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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A visit to the Amish collective Path Valley Farms

Last week I visited three of the 20 Amish farms that comprise the Path Valley Farms collective, serving nearly 60 DC restaurants. In this enchanting place food is grown by those who ride in buggies to serve the needs of customers who travel by jets.

One gets the sense travelers seldom visit the 2-3 mile wide valley of farmland rolling and undulating between long blue gray ranges, 100 miles west of the touristed trails of the Lancaster Pennsylvania Amish. The farms of Path Valley thrive along a former Indian trail. I found Path Valley human sized (as opposed to outer worldly like the Grand Canyon), cradled within the arms of the soft hills.

Katie Joynt manages the collective for the growers. She took me on the tour and explained the logistics of this remarkable organization.

Every January a planning meeting takes place where several things are decided. A new collective board leadership is voted in and commitment sheets are filled out - a page of what the farmer plans on growing for the season. Joynt checks these sheets and ensures there is a wide variety of produce offered as well as not just one person growing carrots, "to spread the risk."

In April the delivery goes from once a week to twice a week, Tuesdays and Fridays, and this is how it works. As produce is collected on Monday Joynt receives individual sheets from the 20 growers with what they feel they could harvest that week - 3 pounds of carrots, 9 pounds of kale, 10 pounds of potatoes, etc. Tuesday evening she compiles all of those individual sheets into a comprehensive availability list that she emails out to her list of DC restauranteurs.

Chefs have until Thursday at 10 am to respond with their order. "I get contacted at all hours," says Joynt with a smile. Restaurant orders are broken down into individual orders for farmers. Thursday at 8 am the farmers call her and again at 12 pm so they can start picking and preparing the produce for collection. (*A small pause here is necessary: Path Valley Farms picks to order, that means the english peas you are eating at Sonoma on Saturday were picked on Thursday afternoon, that is very unusual.*) The produce is all brought to a cooler dock where the individual pickings are then reshuffled into the restaurant orders. By 4 am Friday morning all is complete and a truck with two volunteers heads to DC to drop off the freshly picked vegetables to discerning restaurants.

When I asked Joynt about growing practices she says that working with Path Valley is often in addition to the many other enterprises the farmer's family might be involved in. Therefore, many families choose not to go through the tedious process of becoming certified organic. They do grow using organic practices. The fertilizers and pesticides they use are those that are allowed by organic standards. It is a practical approach that allows a variety of growers to participate instead of just those who can afford the certification process. The co-op welcomes the great-grandmother who sends just a few pounds of okra per week as well as those who send fifty pounds.

Driving around to visit the three farms I received an education in not just the care and the love with which plants were tended, but also a slice of human existence so very different from my own. For example, my lifestyle is "English" and, though politeness dictated an attempt, it was clear that me describing a "blog" or Real Time Farm's "farm-linked menu" where you "scroll" over items with a "mouse" didn't work.

I sampled my first fresh gooseberry on a hilltop with Mary - "I feel on top of the world up here."

I tasted a late season strawberry as Eli, gesturing to his neat 18 inch rows, gave me a strawberry lesson - "Some people want a nice wide row and I don't like it. I like it like this ... because I want that ventilation. If I don't have ventilation, I have trouble. If I have one thing on that leaf there [he pulls up a leaf with some brown gray spots] it will just keep growing ... if it never dries out the water actually spreads it. That is why I like my wind ... I like my wind flowing through there. You see a strawberries worst enemy is itself. It can't be crowded."

Finally I toured a greenhouse complex with Nancy. She showed me microgreens being grown with the aid of pipes warmed during the winter by a stove that takes "about 70 bundles, maybe 80" of cut wood to help warm the tender shoots. "You could put up your bed in here if you wanted to," she laughed as she pointed to the cavernous soot filled space inside the stove.

I reluctantly tore myself away from the warm hospitality and kindness of Joynt and the farmers and followed the route the produce takes to feed Washington DC restaurants. 120 miles and 2 1/2 hours later I turned off the expressway, and went inside to the televisions, computers, lamps, refrigerator, stove, and microwave - to sit and savor a perfectly ripe watermelon grown with love from Path Valley Farms.

Chopstick Crazed,

Corinna

3rd Annual Homegrown Local Food Summit

The Homegrown Local Food Summit celebrated its third year with over 300 people at Washtenaw Community College on March 1st. The sun drenched lobby shone down on the information booths and tables groaning under the bounty of donated food. Rachel Chadderdon, of Double Up Food Bucks, introduced the day's event as a way "to bring together leaders in the local food movement to reenergize ourselves."Borden-homegrownfoodsummit2011 The conference had more of a conference like feel to it this year with a full morning of shared lectures and then break-away talks in the afternoon. The full morning started with a tag team presentation by Kim Bayer, of Slow Food Huron Valley, and Dan Bair, of The Farm at St. Joes, of our local food victories. Two keynote speakers: Dan Carmody, President of the Detroit Eastern Market Corporation, and Ken Meter, President of the Crossroads Resource Center, spoke to the larger world of food.

