Farm to College: Spotlight on Red Barn Produce

Recently several of us from Bard College met with Kevin Terr of Red Barn Produce in his distribution center in Highland, NY. Since 1989, Red Barn Produce has been working with local produce farms aggregating their food to deliver to schools, restaurants, and institutions (like Omega Institute and the Culinary Institute of America) in the Hudson Valley and Connecticut.

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Farm to College: Spotlight on Bread Alone

“For what a bakery can do to be a relevant part of the local sustainable food economy - I think we do a good job.” Nels Leader, son of the founder Dan Leader, is understandably proud of Bread Alone’s accomplishments. In 1983, Dan moved his family from NYC to Boiceville and started selling bread in the Hudson Valley and to NYC via the newly minted ‘NYC Greenmarket’. 

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Farm to College: Spotlight on Hudson Valley Fresh

Hudson Valley Fresh (HVF) with their cheerful trucks and delicious milk feels like a mainstay of our valley, but they started less than 10 years ago. In 2005, several dairy farmers concerned about the loss of viable farmland came together to create an owner cooperative dedicated to high quality milk, living wages for the farmers, and the preservation of open land

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Farm to College: Spotlight on J&D Farms

Mark Justh of J & D Farms came to farming via the Army, Princeton, and managing JP Morgan’s brokerage business in Hong Kong. Now he is the CEO of Fleischers Grass-Fed & Organic Meats and farms over 4000 acres 35 miles SE of Syracuse. 

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Farm to College: Spotlight on Gill Farms

I take this soil… I start out in the Spring and it is green, I roll it over and it is brown, I make it green again with a crop. You know, brown to green, brown to green, brown to green, every time I go brown to green, I am supplying something. I do something that only 1% of the people in this country do.  We feed the rest of you.

With over 1500 acres in cultivate, John Gill, of Gill Farms, is certainly feeding us - and his main crop is sweet corn, 16 million lbs a year. 

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Farm to College: Spotlight on Davenport Farms

imgres-1We will start this discussion of Davenport Farm by hearing from Bruce Davenport (courtesy of their website and because I am a history lover).

  In the last 300 years, our society has gone through drastic, remarkable changes. The basic concept of farming: seeds, seed bed preparation, planting, and tending to the needs of the crop is still the same, but in those 300 years our society has gone from agrarian to industrial. Luckily for some of us, even industrialists need to eat, and tilling the soil and planting the seeds are still the best way to produce food. In an industrial society, people and businesses become specialists, producing products and performing services based on their special talents and/or the availability of a natural resource.

Yours truly in front of the wide open fields of Davenport Farms.

  Farming across the country is no different. In the southwest, the farms enjoy abundant sunshine, and a long growing season perfect for fresh market fruits and vegetables. The Midwest, with its vast acreage, shorter growing season, and limited water supply is best suited for grain crops. The Northeast, including the Rondout Valley, has a relatively short growing season, but the excellent soils, available water, and access to large markets offer its farmers many opportunities. The Rondout Valley has been New York City’s breadbasket for 200 years, and continues to produce a great variety of fresh fruits and vegetables.

  Our farm has been in our family for four generations. My great-grandfather and grandfather produced fresh market crops (tomatoes, corn, peppers, etc.) and storage crops (cabbage, potatoes and onions) for both the local markets and New York City. With the advent of refrigeration my father was able to specialize in sweet corn, the crop that seemed to grow the best in this valley. At one point, he grew over 1,000 acres of corn. At that time there were nearly 6,000 acres in the Rondout Valley planted in sweet corn, and ten large sweet corn operations shipping its products countrywide. There are still three large corn operations in the valley, and Rondout Valley corn is still considered by many to be the best money can buy.

  Today, due to high fuel prices and increased concern for food security, there has been a surge in demand for local produce. We grow many of the same crops my grandfather and great grandfather grew, and sell to the 21st century version of the same markets they sold to. It gives me a good feeling to know my brother and I, like many other farmers in the Rondout Valley, are continuing a long-standing tradition of raising crops in the same soil our forefathers farmed. And when I find an arrowhead in the field, I’m reminded that these soils have been the cornerstone of cultures for millennia.

--Bruce Davenport

Bruce Davenport in front of his family's farm stand.

As Bruce shared with me, he grew up farming 1000 acres of sweetcorn with his family and “the life sucked.” Currently he farms 100 with his brother, renting the rest to his neighbors and relatives. Their 100 acres is flat, wide, and open with views of the Catskills.

