Category Archives: Farm animals

Nick’s Independent Trip to McEnroe Organic Farm!

Hello everyone! For my independent trip I visited McEnroe Farm in Millerton, NY. Only a 45 minute drive away from Vassar, McEnroe farms is perhaps best known as the site that all of Vassar’s composting goes to be turned into delicious, rich, organic soil! But the farm also grows organic fruits, produce, herbs, seeds, and feed for the livestock they have. I wanted to visit McEnroe because I thought it’d be cool to learn about a farm fulfilling an interesting and really important job for the Hudson Valley network of farms — turning food waste, manure, and leaves into soil to be used by farmers and growers all over the region! Here’s what I learned.

First, here’s some history. McEnroe Farm is one of NY State’s oldest organic-certified farms. The farm was originally a small, family-run dairy operation, starting in 1953! Throughout the years the farm underwent a lot of transition, until in 2000 it began its now wildly successful composting program. Seven years later, the farm began a really cool education program to allow both kids and adults to come in, get their hands dirty, and learn about farming and the wonder that is composting! Today, the farm grows a wide variety of plants, raises cattle for beef, as well as poultry, pigs, and sheep.

Ok, let’s talk composting. I’ve always been a huge fan of composting myself, though I definitely could’ve been better at it while in college. My favorite thing about composting is that you can turn almost any — almost ANY — organic material into beautiful, dark, and rich soil ripe for growing healthy plants. Last year I tried my hand at vermicomposting – composting with worms – which was really fun, especially since I got the chance to order 500 words in the mail. In only one semester, my worms transformed my pretty meager and altogether unhealthy food scraps into like 7 inches of rich black soil! So.. you can imagine my excitement when I arrived at the McEnroe composting arena and saw THIS:That’s right! We’re talking hundreds upon hundreds upon hundreds of pounds of beautiful black soil. McEnroe takes composting inputs from dozens of different farms, institutions, and organizations (as well as their own significant amount of organic waste) to create this stuff. They use the majority of it for their own growing purposes – they have multiple greenhouses and cold-frames, as well as many acres of growing fields – so they need a lot of soil. But for over two decades now, McEnroe has also sold their compost commercially to anything from landscaping businesses, parks, other farms, gardens, and green rooftops.



Greenhouse-grown tomatoes growing out of soil made on-site through the composting operation!

I found the McEnroe Farm model really interesting, especially as it compares to the other farms we visited this semester. McEnroe is a big farm – it encompasses over 1,110 acres of land – so it dwarfs most of the smaller-scale farms that we visited. This relatively larger scale definitely affords this farm some things that other, smaller farms can’t make work. McEnroe has a market open every weekday where they can sell their produce, whereas many of the smaller farms depend on dedicated customers through programs like a season-long CSA program to sustain their operations. Additionally, McEnroe has an on-site kitchen where you can buy value-added products either to eat at the farm or to take home with you. These are things that smaller-scale farms can’t really afford to do (at least from what I know from visiting a handful this semester), but the larger scope of McEnroe allows for some more expensive forms of diversifying their sales and getting new customers.

Visiting McEnroe was a really great experience, and I highly recommend it. I’d never visited a farm with such a large and dedicated composting operation, and it was really cool to see a farm not only growing food and livestock, but also making healthy soil for other producers in the region. For more information on McEnroe Farm, click here!

raw milk at shunpike dairy

On Friday, April 28th, I rode along with the inimitable Ethan Pierce and several members of Vassar’s Outing Club, on what he called a farm crawl. It began with Shunpike Dairy, included a stop at Sprout Creek, and concluded at the Arlington Dunkin’ Donuts. Of these stops, Shunpike was of interest in that our class, Field Experiences in the Hudson Valley, had never visited before, and in that Shunpike, a family dairy farm in Millbrook, offers raw milk. The product is featured prominently on the farm’s sign, and is housed in a cooling tank that occupies approximately half of the farm’s store, immediately adjacent to the dairy barn, which also sells cheese, eggs, honey, maple syrup, and mason jars in which to store the raw milk, should one have neglected to bring a vessel. After the lot of us had crowded into the store, Ethan crouched, placing his reusable water bottle under the milk spigot, and filled it. The store operated under the honor system; while Shunpike’s proprietor forked hay into his cows’ feedpens, customers were instructed to pay by leaving money in another mason jar on the counter.

