Category ArchiveLocal Farmers

Local Farmers &NYC Greenmarkets 30 Sep 2011 06:32 pm

Greenmarket Update: Shasha Miranda of Miranda Restaurant

McCarren Park Greenmarket Update from Market Manager Robert Shepherd:
Swing by tomorrow at 10:30am for a cooking demonstration and free samples by Williamsburg’s own Sasha Miranda from Miranda Restaurant. She will be cooking an amazing risotto, yum!

Also: we will be accepting cash, credit and debit donations at the Info Tent all day to benefit farmers impacted by Irene ( Please show your support. Find us between 8am to 3pm on Union Ave. btwn Driggs and N. 12th St. For more info visit:

Local Farmers &NYC Greenmarkets 16 Sep 2011 05:19 pm

McCarren Park Greenmarket Update – More You Can Do to Help Farmers Hit by Irene

An update from Rob Shephard, Market Manager of McCarren Park Greenmarket in Williamsburg Brooklyn:

Good afternoon Brooklyn. Below is a list of tomorrow’s events at your local Greenmarket, continued post-Irene information, and upcoming events happening in the city with Greenmarket. We hope to see you all out tomorrow. It’ll be a beautiful day for sure.

Tomorrow (Saturday Sept 17) at 11am come by the Information Tent to learn how to make and sample some Punjab Corn Chutney by Drake Page of The DP Chutney Collective. Market open from 8am – 3pm on Union Ave btwn Driggs and N. 12th St.

Upcoming Benefit Events for Greenmarket and our Farmers:

Sunday, September 25, 2011 – Dine Out Irene
At Participating Restaurants in New York City
Dine Out Irene is a one-time event on September 25, 2011, benefiting New York-area farms that have been hard hit by the hurricane. Participating restaurants are asked donate up to 10% of the day’s sales (brunch/dinner, or both) to aid local farms. The funds will go directly to GrowNYC and Just Food, who will distribute them to area farmers that need hurricane relief. Dine Out Irene is still recruiting restaurants to join the effort. If you are a restaurant and would like to participate, please contact Gabriella Gershenson at For a current list of participants, visit

Saturday, September 24, 6-9 p.m. – Rogowski Farm Barn Dance and BBQ!
Rogowski Farm
329 Glenwood Road, in Pine Island New York 10969
Adults $10.00 / Children age 6 to 12 $5.00 Children age 5 and under – free
Join in on the fun at Rogowski Farm for a real good old fashioned barn square dance & BBQ offering you a slice of Americana from years gone by for everyone to enjoy. Food fresh off the BBQ will be for sale before and during the dance. Music and dancing start at 7 p.m.

Sunday, September 25, 1-4 p.m. – Warwick Farm Aid
Warwick Valley High School
89 Sanfordville Road
Warwick, NY 10990
Warwick farmers were hit hard by hurricane Irene and we will be raising $25,000 by 9/25/2011 to benefit our local farmers. From 1:00 to 4:00 will be an open house with family events, music, story tellers, and more. The main concert is 4:00pm to 9:00pm. Please join us for a day of music, fun, and most importantly support for our local farmers.

Sunday, September 25, noon – 6 p.m. – 8th Annual Bradley Farm Party
Tickets, $20
317 Springtown Rd
New Paltz, NY 12561
Featuring great southern BBQ and pierogies made with Ray’s potatoes, live music, hayrides and a new petting zoo. This year, we may even get to play chicken sh*t bingo!

Monday, September 26-October 2 – Dine In Irene
Location: Your Home
Shop your neighborhood Greenmarket for the best of the harvest produce, then invite your friends over for dinner. Charge by the plate for your party, or host a potluck and ask guests to bring a market-sourced dish and a donation. All funds collected will be donated by the various Dine In hosts to the Greenmarket farmer relief fund. Register your Dine In on

Food Matters &Local Farmers &NYC Greenmarkets 03 Sep 2011 07:27 am

Damage to Local Farms from Hurricane Irene and How You Can Help: a Message from the McCarren Park Market Manager

This note comes in from Rob Shepherd, market manager for the McCarren Park and South Williamsburg Greenmarkets. He tells how you can help Greenmarket farmers recover from the damage — in many places severe — done by Irene, by donating, volunteering, and above all, continuing to shop at the Greenmarket.

