Category Archives: Independent field trips

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! 🙂

A Trip to Common Ground Farm!

Common Ground Farm’s welcome sign.

One sunny afternoon during study week, I decided to give myself a break from my endless research papers by taking a drive out to Common Ground Farm (CGF) with some friends. Located at the Stony Kill Farm Environmental Education Center in Wappingers Falls, New York, CGF is a haven for animal and plant enthusiasts alike.

When we first pulled in, I was surprised at how well hidden it was from the main road. I had definitely passed it multiple times before when I visited Beacon, but I had never noticed it until now! After parking, we hopped out of the car and scoped out the landscape. We finally chose to explore a big red barn, which was apparently built in the early nineteenth century.

Inside, we were greeted by a small interactive space designed for children—there were fun facts about how pigs smell, old black and white photos from when the barn was originally constructed, and much, much more. Behind another door were the farm animals. We pet a group of sheep (and their babies!), observed chickens, and took pictures with the pigs.

Once we had our share of the friendly animals, we strolled on over to CGF’s field space. We found even more chickens, and rows of flowers and vegetables. There were at least two greenhouses, one filled with burgeoning seedlings. We met two of the workers as they watered the seedlings and they told us about CGF’s regular tours they offer for the public.

Observing the fields!

After observing the fields, we skirted past a flock of geese protecting their young (yikes!) and walked down to the pond, which sits at the entrance of the farm. We remarked at how historic the site was, and eventually headed out.

Later on, I did some research and learned that CGF was created in Fall 2001, when a small group of people decided to bring their vision to life and start a 501(c)3 non-profit. Nearly 17 years later, the farm is still dedicated to its food justice and educational programs.

One of these programs is called the Common Greens Mobile Market. From July to September, a mini school bus painted green brings reduced-price, fresh produce to low-income neighborhoods in Beacon. The program even accepts WIC, FMNP, and EBT/SNAP. The bus was parked towards the entrance, so it was actually one of the first things we noticed!

CGF also sells its produce at the Beacon Farmer’s Market (see Julia’s blog post) from May to November. Sometimes, they are staffed by members of the Green Teen Community Garden Program, which is a program that empowers urban youth by immersing them in local food systems. CGF and the Green Teen Program have a strong partnership.

What the heck is compost?

Other programs include educational activities and workshops for people of all ages—these include anything from a Community Indigo Project to a summer camp for kids. CGF’s educational presence was very obvious, as shown by this picture of a compost set-up with instructions and information.

CGF is not certified organic, but they do adhere strictly to organic standards. They also sell wholesale to local restaurants and grocers.

Visiting this farm was a great way to finish off ENST 291—I’m so glad I visited. You should, too!

Beacon Farmer’s Market

By Julia Blass

For my independent field trip, I went to the Beacon farmers market. Located right off of Main St., this farmers market operated by Common Ground farm operates year-round, and is open every Sunday. The fact that this market operates year-round is somewhat unique, and gives local farmers a consistent place to sell their goods. Despite the weather being rather cold and damp, there were still lots of people out to purchase local products at what I learned was a weekend staple of the town of Beacon. The market seemed to draw locals as well as outsiders like myself, as I saw some people having familiar conversations with vendors and others like myself seeing everything for the first time.  As it is still fairly early in the season and many fruits and vegetables are not yet ready for harvest, many of the vendors were bread and pastry sellers, prepared food sellers, or sellers of added-value products such as jams, pickles, and soaps as well as local wool products. There were also some interesting local products I had never heard of before, such as chocolate goat’s milk! I stopped to buy a strawberry rhubarb pie from Wright’s farm stand, an operation based in Gardiner that was selling baked goods and beautifully packaged fruit preserves. I also stopped for a pastry from local Beacon business Bread Alone, who are one of the farmers market’s year-round vendors. The farmers market also seemed to partner with a weekly flea market taking place in the next door lot, which proved to have some interesting finds.


