegetable farm for 2 years in Washington.
How has welcoming your son into the world changed the way you work, farm, balance your life here in the country?
It’s complete mayhem. We rarely see each other anymore. We squeeze every ounce of work out of our time in between baby shifts. We have some childcare support from Andrew’s mom, but we spend a lot of time with Francis. We love the crap out of him but it’s really not that dreamy.
What advice would you give to someone interested in growing their own food?
Just f&%ing do it.
Do you notice a trend of young people wanting to leave city life behind? If yes, why do you think that is?
Big time. No idea why others are doing it but cities mostly suck. There’s some good bits and all but it’s expensive, isolating and you are largely divorced from your means and the people that are able to provide them.
What are some common misperceptions about life in the country?
That it’s boring.
What do you want people to know/understand about life in small communities?
It’s no different that being part of a community in any other setting. You give respect, listen and contribute.
What are your future plans/goals for the coming year?
Keep working towards the 100 year plan.