Dear Greenmarket Community,

We will learn about the full extent of the damage caused by Tropical Storm Irene in the days and weeks to come, as the waters begin to recede from upstate farms. The Black Dirt region is still flooded, Sullivan County and Ulster County have seen significant damage, and there are parts of Greene County that no longer exist. We estimate that 80% of Greenmarket farmers have been impacted, with about 10% reporting severe loss – 80-100% of their products. This couldn’t have happened at a worse time of year – as you know, September is when our farmers make the money they need to sustain their farm businesses. It is too late in the season to re-plant, and in addition to the great summer harvest that typically arrives in September, these farmers have lost their winter storage crops as well – beets, onions and squash – the products that sustain year-round sales.

Markets were open at 5 a.m. the day after the storm, and we are encouraging residents to support regional farmers first and foremost by shopping at Greenmarket. Some of the farmers you have forged strong relationships with over the years may not be back at the markets this season due to the aftermath of the storm, but we will do everything we can to ensure that they return to market in the spring of 2012. In the mean time, we don’t anticipate that our markets will be impacted in terms of the quality or the variety of products you have come to expect.

We have set up a donation page on the GrowNYC website, which you can find at We plan to have a message board up on our website by this weekend, where those seeking assistance (volunteer help, or in-kind donations) and those who are ready to volunteer can be put in touch. If you have any questions, please reach out to our office: 212-788-7476.

Greenmarket farmers are a resilient group of individuals, who have weathered many storms prior to this one. Thanks to an incredible community of shoppers and supporters, we’ll help our regional growers get through to a strong recovery.

Also, tomorrow at Greenpoint/McCarren Park Greenmarket, we will be doing several fun surveys, along with frying up some amazing zucchini blossoms with Brooklyn’s own Carina Molnar, local food lover extraordinaire. Swing by the information tent and check us out! Cooking demo will start at 11am. Union Ave. between Driggs Ave. and N. 12th St. For more information visit:

Local Farmers 06 Jun 2010 11:52 am

Ben Shaw, Poultry Farmer, Garden of Spices Farm

Ben and Jeanette Shaw are proprietors of Garden of Spices, a poultry farm in upstate New York that’s selling in the New York City Greenmarkets for the first time this year. They sell pasture-raised chicken and duck, eggs, and a terrific chicken-liver paté. I spoke with Ben last Saturday at his booth in the Brooklyn Borough Hall Greenmarket. He can also be found at the Union Square market on Wednesdays.

How long have you been farming?
We started farming full time five years ago. This is our fifth season.

How did you get started in farming?
Back when I was working a corporate job, and we lived in the village of Schuylerville, we decided we wanted to buy a farm. So we purchased a farm but we didn’t know how we were going to make the transition from a full time, decent-paying job to farming.

And then as things came about, a friend of mine called and said ‘I got a whole bunch of poultry equipment, and the bank is foreclosing on me and will you come take it?’ For basically a gift, you know. And so we purchased it all and brought it to the farm and said ‘well what are we gonna do with it?’  And that’s how we got into poultry farming.

We started researching it and we realized that we could make a full-time living doing poultry. There was a need especially for a facility to slaughter poultry so we ended up building that on the farm.  And every year we raised more and more of our own poultry to the point where today that’s where the majority of our income comes from.

Did you make the jump all at once or did you keep your day job for a while?
I think I worked part time for maybe a month or two because I had to train someone new for my position, but it was pretty much a full jump. The biggest thing we had to overcome was making that transition from full-time employment to farming, where the weekly paychecks stopped.

What was your career before?
I was a teacher at a vocational school for a while, then from there I went to being a human resources safety director at a construction company.

Where did you go for research into poultry farming?
Mostly I talked to other people who were doing it. Other farmers. I went to different local farmers markets and found out who was doing it and how they were doing it.  Who was making a living, who was doing it as a hobby, what their needs were. We started slaughtering for farmers at the farmers markets which is how we got our foot in the door initially.

How did your farm get its name?
My wife had always wanted to grow herbs so we kinda named the farm for that.

Where is the farm? Can you tell me a little about the area?
East of Saratoga Springs about 10-15 minutes. Near a little town called Schuylerville. We’re technically in the town of Greenwich. Right where the Hudson and Battenkill rivers come together.

The area is most well known as a turning point of the Revolutionary War, so there’s a lot of history on the farm itself. Different battles and all sorts of things like that, arrowheads.  The farm itself is about seventy acres and we have probably I would say about thirty acres that’s tillable, all flat. Of course we don’t till it, we have it as pasture for our birds. And we’re right out in the country, no neighbors nearby.

Tell me about the pastures
We’ve planted all the pastures down in clover and chicory. Clover & chicory are high-protein grasses, and they’re sweet so the birds love to eat them. Chickens won’t graze a lot on their own just on green grasses. If you just put them out on your lawn they won’t eat a lot of greens. But clover is sweet, and they love to eat it, so we encourage them to eat that by planting it. And we’ll move them continually on to fresh pasture. We don’t even have them in portable coops – we just have them so they wander. We have livestock guard dogs to protect them so we really don’t have too much of an issue with predators.