Ethan stood and admired the raw milk he’d collected; “What makes it ‘raw?’” I asked. “It’s unpasteurized and non-homogenized,” he informed me. “Straight from the cow to the cooler.” The cows, whom we had met earlier, were entirely uncowed by the presence of strangers in their vicinity. Shunpike is open to the public seven days a week, and the cows—Ayshires, Brown Swisses, Jerseys, Guernseys, Linebackers, and Holsteins—are the main attraction; visitors can observe milkings at 5:00 AM and 6:00 PM. Another farmcrawler bought a mason jar of milk, and after we had left asked me, holding it aloft, whether the milk and jar package deal was an example of a value-added product. Ethan had mentioned the term earlier, in explaining that he and I shared a class and what, exactly, that class was about. I told her no, I didn’t think so—”actually, come to think of it, I think the fact that it’s a completely unprocessed animal product makes it about as far as you can get from ‘value-added.’”

The sale of raw milk is banned in fifteen US states. New York does not number among them, but retail sale of the product is outlawed; it’s strictly a direct-to-consumer affair, and even then farms must obtain a certification from the State Department of Agriculture & Markets. In order to get certified, Shunpike Dairy had to submit a sample to the Department of Milk Control & Dairy Services that was cleared for six species of bacteria (Salmonella enterica, Listeria monocytogenes, a Campylobacter, two strains of E. coli, and Staphylococcus aureus) and several other pathogens, after which it was declared safe for human consumption and, in 2010, the Dairy was issued a license to sell. These pathogens are those that the pasteurization process, the superheating of milk, was designed to preclude in the first place; the fact that the raw stuff is unhomogenized simply means that its surface is liable to form a film of accumulated cream.

The CDC continues to warn consumers of the dangers of raw milk. Even so, there is a thriving black market for the mass sale of raw milk in New York State. I confess: when I had a sip from Ethan’s bottle, I couldn’t tell it from the stuff that comes in cartons.

Cattle Farm to an Animal Sanctuary: A Total 180


This past weekend I went to visit the Catskill Animal Sanctuary with some fellow Vassar students, about a 45-minute drive across the river and north from campus. Since opening its facilities in 2001, the sanctuary has rescued over 5,000 animals from a wide variety of harmful (and generally near-fatal) conditions, and now takes care of them while also offering tours and education about what really happens behind the closed doors of factory farms and even small, local farms. While I was there, they also were hosting a vegan cooking class featuring various leafy greens with the author of a cookbook. And there was free food, something I will never refuse!


After trying some tasty dishes, we started our tour around the facilities. They’ve got over 300 acres in this property, but fortunately, we didn’t stray too far from where we started! Our tour guide, Rocky, actually went to Vassar and was an active member of the Animal Rights Coalition (VARC) while she was on campus. Even though I myself have been vegan for three years now, she still taught me some amazing things that I still didn’t know. We checked out the chickens and a turkey they have there, and she told us that mother hens will actually “talk” to her chicks while they’re still in the egg, and–get this, it’s wild!–the chicks will talk to each other to coordinate when they’re going to hatch so that they all hatch within 24 hours of each other and will all be closer in development! Chickens are so amazing! And so cute and cuddly! I also learned that chickens naturally only are supposed to lay about 20 eggs per year, and the animal agriculture industry has them laying nearly one a day now–and as a result, chickens actually have very high rates of ovarian cancer and extremely poor quality-of-life because they’ve just been brought into existence to be machines of production.



She showed us a couple bulls that they have on the premises too, and we learned about cows being selectively bred and raised for meat, and we also talked about dairy cows and how traumatizing it is for the mother cow to have her baby taken away from her (which nearly always happens within 48 hours of them being born). Rocky also showed us two different breeds of pigs, and told us how smart and actually clean they are. She told us about a documentary called “The Last Pig” which explores a phenomenon of the same name–basically, that “humane” slaughterhouses will take the pigs into slaughter one by one so they don’t see their peers get killed, but they actually do understand what’s happening, and by the time there’s one pig left, they’re extremely distraught and stressed, and sometimes will actually break their own legs trying to get out. I don’t know about you, but that truly broke my heart when I heard that. Pigs are so smart and are treated so awfully–don’t even get me started on gestation crates (I’ll let you Google that one yourself).




Since our last field trip as a class was to JSK Cattle Company and we saw chickens, pigs, and cows, I thought it was important to visit a place that reminded me why I think that raising animals for food is an unnecessary, unsustainable, and just plain cruel industry (yes, even the small ones). Meeting farmers and encountering where our food comes from were the main objectives of this class, but I personally think that anyone who consumes animal products has an obligation to know about where those foods come from too. I highly encourage anyone and everyone to visit an animal sanctuary (Catskill or any other!) to learn about the labor that goes into everything on their plate, whether or not they truly want to. Plus, you’ll get to meet a lot of cute animals! And who knows, maybe you’ll get lucky like I did and try some new food, AND watch a goat climb into a truck and get in trouble! 🙂