The morning wrapped up with four local food initiatives pitched by Mark Hodesh (for Mark's Carts and the Union Hall Kitchen), Aubrey Thomason (for her vision of Small is Beautiful Goat Dairies), Edward Weymouth (for Arborcycle), and Jeff McCabe (for his vision of building 20 hoops in 20 days).

All of that before lunch.

As Kim Bayer said in her introduction, "the local food victories inspire me to keep doing this. There is a network that is starting to form that can support our health and our community." She and Dan Bair read quotes from the recipients as the slides moved through the almost 30 local food victories.

2011 Local Food victories

A Local Food Victory Cluster: Johnson Jams "When Karen Johnson made a jam at the Preserving Traditions class last year, Emily Springfield told Karen she thought it was prize-worthy jam." When the Cottage Food Bill passed, Johnson Jams was born and eventually began selling at the Saline Winter Farmers Market. As Dan summarized, "it is a virtuous cycle, it is an example that demonstrates what is possible when the right pieces are in place."

Michigan Good Food Charter Kim Bayer describes the Michigan Good Food Charter, as "a framework that helps us see the aspects or categories of a foodsystem that provide community food security from the pieces that we need to have in place... State policy work is happening for food that is healthy, green, fair and affordable." The charter focuses on four main areas: Farms and Farmers, Food System Infrastructure, Institutions, Good Food Access, and Youth.

As such, the remaining local food victories are divided into those categories with two more added: Entrepreneurs, and Mentors.

Farms and Farmers

Stephanie Phillips - The Family Farm

Organic since 1980 The Family Farm has now become a Biodynamic Farm. As quoted from Stephanie Phillips: "'Use what you have and do what you can' this has been my motto. I don't believe in making excuses, like I am a woman or I am black so I have had a hard time. You overcome obstacles by sticking to your convictions and not giving in to those who mock or ridicule your ability. I started this business because I was tired of being subjugated by bureaucrats."

Kate Long  - Deer Tracks Farm

"I would like to think my business is helping the general community."

Jennifer Kangas - Capella Farm

"It's a great feeling to know that people like to eat what we raise and are finding new ways to enjoy food. We are also helping by providing a fair wage for our employees. They are a our key to success."

Tomm & Trilby Becker - Sunseed Farm

"We started Ann Arbor's first year round fresh vegetable CSA. We began an apprenticeship program to help other beginning farmers to start their own businesses."

The Doll Family -  Back Forty Acres

“Farming is a noble profession — from raising the animals to selling the meat — providing things that are real…It is a shame that there are so few meat processors nearby.”

Food System Infrastructure

Corinna Borden - Westside Farmers Market

Quoted from what I wrote to Kim Bayer in January: "One day when people say, 'I saw them at the farmers market.' The other person will have to say, 'which one?'"

Nancy Crisp - Saline Farmers Market

Nancy Crisp has managed Saline's markets from the beginning and they are doing great! As she says: "We now have three farmers markets in Saline."

The Roseans - Real Time Farms (check out their newly redesigned website!)

"We are taking on 32 interns, encouraging people's participation nationwide and madly building tools to help our regional food system the world over. Did we mention worldwide?"

Ed Weymouth - Arborcycle

"I like riding my bike and I wanted to turn it into something practical and useful for the community and the burgeoning local systems that are beginning to spread their roots through Ann Arbor."

Tim Redmond/Bill Taylor - Eat Local Eat Natural

"We have made it through nearly three years so we have overcome the temptation to quit when the truck is broken and there is no money in the checkbook and somebody just canceled a big order. The major hurdle that remains: the tough local economy."

Dawn Thompson/Jane Pacheco - Lunasa

As quoted from the ladies of Lunasa: "Connecting over 30 local producers, representing over 1500 locally grown foods and natural products, supported by over 300 members and growing daily. We are planning on opening another Lunasa in Garden City on April 2011!"

Emily Springfield - Preserving Traditions

"Started in 2009 to teach people the skills they need to eat locally all year round... now has over 325 members. People can contact me if they want to teach!"

Institutions

Dan Bair - The Farm at St. Joe

As introduced by Kim Bayer: "Dan told me that his own business called the Careful Farmer comes from a Wendell Berry quote that says, 'the most important thing the land can produce is a careful farmer.'"

(Dan Vernia) - The Royal Park Hotel

Dan Vernia shares he "is working on one plate, one event at a time... We need more consumer education, demand for local food will define our local food system in ways which we can only speculate."