Do you have to re-plant the pastures each year?
They’ll last a few seasons before we have to reseed them. One area where we’ve pastured fairly heavily right now is a very large garden. We’ve tilled it under and planted it.

Did you come from a farming background?
My wife’s great grandparents and my grandparents were farmers. So my father grew up on a farm but I didn’t.  We basically chose farming because of the lifestyle and the family values that come from it. We saw it as a way that we could work together and be together as a family.

Both of us grew up in the country. When we met we both lived in the village of Schuylerville, and we thought it would be nice to stay and be around people but we realized it just wasn’t us. We had a nice, large house in the village and once the children got to be about five or six years old we realized that there just wasn’t enough yard for them.

Does your farm follow a seasonal pattern in the way a produce farm does?
Everything we raise is raised on pasture. So we’re limited for our growing season. We slaughter our first birds some time in late April and we’ll slaughter our last birds in December at Christmastime. January and February are down months for us and then the first of March we get new chicks in. So that’s kind of the cycle: two months that are pretty much down.

No birds at all on the farm in those two months?
We’ll have laying hens, but other than that there are no meat birds. We try to stock up in summertime. This time of year we’re putting more into the freezer. And then that’ll diminish and in the fall we’ll be busy with sales, and then wintertime we’ll sell birds until we’re out. Depending on the demand is when we run out. What we have in December is what we have.

Do you have particular breeds that you favor?
I’ve tried different breeds of birds and the Cornish Cross is pretty much the bird that we’ve chosen to raise. The heritage chickens that you can get into… consumers are not really used to seeing a meatless bird. That’s what a lot of the heritage breeds are. Even though you might raise them for twice as long as you would a Cornish cross, and for twice the price. So you have twice the price for half the bird without the meat on it and there just isn’t a demand there.

We’ve raised some heritage turkeys in the past, but there’s just a very small demand for it. We’ve raised some broad breasted white turkeys out on pasture and we have found that customers are pleased with those, but for the heritage breeds we just haven’t been able to get any quantity of customers that really like them.

Is the farmers market your primary business?
Well it changes from year to year. I would say this year it’s increased dramatically when it comes to the farmers market, because this is our first year coming to the city for the farmers markets.

You’re also at Union Square?
Yep, on Wednesday.

Aside from farmers markets, who else do you sell to?
Restaurants — we supply Blue Hill both in the city and up at Stone Barns with all their duck. They would be our largest restaurant customer. We have some restaurants up near us in Saratoga Springs, and another restaurant up in Lake George similar to Blue Hill — the chef there was trained at Stone Barns, then he basically went up to Lake George with that same philosophy — growing a lot of his own goods right there.

How would you describe the difference between the birds you raise and the birds in the supermarket?
I would have to say that ours have a distinct texture. They’re not tough but they have more of a texture to them. And they also have a lot more flavor. When you cook them they’re not dry — of course you can dry them out by cooking them too much – and they really hold in a lot juice. That would be the taste difference.

Oftentimes consumers think that free-range is free-range. But really when you see “free range” in a store it means the birds are given access to the outside but it does not necessarily mean they’re out on pasture. Ours are truly actually out consuming  green grass. They’re out in the sunshine. The other major difference is that the fresh birds that we sell are sometimes literally hours old, sometimes less than 24 hours from slaughter when we bring them to market. In the store you’ll never see that. It’ll be what’re called ‘fresh-frozen,’ which means held at approximately 28 degrees for up to 90 days — and you’re buying, quote-unquote, fresh.

Are your birds organic?
We’re not certified organic, no.  They’d be I guess what you’d call ‘organically raised’ but they’re not certified organic.  To feed them certified organic grain is more than twice the price. There’s a balance when it comes to consumers of what they want and what we can provide. For most people it would put them out of the price range of what they’re willing to buy. We’re constantly looking to do the most that we can but where people are still willing to purchase what we’re providing.

There’s some things you can argue on a, I suppose you could say, moral level. We could do something that’s the best morally and ethically but we couldn’t make a living doing it. It’s that constant balance where the reality is I have to make enough to support myself. We’re always trying to do the best that we can balancing those two out. That jump to organic grain… I’d love to make that, but until consumers say ‘yes this is what we want, and we’re willing to pay that price,’ I really can’t. It puts it right out of the ballpark.

What percentage of the birds diet is grain? And what percent is pasture?
It’s hard to say. They’re constantly consuming clover all day long. I’d have to say,  volume-wise, one-fourth to one-third is grains.