One of his renters raises cattle and I asked him if he uses their manure on their fields to feed the soil organic matter and it turned into a conversation about the difference in terminology between GMO and GE foods.

We don’t put the manure from the cows onto the field because that is pretty dangerous, you don’t want to do that just willy nilly. That has to be a planned thing you want all of your customers to live through it. Throwing e-coli out in your field, that is generally considered not to be a good thing.

The thing with farming nowadays is that you need to control as many things as you can possibly control. That is why that whole GMO thing came about – that is just one more little bit of control a farmer has over what is going. We don’t use anything GMO – actually that is a misnomer – we don’t use anything GE – basically everything out there is GMO.

GMO is genetically modified – that means anything that has been altered is GMO – like a hybrid or breeding anything. If it has been open pollinated like your Brandywine Tomatoes that is GMO. GE is when they genetically engineer the seed by putting in different genetics.

As a farmer, you need to control the environment as much as you possibly can because there is so much that you can’t control. The margins are so small in the business that you can’t let anything slip by.

He enjoys growing a variety of produce in the season, as he shares, “it allows you to be creative and I have the winters off.” Davenport has a farmstand in Stone Ridge that is open all year except the last half of December, January, and February.

Davenport Farms sells their produce to Whole Foods, Hannafords, Grow NYC, and Farm to Table’s Winter Sun Farms - which is how it comes to Bard College and The New School.

Cheers to knowing where our food comes from!

Farm to School is a series that highlights the sourcing of Bard College and The New School. These are written as part of my role as the Food Sustainability Advocate with Chartwells.

Farm to College: Spotlight on Winter Sun Farms

Winter Sun Farms LogoFor Jim Hyland of Farm to Table CoPackers, the decision to start 7 years ago, “was on a whim. I eat, which is why I started this.” Hyland’s spur of the moment decision to start freezing produce for his neighboring farmers in New Paltz has morphed into nearly 30 employees working to preserve the bounty of summer.

Whether it be to freeze, to pickle, or to make soups or sauces - Farm to Table is our local co-packer working with local farms.

Currently housed in the former kitchens of the former IBM Tech City outside of Kingston, Hyland is looking to become the food hub for the Hudson Valley - a place where thousands of pounds of fresh produce from Hudson Valley farms are preserved in his facility and then sent all over the country. Over 30 private labels use Hyland’s facility to pack and process their products - labels such as Rick’s Picks, Hudson Valley Harvest, Super Seedz and more. Bard receives frozen produce and prepared sauces made from local farms under Hyland’s private label: Winter Sun Farms.

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Hyland shared many thoughts as we toured his facility:

As Winter Sun started to grow we found that there was no infrastructure for this, for what we were trying to do. No one was setup to work with small farms - so this [facility] opened 4 years ago - and we have been growing from there.

The more volume we can pull through here the more secondary things we can do. We literally ran green beans the other day for Winter Sun - so we had about 2500 lbs of green beans. We ran three other batches of green beans for small farms that day: Conuco Farm, Evolutionary Organics, and Millers Crossing. Millers had about 500 lbs, the other two had about 200 lbs each - but we put them on the back of a run and were able to pack them up. You know, it is a small amount of packing but no one is doing it, no one would ever consider doing it. But because of the volumes we have we can slot that stuff easily.

The fact that we buy from Hugeunot Street Farm, say 325 lbs of tomatoes, that is not a lot. It doesn’t seem to be an important thing, but you know the farmers made an extra $120 bucks or whatever it was, and they only had to drop it off at my house. We try to do these things that help the mission.

But it’s really driven by how efficient we can be, the equipment, and that institutional market. We work with the farms to see how they pack it, how they produce, how we can most efficiently transport. We are never going to be the cheapest on the ground. We don’t want to be the cheapest. We don’t want to have the race to the bottom. There are legitimate price concerns, and how do we work within that, and how do we show to you that what you are paying has that value.

Perhaps you just helped us create 50 jobs or 25 jobs. Those jobs are right in your backyard. These farms are right there.

Prepping okra for Rick's Picks Smokra.

The farms are right here. Winter Sun preserves and freezes produce from a dozens of Hudson Valley Farms; here is a small sampling: Greig, Migliorelli, Talieferro, Shaul, Miller’s Crossing, Davenport Farm, Gill Farm, etc etc.

As the harvest season winds down, look for signs showcasing the farmers via Winter Sun Farms.

Cheers to knowing where our food comes from!

Farm to School is a series that highlights the sourcing of Bard College and The New School. These are written as part of my role as the Food Sustainability Advocate with Chartwells.