Alex Young - Zingerman's Roadhouse

"At the Roadhouse, our commitment to local went to new heights with the opening of Cornman Farms. Chef Alex found that he was able to get great tasting produce without trucking tomatoes from Arizona."

Silvio & Catia Medoro - Silvio's Organic Pizza

"We are changing our recipes to include more local organic ingredients, such as using Ferris Mills flour for our dough and our Michigan blueberries on our pizza."

Good Food Access

Rachel Chadderdon - Double Up Food Bucks

Launched by the Fair Food Network: "Double Up Food Bucks is coming back to all four [Washtenaw] markets this summer and to 34 others all over Michigan and Toledo."

Jenna Bacalor & Sharon Sheldon - Prescription for Health

"In 2010, Washtenaw County of Public Health was awarded a 2 year, $294,000 grant from the Kresge Foundation. The award will expand the Prescription for Health program which connects low income patients of local medical clinics with farmers markets ensuring greater access to healthy foods."

Youth

Michigan Young Farmers Coalition

"Is based on a model of regional hubs and was started because many young farmers need access to land, financial support, business support, network and community."

Amanda Edmonds - Growing Hope

Dan Bair shared, "Growing Hope offers classroom and afterschool and summer programs for people aged 3 to 21 at its gardens and greenhouses in Ypsilanti." Growing Hope is: "making access to affordable, healthy food available to everyone in our communities in a way that increases self-reliance and supports local food producers and purveyors."

New Entrepreneurs

David Klingenberger - The Brinery

Their song was laughter inducing, gasp worthy, and educational:

Helen Harding/Blake Reetz - EAT

"We are so proud of our state. We love being able to support as many local farmers and purveyors as possible... in 2010 we doubled our catering business and we plan to do that again in 2011. We hope to be part of Downtown Home and Garden food cart court aka Mark's Carts."

Mary Wessell Walker & Michelle Hartmann - Harvest Kitchen

"We received funding from the USDA farmers market promotion program - we are using this money to outfit a new kitchen in Ypsilanti's Depot Town."

Mentors

Deb Lentz & Richard Andres - Tantre Farm

Anne Elder & Paul Bantle - Community Farm of Ann Arbor

The King Family - Frog Holler Organic Farm

Whew!!!

Dan Carmody then spoke about his experience in Detroit and some of the expansion plans for Detroit's Eastern Market. His talk was engaging, informative, and piercing. Several quotes have stuck with me: "The food pyramid that they recommend we eat is exactly the opposite to what they subsidize in the field." "In 2004, there were 80 community gardens in Detroit. In 2011 there are 665." "On Saturday we proudly sell pineapples and oranges because our customers need citrus."

Carmody spoke of Detroit's "poverty of place" and the initiatives he is working towards to help create destinations around food to encourage a greater community. Hence, there are plans for the Eastern Market Corporation to build a teaching and community kitchen space, to build a 2 ½ acre market garden with 3 hoop houses on wheels, and to support mobile food operators. Carmody finished his talk with a very sensible summary. "I don't want to live in a place where Happy Meals are outlawed but I want to live where no one would ever want to buy a Happy Meal."

Ken Meter, of Crossroads Research Center, spoke as a food system analyst looking at our food system through the lens of community. Ken Meter argued "food takes money out of a community" and that the "goal is to build community-based food systems." He showed an alarming graph showing farming income, in real dollars, has not increased in almost 90 years and the price increase in food comes from the middle-men/marketing element. That is directly a result of the prevailing view of our food system as a supply chain. For example: Producers » Processor » Distributor » Retail » Consumer.

"The problem with that is that the producers and consumers are not talking... better to have a value network."

Ken Meter finished his talk with this rallying call, "you can't outsource a local food economy."

The morning concluded with four entrepreneurs sharing their vision for a local food initiative and asking for help. Mark Hodesh is looking for 3 more food carts for his Mark's Carts. Aubrey Thomason has been making cheese at the Zingermans Creamery for 5 years and she wants to source her goat milk locally. She is offering a market for anyone who wants to raise goats for milk in our area. Edward Weymouth is looking for bicyclists and customers for his Arborcycle business. Jeff McCabe is looking for volunteers to make possible his vision of building 20 hoop houses in 20 days starting June 15. He is also looking for people wanting to donate money and 8 more sites to build the hoops.

A myriad of talks filled the afternoon: Farm to School, ABCs of Local Food/Planning/Zoning, Toxins in our food, Michigan Wines, Cottage Food Bill, Four Season Farming in Hoophouses, Food as Medicine, etc.

The day ended with a showing of a few favorites from the 1st annual Michigan Good Food Film Festival, which took place the night before. The judged winner was Edible Avalon's entry. If you have not seen it before: here it is!

Here is the article on annarbor.com