Tell me about Farm Camp – how did you get involved with that?
Well we’re located not too far from Flying Pigs. We started working with Flying Pigs probably 3 years ago — they raise chickens in the fall of the year and so we were slaughtering their chickens.  And so back, oh, two, three years ago, Mike & Jennifer (of Flying Pigs) had the idea to create Farm Camp and bring people up from the city to get the experience of the farm. They wanted to get different farms involved so that people got a well rounded picture of what it’s like on farms. So we took the poultry component of that. People come up on a Sunday around noon and they’ll castrate a pig at Flying Pigs, tour a milk-bottling facility on a farm that bottles their own milk, tour a maple syrup producer and a goat cheese place in Vermont. When they come to us we actually do a hands-on where they catch a chicken and they take it and slaughter it — they take it all the way through. We do lunch at our place with everybody on Monday. It’s really a great time.

Is it primarily for chefs?
I would guess that probably the majority of people are chefs. But there’ve been individual consumers from farmers markets who said ‘hey I wanna come on up.’  So, a wide assortment of people.

Anything else you’d like your customers to know?
If you haven’t tried our paté, try it!

Local Farmers 08 Apr 2010 07:54 pm

Joe O’Brien of Healthway Farms

Last Saturday I spoke with Joe and Rhonda O’Brien of Healthway Farms. Joe’s known for his potatoes, but also grows apples and vegetables.  We talked about the weather, the view from his farm, and the shopping habits of Greenmarket customers.

Joe and Rhonda O'Brien, Healthway FarmsWhere is your farm located?
Highland New York, just below New Paltz.

Tell me a little about your Farm. What’s the area around it like?
From the kitchen window you can see the Shawangunk mountains. There’s some New York reserve land on the other side of the road that goes up there. At the end of the road there’s another orchard. We run 50% vegetables and 50% orchards.

Apple Orchards?
We have apples, a few peaches, a few apricots. Not a lot  — a few trees of this, a few trees of that.

Is the farmers market your primary business? Joe Explains his  Potatoes to Karol
95% farmers market.

Just in New York City?
Also in Albany and New Jersey

How long have you been at McCarren Park market?
This is our third season.

Aside from McCarren Park, do you sell in other New York Greenmarkets?
Union Square on Mondays

Do you have a crop that you consider your speciality?
Potatoes. Then we back it up with apples. You see the herbs are coming in now too. potatoes are probably number one; the fruit is number two.

Do you have potato varieties that you go with year after year? Or do you switch them up a lot?
With any new varieties we try to not copy anyone else – we try to find something that’s unique.

How do you find them?
Seed catalogues, research… you gotta search them out. You notice we have Adirondack red potatoes, we got five or six different kinds of fingerlings. Yukon Golds everybody has — we’re always searching to try something unique. You don’t see many guys growing lettuce gardens. Everybody grows tomatoes, everybody grows apples; We try to separate ourselves. That’s what we’re looking for.

It’s early April: what’s happening on the farm?

Apricots are in bloom right now. We’re starting to spray the apples. The greenhouses have been taking off real good with the warm weather. We hope to be planting peas within the next ten days: As soon as the ground dries out –  we’ve had a lot of rain.

Adirondack Red Potatoes from Healthway FarmsShell peas?
Mostly sugar snaps. We do grow a few shells and a few snows, but mostly sugar snaps.

Do you grow anything organic?
No, its all mostly conventional growing practices. We try not to use systemic types of chemicals  — more contact type, where the bug has to actually eat it, and it washes off and doesn’t go into the fibers of the plant.

Has the farm been in your family a long time?
No, actually I bought this farm. I rented it before. I guess I purchased it in the  late ‘80s.

How did you get started?
My father had a dairy farm up by Cooperstown. And I managed a potato farm after I got out of school.

What’s the biggest challenge you face?One of Joe's Adirondack Red Potatoes
Well the weather’s probably the biggest one. And the economy right now. A lot of people, they come here and it’s ‘we’re gonna buy potatoes today or tomatoes or corn’ and ‘well there’s an eggplant’ … there’s a lot of impulse. They tend to spend more than they anticipated and they shy away the next time. Some people shop regular and they’ll shop everything. But everything looks good. It’s like, don’t go the grocery store when you’re hungry.

