FLPCI Alum builds his farm with apples & permaculture

Alumni Profiles: Peter Sutera

By John Vogan

Outdoorsman. Survivalist. Primitive skills connoisseur. These are some of the ways in which FLPCI alum Peter Sutera describes himself. And when asked how old he is? “I’m 25 years young,” he replies. But his outlook on the future of the world we live in is wise beyond his years.

Peter in the Hammondsport, NY town square

Peter studied permaculture with FLPCI in 2010. Since then, he has started his own farm in Hammondsport – about an hour’s drive west of Ithaca – where 64 apple trees yielded nearly 500 gallons of cider this year. He says working with FLPCI and those involved with the Institute was one of the main influences in his decision to buy land after graduating college.

“Getting on that track of permaculture and agriculture really made me fall in love with the region and got me on the path that I’m on today,” he said.

“I had just graduated college and taken classes and schooling on sustainability and farming. [FLPCI] was my first hands-on immersion in permaculture and agriculture. The program was a good balance between classroom time, and then translating theory into the real world, designing things, and then implementing them.”

A lot of the projects Peter is currently undertaking on the land derive from FLPCI curriculum. This past June, he and several friends planted roughly 400 Black Locust and Osage Orange trees for a sustainable coppice stand.

“Forest regeneration is something I learned while at FLPCI – the whole idea of coppicing, which is basically repeated cutting of wood and it grows back from the stump for building materials and firewood.”

Peter pointed to the design course as one standout memory of his time at the institute. But in addition to the knowledge Peter acquired, he said getting to work with the type of people a program like FLPCI attracts makes the experience all the more worth it.

“It was really great to have a lot of people come in and have a really enormous temporary community. That summer [in 2010] we built a root cellar, which was a really incredible experience. For about a month and a half all nine of us were filling bags of dirt and building this thing. It was fun doing all the work, but also being with the people that were part of the program. We were a good group of folks. I remember them as fondly as I remember some of the times spent in the classroom talking about mushrooms and compost.”

Peter admits while the farm is a livelihood that he intends to make money from, he also hopes it will benefit many others and future generations.

“I’m trying to set up systems on the land that will outlive me and support those who will come afterward, and I think that’s another good lesson I’ve taken away from permaculture, which at its core is a system of ethics. Care for people, care for earth, and then redistribute surplus. In that respect, I haven’t sold as much cider as I’d like, but in the same spirit of redistributing surplus, it’s been a great gift to the economy to trade cider for garlic with a friend of mine, or for holiday gifts – making hard cider and giving that to friends and family.”

NOTE: This Saturday (March 22, 2014), Peter will be giving back to the community, friends and family by offer a workshop on apple tree pruning. If you live in the region contact Pete at <oakosagefarm@gmail.com>. The class is expected to begin at 10 a.m.

About the author: John Vogan is a senior journalism major at Ithaca College. For more of his latest work, visit: johnvogan.wordpress.com.