The Beacon farmers market has some unique qualities that set it apart from other farmers markets that I’ve been to in the past. They have a compost collection stand run by local business Zero to Go, with the goal of making the market a zero-waste event each week. You can bring your compost to the farmers market for drop off, and Zero to Go also provides garbage and recycling bins to accurately sort and dispose of waste responsibly each week. Additionally, the Beacon farmers market allows the use of food benefit programs, which helps make local agricultural products more accessible to a wider demographic, as traditionally local agricultural products are more expensive than their conventional, imported counterparts. Being able to use food benefits such as SNAP, WIC, or FMNP checks is a huge step forward for making locall-sourced nutritious fruits and vegetables available on a wider level. Additionally, people who use these benefits at the farmers market can get bonus coupons to spend at the market. For example, for every $5 spent through SNAP, one would receive an extra $2 Fresh Connect check to use at the market. The Beacon farmers market also has benefits for WIC and FMNP, a unique programs called Greens4Greens. Under this program, every $4 spent through WIC or FMNP awards the user a $4 coupon to buy fresh fruits or vegetables at the market.

The Beacon farmers market struck me as a fine example for other farmers markets around the region to follow. In class we have often talked about how local produce is a difficult business for both the farmers who produce the food to maintain, as the demand for local products is often limited to certain demographics such as high-end restaurants or more upscale farmers markets. The use of food benefits at farmers market is a phenomenon that is just starting out, but the success of the Beacon farmers market is inspiring for the hopeful eventual spread of similar programs across the region and maybe even across the country.

For more information on the farmer’s market, their website is available here .

Cooking Class at Poughkeepsie Underwear Factory

Last Thursday evening, I attended a cooking class at the Poughkeepsie Underwear Factory. The Poughkeepsie Underwear Factory is located in downtown Poughkeepsie, about a 5 minute bus ride from Vassar. The space has been renovated by Hudson River Housing and now serves as a combination of affordable housing, open art studios, and the open kitchen space, which is home to North River Roasters and Earth, Wind, and Fuego.

Building community is central to the vision of the Poughkeepsie Underwear Factory, and they host various events like the cooking class that I went to. I definitely felt that the class was a community event, with a range of participants, from a local high school student to a Vassar employee. The class was led by Chef Key, who also works with the education program at the Poughkeepsie Farm Project. The title of the class was  “A Week in Meals” and the goal was to learn basic skills and prepping techniques for efficient and manageable eating throughout a busy week.

Our little feast 🙂

After some brief introductions, Chef Key discussed her cooking philosophy with us. She recognized the reality that cooking can feel like a chore, but encouraged everyone to find ways to feel comfortable and creative about making food. She also touched on concepts like seasonal eating, local eating, and cultural food heritage. Everything she said really resonated with my personal beliefs and experiences with food.

On the menu for the night were three relatively simple, healthy dishes: sweet potato frittata, spring vegetable stir-fry with tofu, and lentil sheperd’s pie. Chef Key went over the basic techniques for cutting different types of vegetables –julienned onions and peppers, bias cut scallions, diced celery. She stressed that vegetable chopping is probably the most labor intensive aspect of cooking, and that taking an hour or two each week to prep all your vegetables for the week, then storing them in containers in the refrigerator, can make weeknight cooking much easier and faster. One new tip I found especially useful was her suggestion to prep and store diced potatoes in water, which can last for 3-4 days. Due to the starch they produce, I always thought you had to prep potatoes right before cooking, so this was a real eye opener!

After her knife-skill demonstrations, Chef Key made sure everybody got a chance to sharpen their own knife skills, and we collectively prepped all the vegetables we would need for our meal. The cooking was pretty simple, which illustrated her point that prep is the bulk of the work. Chef Key also offered a few tips about prepping other ingredients, such as marinating tofu or meat, soaking beans, and roasting vegetables beforehand. At the end of the class, we all got to taste the food we had made, and I think everybody agreed it was delicious!