Healthway Farms
Joe and Rhonda O’Brien
740 South Street
Highland, NY 12528
845 883-7484

Local Farmers 29 Oct 2009 10:15 pm

Fishkill Farms – Fall 2009 (Part 2)

Read part 1

Julia, who runs the weekend stands for Fishkill Farms at Brooklyn’s Borough Hall and Carroll Gardens greenmarkets, led me around to the back of  Fishkill’s Farm Market to meet Josh Morgenthau.  Josh and his girlfriend Hannah Geller (who sometimes writes for Serious Eats) talked with me for a long while in the farm’s small office before Josh took me on a tour of the farm. Josh, who has the scruffy, bearded look of an urbane, young back-to-the-land farmer, is about the age his grandfather was when he started the farm. He speaks deliberately, forming his thoughts carefully,  with a knowledge of farming that’s surprising from someone who’s been at it only for a year. He’s a Yale-trained artist, and when he returned to Fishkill a couple of years ago (he’d visited here throughout his childhood) it was to paint, not to farm. However, it happened that the farm manager they’d hired didn’t work out, and they couldn’t find a qualified replacement, so Josh stepped in to run things. To prepare himself for the job he went for advice (and sometimes even for equipment) to other knowledgeable, environmentally conscientious growers like Steve Clark of Prospect Hill Orchards, and he read every book he could find about growing apples. Michael Phillips’ The Apple Grower: A Guide for the Organic Orchardist stands out for him as a wealth of information on sustainable apple growing. For insight into conventional growing, Josh relied on Cornell University’s Pest Management Guidelines, and on  Cornell’s Extension Service, whose agents visited the farm many times over the season.

By all accounts this was a pretty rough year to start in as farm manager. To begin with, tragically, the farm’s historic barn burned down early in the season – a devastating loss both of equipment and storage and of farm and family heritage. Then there was the prolonged rain and cool weather that dominated the early part of the season, and the much-reported tomato blight that, in Josh’s words, “clobbered” their tomatoes.  Josh estimates that Fishkill produced probably only half of the vegetables of a normal season. But where some farms, particularly organic farms, lost their entire crop of tomatoes and plowed under many of their other crops besides, because of the tenacity of Julia and her crew the farm brought a steady flow of produce to the market, including a good number of tomatoes. And in the orchards they’re currently enjoying a good crop of apples as well.

Fishkill’s vegetable beds are fully organic, but the orchards, Josh says, are a “tough nut to crack” when it comes to growing organically.  To begin with, half of the orchard’s 40 acres are given over to McIntosh or apples in the McIntosh family – a legacy of the orchard’s history of catering to the wholesale market. These varieties are popular favorites, but are also among the most dependant on conventional fungicides, as they’re particularly susceptible to apple scab, a common and pernicious fungal disease.

They’d like to transition these parts of the orchards over to newer varieties that are just as tasty as the McIntosh but less susceptible to disease. But there is typically a long waitlist for seedlings, which then require several years before becoming productive apple trees. Economically, it’s a very difficult decision to de-commission trees at their producing peak, and many of the McIntosh blocks of the orchard are at that stage. On top of that there is the mandatory three-year wait once an orchard begins using organic methods before it can gain full certification — during which time they’ll be farming with more expensive organic methods but still only able to charge conventional rates on the wholesale market.

And even those portions of the orchard that are run organically need to undergo considerable spraying, particularly in a wet year like this one. It’s a point that Josh takes pains to explain. “The prospect of a no-spray orchard in New York State is pretty much non-existent,” he says, since the wet, relatively cool climate is particularly hospitable to the fungus that causes scab.  “Even the really devout ecological growers, intensely managing a couple of acres with compost or rotations of animals in the orchards will still spray at least several times a year.” At Fishkill, Josh sprays sulfur, the most commonly used organic fungicide, to combat scab. And he uses Surround, a spray made from a kaolin clay, to deter insects. The clay-based spray is completely non-toxic (it works by simply gunking-up the legs or mouth parts of insects that would otherwise damage the fruit), but it leaves a white reside that customers often mistake for a harmful chemical.

“It’s one of those funny things where there’s a gap between the reality of the farm and what people know,” says Josh.  Closing that gap, communicating directly with customers about their growing practices, is an important goal at Fishkill, especially where they’re striving to use sustainable growing practices but don’t yet have — or may not be trying for – organic certification.  Certification is always important, because it gives the customer an easy, recognizable way to know that the food was raised without synthetic inputs. But it also forces the farmer to adhere to an externally-determined set of practices that may or may not be best for his farm. Organic pesticides can, in fact, be more toxic than their conventional alternatives, and given the fact that organic growers often have to spray more frequently, they can be, cumulatively, more environmentally disruptive.

