Local Farmers 08 Apr 2010 07:54 pm
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.
Where 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.
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?
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.
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?
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.
Joe and Rhonda O’Brien
740 South Street
Highland, NY 12528