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!

Farm Beginnings: Bacchanalian Burn Bonanza

The hickory tree on the left is perhaps 55 feet tall.

Join us for a Bacchanalian Burn Bonanza!

Bacchus is not a controllable god (as you may remember from your Euripides in school) - and neither, it turns out, is fire. My lesson from burning a pile of wood 25 feet wide and 15 feet tall is this - don’t have any guests nearby but do have an excavator.

The moat of dug earth preventing the fire from spreading to the tall grass.

Don’t have any guests nearby because it is hard enough to watch the large fire catch the grass on fire without having witnesses join you in trepidation. Also, it felt better to have a smaller more sober crowd for when the fire marshall showed up to make sure we had everything under control. It is only because of the excavator that we were anywhere near under control.

The excavator is necessary because as the grass scorches along the ground outward from the fire, the excavator can dig a moat around the area. Helpless, I watched sparks fly into the tall grass. The excavator quickly would rotate on the treads, tamp those out with the bucket, and turn back quickly towards the the line of fire. “Behind you!,” I wanted to shout, “the grass is burning towards the tall grass behind you and on the left, and on the right and did you see it on the other side? The other side is moving fast and...”

and then it was over.

Still smoking the next morning.

45 minutes after the flames were reaching 30-40 feet into the air, the intense heat pulled the dry wood down upon itself and the focal point of our Bacchanalian Burn Bonanza celebration turned into Mordor.

But I am learning that even Mordor can be put to good use, our neighbors with the horse farm will take the ash and spread it on their pastures for the potash and the lime.

Cheering to sharing with neighbors.

(Here is a video of the fire starting, a haybale was drenched in diesel fuel and lit on fire...)

Farm Beginnings is the chronicle of a city girl starting to farm. Last installment Corinna spoke of growing what the deer won’t eat. Today she gives an update on the land.

Upset about Fracking? Get excited about Biogas!

I woke up this morning excited, nay wiggly with excitement, because I want to learn all about Biogas generators and put one on our land. I don't know if it is legal to do so in my county (probably not, considering that you are not allowed to put in a composting toilet in your house), in which case I am excited to get that ball moving. images

Once I have put one on the land, I think our town needs a big one for our waste - we currently have a beaver problem near the landfill flooding the land, which might be a good segway to focus the community's attention.

Biogas is what happens when anaerobic bacteria eat organic waste, manure (from humans, etc) or biomatter (plants), and give off gas as a byproduct. For countries who don't have quite such a generous excess of land to throw landfills onto they are already utilizing biogas technology: UK, Germany, China, etc. There are a few instances of biogas in the US, however, Wikipedia seems to conflate biogas with Landfill gas, which is incorrect.

My first desk job was working with landfill gas - the ability to take the methane generated by the bacteria and turn it into electricity and put into an industrial boiler. However, due to airborne siloxanes (a type of plastic) from the breakdown of certain beauty products (often in deodorants) the plastic would gunk up the moving parts of the turbines as the gas was heated in the generators. Biogas is a clean gas, no plastics from industrial waste are coming out of your chickens. (at least, we hope not)

We learned in our Permaculture Design Course this weekend that 2 cows, OR 7 goats, OR 170 chickens (and not counting humans or other organic waste streams) can generate enough gas to serve the needs of heating/cooking for 3-4 houses (this is in China). Not that our teacher was recommending that everyone run out and get two cows to keep in the shower in manhattan to run their Wolf ranges. But this notion of a decentralized, regionalized power grid is VERY important and one that our country needs to address.

In the Bill Mollison's The Global Gardener series, there was a very simple example of this in India that was literally just this design.

In the next 30 years nearly 50% of our high power transmission lines will need to be replaced on the east coast and 13%-30% of the power is lost as it travels (that's the buzzing you hear near the wires). One of the principles of permaculture is that pollution is just waste that hasn't been put to better use.

(On a side note, landfills will 100% become super fund sites EVERY TIME because the liner only lasts 30 years and we are mixing industrial waste with organic matter which creates toxic leachate that goes into our groundwater, among many other fun/sad/horrible things. Check your well water if you live near a landfill and tell your neighbors.)

What does this have to do with food? Well, organic waste from the farm in whatever form: corn stalks, human feces, sheep manure, tomato vines, squash leaves, etc all have to go somewhere. You can compost the waste and feed the organic gold back onto your land and watch the pile steam in the winter from these bacteria - or, I would posit AND, you can harness the energy that is coming from the steaming pile and heat your house or run your stove or even your tractor with the biogas. To me, biogas is common sense - the bacteria are doing all of the work!