That said, in some blocks of the orchard a strictly organic regimen has seen promising results, and organics remain an important part of the strategy of sustainable growing at Fishill. But organic growing and organic certification are not the ultimate goals in Josh’s vision for Fishkill. “The key to being truly sustainable,” he says, “lies in replacing the trees with new varieties, and working over time to boost the immune response of the trees themselves, so that we can rely less on spraying, organic or otherwise.” This means encouraging populations of beneficial insects, and adopting techniques like pasturing sheep and chickens in the orchard, where their manure will not only fertilize the trees but will also help to decompose the fallen leaves, where the worst diseases overwinter.

Such practices are still fairly experimental. They aren’t required for organic certification but are guided instead by principles of Integrated Pest Management. IPM is grounded in ecological ideals, and aims to significantly reduce or completely eliminate the use of pesticides, but also allows the farmer the freedom to determine the pest control strategies that work best for his farm.  Since IPM is less recognizable and less easily explainable than the familiar organic label, the ability to talk directly with customers about it, to describe exactly what Fishkill’s growing practices are, is crucial. It works well to do that with the pick-your-own traffic that provides much of the farm’s business, but it doesn’t help in the wholesale market, where much of their crop is still sold. Still, Josh is confident that his approach is best for Fishkill’s orchards and will in the end be better for the farm’s business. “Having certification is always important,” Josh says, “but it’s ideal if you can communicate with your customers directly. Then you’re not a victim of fads. Right now there’s an organic bubble and people are already saying it’s going to burst. But if you have that direct relationship, whatever happens in terms of the market isn’t going to damage you.”

Local Farmers 18 Oct 2009 01:53 pm

Fishkill Farms – Fall 2009 (part 1)

The booth for Fishkill Farms at the Borough Hall Greenmarket is not one of the market’s larger setups — it’s dwarfed by the sprawling pavilions of Wilklow Orchards and Phillips Farms across the plaza. So although I’ve enjoyed their excellent produce this summer, I was a little surprised when David Sherman, the market manager, suggested that I pay Fishkill Farm a visit and write about them, as I’d done last year for Wilklow Orchards. Why would he recommend them over all the other farms at the Cadman Plaza market?

It turns out that Fishkill has a quite distinguished history. It was started in the nineteen-teens by Henry Morgenthau Jr., a distinguished public servant and Father of Manhattan District Attorney Robert Morgenthau. The son of a prominent lawyer and ambassador, Henry Morgenthau somehow became interested in farming, studied agriculture at Cornell, and started Fishkill Farms while in his twenties. He went on to serve in a number of agriculture-related posts under Franklin Roosevelt, both in Albany and in Washington, before becoming Roosevelt’s Secretary of the Treasury in 1934. FDR himself, as Fishkill’s website recounts, was a frequent visitor to the farm.

The farm has remained in the Morgenthau family since its beginnings.  It began as a diversified farm but early on developed a focus on apple orchards. Over the last decade and a half, after the retirement of the farm’s long-time manager, the orchards were leased to outside growers and primarily produced apples for the wholesale market. But recently the farm is again being diversified and is again under the direct oversight of the family. Josh Morgenthau, Henry’s grandson, has taken over management of the farm and is working to revive it and move it toward organic and sustainable growing practices.  Along with its 40 acres of apple orchards, Fishkill now produces peaches, pears, cherries, plums, berries and a wide range of fully organic vegetables. The farm continues to sell apples to the wholesale market, but today also sells directly to customers at a number of farmers markets and through a robust pick-your-own business.

Julia, who runs the Brooklyn Greenmarket stands (Borough Hall on Saturdays and Carroll Gardens Sundays),  arranged for me to visit, and she was there to greet me one recent Thursday morning after I’d made the drive up the Taconic. Fishkill is in the eastern Hudson Valley about ten miles east of Beacon, an hour and a half north of Brooklyn.  It lies just off the northern slopes of the Hudson Highlands – the Appalachian Trail passes by only a few miles to the south – and low, outlying mountains surround the farm in all directions. At the end of the farm’s long driveway is the cheery, bright red building that houses the farm market.  The market is the center of the farm’s pick-your-own business, and is also well stocked with cheeses, jams, and other products from farms and business in the area. It sits on a low hilltop, with the farm’s orchards and vegetable gardens  spread around and below it.

Read part 2 of my visit to Fishkill Farms.

