Massaro Farm Manager Steve Munno must have known that he wasn't going to follow a traditional career path. Taking an early interest in the outdoors, Steve began participating in wilderness programs in his junior year of high school. Starting then, and continuing during breaks while attending Wesleyan University, he traveled to Alaska, Montana, Idaho and Washington, often serving as an outdoor program leader and wilderness guide to other youth.
"There was little, if anything, to suggest that farming ran in Steve’s blood or peaked his imagination," said Steve's dad, Bill. "No family were farmers, not even a backyard garden. Playing soccer and Ultimate Frisbee were his thing."
As Steve grew into adulthood, his horizons expanded beyond U.S. borders. He completed a Buddhist studies program in Japan; he explored several countries in Africa and South America; his work in outdoor education took him to Australia, Fiji, Tahiti, and France. He always connected with the local culture through food.
It was in 2004 while working as a field science educator in Yosemite National Park that Steve's desire to farm emerged. He began volunteering on a nearby farm, which led him to apply to the Apprenticeship in Ecological Horticulture, an organic farmer training program at the UC Santa Cruz Center for Agroecology & Sustainable Food Systems.
"I have a black thumb," says Steve's mom, Debby. "But Steve connected with his grandmother in California who always loved to garden. They shared a special bond."
Steve quickly learned to love to farm. The soil was embedded in his fingernails. Living in a tiny yurt (in California) and a room in the barn rafters did not dampen Steve’s enthusiasm. Happily, the East Coast soon beckoned, and after a season of farming for The Food Project in Lincoln, Massachusetts, something miraculous happened.
In Woodbridge, Connecticut, an idea germinated: transform fallow acreage and dilapidated structures into a not-for-profit community farm. There was nothing to tame and cultivate the rocky, overgrown pastures – not even a shovel. The young organization hired Steve as farm manager, and all of a sudden he had a place where he could realize a vision and create something out of almost nothing.
Some growing seasons have been challenging. There have been spells of drought, heavy rains, deep snows and high heat, plus hail storms and hurricanes. But that never deters Steve because he manages with a long view, improving drainage, installing erosion control measures and planting native habitat along property borders that will leave the land in better health than he found it. These efforts will also ensure that the Massaro farm property will be here for generations to enjoy.
It takes many skills to be a farm manager today - financial planning, marketing, communications and staff management are just a few key requirements in addition to the knowledge of soil, plants, mechanical know-how, organic pest control, crop rotation and irrigation. Steve embodies these characteristics and is now a dedicated husband and a father as well. Massaro Community Farm is lucky to have him.
Steve Munno, thanks for making us proud to call you the 2019 Outstanding Young Farmer of the Year!