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Farm Beginnings: The End of the Beginnings for Sweet Showers Farm

A freshly painted mailbox!

This is my last posting about Farm Beginnings because I feel we have passed by the Beginnings part and are onto the beginning of the Doing part.

The Doing part, as you know, is the steady pace learning and exploration tango contained within every moment - you try corn on the lower field for the first time, the squash borer kills all of your cucumbers, goats escape (again), the strawberries are too wet, the chickens are decimated by a hawk, you hold a baby lamb as the sun rises, the sunflowers are pulled down because you planted your peas too quickly to trellis along and everything falls onto the pumpkins. (In the future, may all of my “problems" be as simple as sunflowers falling onto the pumpkins!)

Part of the Permaculture Design Course was to envision what would be on the land in 15-20 years. So this is the global view.

We are calling our land Sweet Showers Farm, courtesy of my Chaucer days. Whan that Aprille with his shoures soote, The droghte of March hath perced to the roote. Sweet Showers Farm works two ways. The Sweet can be a noun showering down upon the Farm and/or the Sweet can be an adjective describing the Showers of rainfall. It makes me wiggily with happiness.

For my future questions there are many online resources to help me: Start2Farm.gov, Virtual Grange, Greenhorns, Beginning Farmers, Young Farmers Coalition, and I have been cultivating neighbor mentors.

Courtesy of my Permaculture Design Course (PDC), which I highly highly recommend as a way to recharge your educational, spiritual, and joy of life batteries, we have a farm plan and goals for the next 25 years.

A closeup of the plantings and whatnot near the house - akin to a vision board.

The PDC did a wonderful job inspiring me - but it also left a bug in my ear. The first day, our instructor Andrew Faust, punctured through my idealism in one obvious comment. It was along the lines of, “You know, people want to run away and create their little paradise, which is great. But what happens when your well is poisoned from the leachate from the municipal landfill, your air quality is so poor you can’t leave the house some days [which happens to those close to Concentrated Animal Feeding Organizations - aka factory farming, the EPA did a study on it], your weather is so weird that you can no longer plant the crops of your grandparents [see Tabasco], and your animals are stressed from the heat and stop producing enough milk to feed you.”

Duh!

So there it is - the balancing act of life. I am you and you are me and we are all in this together. The choices rest in the Doing.

May sweetness shower our farm...

Here is the post on Real Time Farms

Farm Beginnings: In Awe of House Builders

People keep telling us that building our farmhouse is going to break up our marriage. I can certainly see why.

Just when you think you are finished with your day - errands and jobs and family drama and dinner all complete - you and your partner sit down at the computer to figure out what kind of faucets you want in your new house. Suddenly you have an opinion about something you have never consciously thought about - grout color, porcelain vs metal handles, whether the toilet flush lever is on the left or the right side, depth of bathtub, how much molding is going to be around your doors, what style doors do you want, how long the cords are on the lights that hang from the ceiling, on and on and ON.

I know these are nowhere near real problems. But depending on whether everyone is well rested and has their humor glasses on - such a conversation can be turned into something huge and dramatic and end up with one partner retreating to the bath with a glass of wine and Cherry Garcia, especially when some appliances and bathroom fixtures cost more than our car. I am grateful for the most part my partner doesn’t care and I can play the princess, but sometimes he does.

Septic fields, running the electric lines, and digging the well - three things I knew nothing about in my naivete of wanting to have more control over where my food comes from. But as many people can tell you - in addition to choosing faucets, those are vitally important things one has to think about when away from municipal utilities.

I learned inoculating mushroom logs that it is much easier drilling holes without having to worry about the charger dying on you. So until we get ourselves organized with water and electricity we are taking a break from the planting.

But that doesn’t mean I haven’t started planning - as I will talk about next week with a run-down of my Permaculture Design Certification course.

Here are a series of pictures showing what has been going for the last month.

Digging the trench for the frost walls

Frost wall footings (there is no basement)

Pouring the concrete into the frost walls

Laying the plumbing pipes underneath where the slab will be poured

Insulation goes under the radient piping

Using sand and gravel from the land to lay on top of river stone for a driveway

A completed driveway

A septic field before being backfilled

A slab!

It is beginning to look like a house! (soon we will be ready for faucets!)

Farm Beginnings is the chronicle of a city girl starting to farm. Last installment Corinna gave an update on the land - and specifically the bonfire bonanza. Today she gives an update on the house.

Here is the piece on Real Time Farms!