Local Farmers 13 Apr 2008 07:11 pm

Wilklow Orchards: First Day of Spring Part 2

10:00am is coffee break at the Wilklow farm. On the day of my early spring visit I followed the crew of farmhands to the kitchen near the main farmhouse, where Sharon Wilklow and her sister Dorothy were baking treats to sell at the weekend market. They’d laid out an urn of excellent coffee and a small feast of fresh-bakedThe Wilklow Farm quick breads, muffins, and cider donuts. During break I listened in on the news of the day: Sharon & Fred’s son Albert was getting married in a couple of months, and he had on hand the floorplans for the house he’s building nearby, on land adjoining the farm. The kitchen looked out over the slopes of the apple and pear orchards, and Sharon described how in few weeks the view from the window will be filled by blossoms. The white blooms will fill the kitchen with their fragrance as they traverse across the hillside, the trees of each variety flowering in its turn.

After break Fred took me to a small shed nearby. Inside, a half dozen piglets scampered in hay in the warmth of heat lamps. They’d only recently been purchased from the farm nearby where they’d been born and weaned. Their little bodies were small as footballs, but they’ll gain three pounds a day and in mid-July weigh 200 pounds or more. On this chilly first day of spring, they were still living full-time inside their warm shed, protected from the weather. But as they grow, and as the weather warms up, they’ll roam in about in a wooded pasture. There they’ll have shade and nice cool mud, and will root for food in the soil beneath the trees.

We also paid a visit to Fred’s steers, a herd of six or so Angus in a pasture down the road from the main farmhouse. At 2-1/2 years of pigletsage, they were just about ready for market.  In fact two more steers were already at the meatpackers, ready to be picked up. That’s as much beef as Fred will sell in six or eight weeks.

It had rained the day before and the pasture was muddy, but the grass would soon grow in and the steers will have as much of it as they care to eat. Their diet is varied though, to produce the kind of beef that Fred likes best and that he feels his customers like best, since not everyone likes beef that’s strictly grass-fed. So in addition to grass in summer and hay year-round, each morning and evening the steers get a non-medicated grain mixture. They usually get only as much as they’ll finish off, and no more, so that Fred’s not buying grain for the wild turkeys to swoop in from the surrounding woods and finish the leftovers. For an additional snack, the steers also get the leftover apple pumice from the cider press, and I watched them devour a load of the sweet stuff as Albert dumped it into their feeder. The steers do the farm a favor by eating up the pumice, as it doesn’t break down well and so can’t be dumped or buried. Before he raised steers, Fred was at bit of a loss for good ways to dispose of it. Now, the cidermaking leftovers can be incorporated into the farm’s ecosystem and at the same time contribute to a diet that produces flavorful, quality Beef. Fred’s not concerned if it’s not a diet that will bulk up the steers as large or as fast as possible. As he tells it, “I’m not looking for maximum growth, I’m looking for good growth.”

On this first day of spring, at the very early beginning of the growing season, the farm was still operating with its small year-round crew, with only enough hands to run the cider press and the farmers markets. But already the summer crew was beginning to re-appear, returning to the Hudson Valley from their homes in Mexico and Jamaica. Fred sponsors them, and houses and pays them, according to the rules of the H2A visa program, and at the peak of the season he’ll have a crew of have 20 farmhands. Most of the crew return to the farm year after year, some for as long as 20 years or more. They are knowledgeable and invaluable members of the farm’s operation, employees who know when each apple variety opens and which trees ripen first.

With the help of this crew, Wilklow Orchards maintains a presence in four New York City greenmarkets: Borough Hall, Grand Army Plaza, Fort Greene, and beginning this year, a new market in the Staten Island Ferry Terminal in Manhattan. Market days are long, and they require a lot of hands to be off of the farm during peak season when the farm’s work is never done. The Staten Island Ferry Terminal market is especially demanding: they need to be set up and open for business by 7:00 to catch the morning rush, so they pull the truck in at 5:30. And by the time they’ve worked the evening rush and packed up, it’s 8pm. It all adds up to a workday that begins atThe Wilklow stand at the Borough Hall Greenmarket in early Spring 3am, when the truck leaves the farm, and goes until 10pm when they finally arrive home. During the hotter weeks of the summer the day is even longer, since they can’t pack the truck the night before and must get up an hour earlier to get the goods out of cold storage.

But days spent at home on the farm are long days too, typically stretching from sunrise to sunset. These days they’re starting at 7am or so, but by July they’ll be in the fields picking berries at 5:30. In describing this routine, Fred quotes a professor from his college days: “Anybody can put in a 40-hour week doing something they don’t like because there’s time to do what you want after work. But if you’re putting in a 100-hour week & you don’t love it, you’re in trouble.”

Local Farmers 30 Mar 2008 06:59 pm

Wilklow Orchards: First Day of Spring

This is the first of a planned series of posts about the farmers at the Brooklyn Greenmarkets. This post profiles Wilklow Orchards and its proprietor Fred Wilklow. Wilklow operates stands at the Borough Hall, Grand Army Plaza, and Fort Greene markets in Brooklyn, and the Staten Island Ferry Terminal market in Manhattan. Many thanks to Fred and his family for showing me around their beautiful farm, and for helping me kick off this project!