Upset about fracking? Get excited about Biogas!

Are you excited too now? Hope so!!

It all brings us back to the old adage, "Waste not, want not."

I wanted to write this out because I felt so wiggly that I was having a hard time focussing on my morning meditation. Still feeling wiggly with possibility and promise of the world and ideas and things happening, but I will try again to focus on my mantra!

As Abraham Hicks would say, I am feeling "tuned in tapped on!" ie, the power of the Universe is coursing through my beingness! What a wonderful wonderful thing!!

I wish the same for you today!

Farm Beginnings: Boxwood; Loving What the Deer Don’t

Farm Beginnings is the chronicle of a city girl starting to farm. Last installment Corinna spoke to why she farms. Today she speaks of farming with deer and boxwoods.

Farming with deer might bring visions of Bambi and all of his cousins running around a field prior to harvest into delicious venison steaks. That is not what I am talking about. No, farming with deer is growing goodies I want to eat/enjoy without having the deer demolish them first.

I have a very complicated relationship with deer. I love to watch them run and jump and whisk their tales and yes, I have seen Bambi. Yet I feel the anthropomorphization of the deer population by Disney has adversely affected the biodiversity of our forests. I also like eating them - they are a good source of protein (free range anyone?) and delicious.

Part of planning where to plant goodies on the land involves protecting them from the deer. Deer like to eat most everything in the garden I want to eat and certainly many of the ornamental plants that I would like to smell and look at.

My first step is to plant boxwoods, a trick I learned from Toby Hemenway's book, Gaia’s Garden: A Guide to Home-Scale Permaculture. Deer don’t like boxwoods. According to a recent NY Times article, “boxwood contains alkaloids that are toxic to deer.” (and a small side note for me to thank them for such a great title). I plan to use boxwood as a fence.

Boxwoods appeal to me for several reasons. They are evergreen, we are renting in an apartment that has many full grown specimens of the slow-growing plant, and I was curious to try propagating from cuttings. I know I am going to be needing a lot of them to make a shield of any utility and the idea of purchasing 50 plants at 20 dollars each was not exciting.

After two months, no evidence of roots - but also only one has yellowed. I am hopeful.

I read recently a book that described a woman who started her arboretum, now filled with 70 foot trees, from seed. “It was cheaper, and she was quite frugal, which is considered sustainable today. She would trade seeds. As she said, plants people share; antiques people don’t share.”

Inspired to be frugal, I purchased Dip N’Grow, and following the directions snuck out very early 2 months ago to barely prune the boxwoods around my apartment. I dipped them into the solution and popped them into the earth. As I lifted the small cuttings from the soil this morning, I did not see any indication of root growth - but Martha Stewart says that it can take up to 3 months.

Besides, it is more fun to sneak out in the early morning before my neighbors are up to take cuttings than to contemplate the cost of a deer fence.

Here is the article on Real Time Farms.

Farm Beginnings: We Farm because Seeds Grow

Farm Beginnings is the chronicle of a city girl starting to farm. Last installment Corinna spoke of farming trees for the wood stove. Today she speaks to why she farms.

A few weeks ago I gently tucked tiny black and silver specks into wet soil. I placed plastic covers over the soil, put the flats under a sunlamp on the radiator and waited. The soil was very wet. I did not disturb the flats at all, water condensed on the inside of the mini plastic greenhouses.

Four weeks later there is a green carpet of tender strong dynamic life reaching upwards, unfurling new leaves with the courage of a new day.

The flecks of seeds GREW!!

That is what this whole thing is all about.

Sigh.

In my Master Gardener class a few years ago, the teacher stood at the front of the room the first day and asked us, “Why are you here?” Responses varied: “I love to garden,” “I volunteer at a farm,” “I want to keep my husband company when he gardens,” “I like to grow my own food.”

She listened patiently and then summarized all of the disparate sharing into one shooting star, “You are here because once upon a time, maybe when you were young, you planted something and it grew.”

It grew! Without any sleepless nights, or bank loans, or driving across town running late to an appointment, or jealousy, or broken hearts, or any of the beautiful facets of our human existence - you can place a tiny seed into moist dark earth, show it the sun, and the universe will give you a tree.

Or sunflowers, or kale, or barley your animals can eat. It is the most humbling and beautiful thing to me. On the days when I think I need to be in charge, or even may want to be in charge, am I kidding?

The universe can grow a tree.

Beyond Grateful.

Here is the post on Real Time Farms.