While not directly related to local agriculture, I think this cooking class highlights a key, yet often overlooked aspect of food systems. The ability to eat locally and support sustainable agriculture is dependent on the ability to properly prepare the food sold by local farms. Cooking is the final piece of the food system-how do we prepare food after we’ve purchased it–and lack of cooking knowledge or skills can serve as a barrier to healthy, local eating. A sustainable agriculture system depends on consumers who can actually use local farm products. I felt that this cooking class directly addressed the issue of cooking as a barrier or agent of accessibility to better eating, and I think work on this end of the food system is important to supporting sustainable local agriculture and making it a feasible option for all. This also relates to food insecurity in Poughkeepsie, and issue that I learned more about when helping with the Poughkeepsie food security a couple of weeks ago. There are definitely a variety of factors contributing to the 25% food insecurity rate in Poughkeepsie, but I think efforts such as the cooking class at Poughkeepsie Underwear Factory can contribute addressing food insecurity.

It’s All in the Family at Wallkill View Farm

For my independent exploration of Hudson Valley agriculture, I paid a visit to Wallkill View Farm in New Paltz. It is a family-owned and operated farm with an extensive permanent farm market on-site. They sell fresh produce and flowers grown on the farm, as well as products like jams, soaps, and gardening supplies and seeds. The wide range of offerings draws customers in an area abounding with apple farms.

View of the fields


Located in the center of the roughly 200-acre property is the farm market, a group of buildings including the produce market, several large greenhouses full of flowers and vegetable plants for sale, and a bake shop. Standing in the parking lot, you get a view of the brick buildings of New Paltz to the east and of the distinctive formations of the Mohonk Preserve to the west. To the south, invisible to visitors, runs the farm’s namesake stream, the Wallkill.

view of the garden center

Three generations of the Ferrante family have farmed this land and sold their produce on-site. Founders Peter and Carol have been succeeded in the business by four sons and three grandchildren, although Tim, one of the sons, mentioned that his father still works there.

The open season at Wallkill View stretches from the end of March until Christmas Eve, and they offer varying produce and products during those times. According to their website (check out, in spring they offer a wide range of annual and perennial flowers and herbs, as well as trees and shrubs. Summer is the right season for fresh fruit and vegetables, including seasonal favorites like sweet corn and berries. In fall they have a pick-your-own pumpkin patch and hayrides, and regional favorites like apple cider and cider doughnuts are available inside. To round out the open season, they sell Christmas trees in December–these they don’t grow on the farm.

asparagus season!

It is currently asparagus season–something of a controversial vegetable, in my experience; people either love or hate it. I asked Tim about vegetable popularity–surely there are some that just don’t sell as well as others? He agreed, of course there are hot-ticket items like corn and tomatoes, which sell very well. On the other hand, he said “You grow some stuff and you can’t give it away.” However, he explained that, as in any business, it’s a learning process to discover which crops work and which don’t with the customer base.

We also talked a bit about the family-farm dynamic. Tim remarked that the reason he stayed in the business was to be with his family, and he’s happy to see that the younger family members are keeping up with the tradition. When asked why he thought the average age of farmers in the US is fairly advanced, and what he thought the challenges facing young farmers were, he suggested, “The biggest problem of starting up is probably the cost–you know, the land, the equipment.” Small farms, though, are likely more manageable, as long as you market well, he remarked. Having a farm in the family is also helpful, since we saw many farmers this semester who have to search for and rent land; the young Ferrantes already have the land to farm, should they want to continue the practice.

IMG_4132Wallkill View was an interesting contrast to the other farms we visited in class. As a family-owned and family-run business, it differs from some of the other farms whose farmers and owners were not one and the same. Wallkill View also seems a bit more commercial than some of the other farms, offering products and produce from other farms as well as their own. They also were, if my memory serves me, the only farm I saw that relies on its own store instead of taking its produce to market. Overall, it seems like a charming and accessible option for New Paltzers and travelers alike to buy produce and locally-made products.

The Indoor Organic Gardens of Poughkeepsie

Screen Shot 2016-05-17 at 9.53.07 AM
The outside view of 316 Main Street.