Wilklow Orchards EntranceMy first visit to Wilklow Orchards was on March 20th, the first day of spring. The air was cool and the sky was covered over with low wintery gray clouds, but a warm early spring sun showed through from time to time. It was the very beginnings of the growing season in the Hudson Valley, the perfect day for my first visit to a greenmarket farm.

I arrived at the farm at around 8:30, pretty early by the standards of my midtown office job. I found a crew already hard at work making cider, andWilklow Orchards First Day of Spring I guessed they’d been at it for couple of hours already since they’d already filled the entire bucket of a front loader with apple pumice, squeezed bark dry from the cider presses. Fred Wilklow emerged and shook my hand; before he could show me around he’d need a minute to deal with an oil delivery. He suggested I start my visit by hiking up through the apple and pear orchards which sloped up behind the cider house, where I’d find a good spot to look out over the whole farm.

The orchards were surrounded by tall fencing, put up to Wilklow Orchards Buds Swellingkeep deer from the nibbling buds and new shoots off of the apple trees. I squeezed through a gap in the fence, crossed a small brook, and climbed the path that led up between the rows of trees. The branches were still bare, but buds were beginning to swell at their tips. Nearly silver-tipped, as Fred described them, soon they’d be green-tipped, and soon after the branches will be covered in green leaves and fragrant white blossoms. Spring pruning had just been completed, and in the lanes between the trees the cut branches were gathered into neat rows on the brown grass. They’d soon go through the brush chopper, at the moment in the toolshed getting a new set of teeth, which will grind even thick branches fine enough to just be left on the ground, to feed down into the soil beneath the trees just they were cut from.Wilklow Orchards Finding your way in the orchards

At the top of the ridge where the apple orchards came to an end I took in the view over the farm. Straight below me was the cider house, in a cluster of barns and sheds and greenhouses, the noise from the cider press now swallowed up in the larger overall quiet stillness. I could see the building Fred had called the dirt cellar, an ancient, earth covered shed still used for cold storage, though it’s so old he had no idea when it was built. To the right along the the stream was the main farmhouse, the bakery, and another much larger greenhouse. The Wilklows plan someday to consolidate the greenhouses into a more practical layout, the current arrangement having grown up over time as the farm and its business expanded. It’s one of a long list of projects, large and small, in a continual effort to improve the farm’s efficiency.

Behind me rose Illinois Mountain, Wilklow property on this side as far as its summit, Wilklow Orchards Becky & Jenny Tending Seedlingsthough the only crops found there are ramps, the sought-after wild leeks that Fred began to forage for each spring after his Greenmarket customers started asking about them. On its far side are the Wilklow peach and plum orchards, in fields that get sunlight more than an hour earlier, which makes them often a full l0 degrees warmer. I wouldn’t get to visit them today, nor would I yet see the berry and vegetable fields near New Paltz, in flatter ground better suited for raising vegetables than the hilly, rocky soil of Pancake Hollow.Wilklow Orchards In the Greenhouse

Along with cider making, today’s tasks included tending the seedlings in the greenhouses. Becky & Jennie, Fred’s daughters, were transplanting the tiny plants (cilantro, tomatoes, peppers, marigolds, to name only a very few) from their seed beds into flats. In a few weeks they’ll be found at the greenmarket, sold as starters for container gardens on Brooklyn patios and Manhattan fire escapes. The seedlings for the vegetable beds, the plants that will eventually produce the eggplants, peppers, and heirloom tomatoes for the greenmarket tables (and for my dinner Wilklow Orchards the Dirt Cellar table), were just beginning to grow in the larger greenhouse I’d seen from the orchards.

Until the seedlings get big enough to survive the trip to Brooklyn, Fred’s stand in the greenmarket will be filled with the last of fall’s apples, varieties that hold up well in cold storage and remain crisp and juicyWilklow Orchards - Fred Wilklow in the Toolshet and sweet over the winter months, along with cider and baked goods and jam from the farm’s kitchen. Already though, the first of the Spring’s harvest has begun to appear as well: there are pussywillows for sale, that Fred and his crew harvested alongside the brook, and soon they’ll be joined by lilac blossoms cut from the hundreds of bushes that grow near the pond behind the farmhouse. Then sugar snap peas will appear and start off the parade of food that will continue through the berries, peaches, greenbeans, corn, and tomatoes of summer to the apples and pumpkins of autumn.

read part 2 of this post here