The 300th block of Main St., Poughkeepsie is the last place one would expect to find an organic garden. However, located in an office building (formerly the Kresige building), that’s just what you’ll find behind an unassuming door (I actually walked into two storage closets and Mr. Crum’s office before I found the door to the gardens). Since last August, the owner of the building, Brud Hodgkins, and resident farmer, Earl Crum, have been knocking down office walls and building 17 planting tables, a germination room, and a seeding room. The construction process is very much still underway: walls were coming down as I was touring the facility. “There are over a million square feet of unused office space in the City of Poughkeepsie,” my tour guide, Rocky, explained. The Indoor Organic Gardens seek to solve three issues:

1. Reuse of office space in the City of Poughkeepsie

2. Employment of Poughkeepsie youth, veterans, and previously-incarcerated individuals

3. Provision of nutritious food to Poughkeepsie public schools and nursing homes

Today, they focus on growing micro greens, which are the beginnings of cabbages. Mr.

The germination room, kept at 85 degrees.

Hodgkins emphasized the importance of micro greens both in terms of sustainability and making nutritious food available.” Their efficient, nearly waterless process (only two cups of water for each crop) can produce hundreds of pounds of food per week. Rocky showed me how seeds are packed into manure in the seeding room and covered in a sort of paper towel rather than watered directly. The micro greens retain much of the nutrients that are normally lost by water-heavy processes used in commercial farming and other urban gardens. Then, a small amount of water is added and they are placed in a plastic container in the germination room, which is kept at 85 degrees. There, micro greens germinate in just 3 days. They are then placed on a table with LED lights, growing in a beautiful array.

A table of crops, of which there are 17. By the end of construction, there will be 60!

“We’re not growing vegetables, we’re growing nutritional units,” the insurance agent-turned-gardener explained, “We’re a nutritional unit factory.” Indeed, micro greens provide more nutrition and vitamins than mature cabbage leaves—their brochure says that “10 oz. of Red Cabbage at the micro green stage contains the same nutrition as 40 oz. of mature cabbage—and they a produced at an unusually fast rate. The Gardens are a for-profit entity, selling to Adam’s, Mother Earth, and other similar vendors in Dutchess County. Hodgkins explained that these profits enable them to then donate micro greens to the local schools and nursing homes to fulfill their mission of improving access to nutritious food to Poughkeepsie residents.

More micro greens!
More micro greens!

Most interesting to me was Hodgkins’ focus on hiring employees with criminal records, who had dropped out of high school, or had other limitations that employers would usually discriminate against. After experiencing a family member’s difficulties to reenter the job market after battling a drug addiction, he has made giving others a second chance a priority. Employees are trained by master farmer Earl Crum, who also owns a farm in Millbrook, and are equipped with the critical skills that Hodkins believes are the future of food in urban areas. With social and environmental sustainability at its core, the Indoor Organic Gardens are poised to expand into three more abandoned office locations in Middle Main this year. If you’d like to taste some of the Organic Gardens’ greens, try Twisted Soul’s Naughty Noodles!

Sophia Burns ’18

The Hudson Basilica Farm and Flea (Mary’s Independent Field Trip)

On Sunday I visited the second day of the “Farm and Flea,” a combination vintage fest and farmer’s market in at the Basilica Hudson building in Hudson, New York. Basilica Hudson is a gigantic former factory turned cultural hub (like DIA Beacon, among other places in the Hudson Valley). To quote their pamphlet, the building acts as “a non-profit multidisciplinary arts center in Hudson, NY, supporting the creation, production and presentation of arts and culture while fostering sustainable community…Basilica Hudson makes its home in a spectacular solar powered reclaimed 1880s industrial factory on the waterfront.”

After a leafy, windy, farm-filled hour on the road from Poughkeepsie, we pulled up to the Basilica Hudson building and paid five dollars for entry. Our biggest mistake was bringing barely enough cash to get in: many of the vendors only took cash, and we had incorrectly assumed there would be an ATM. The building is stunning—aesthetically, it falls between Pinterest and Dwell (leaning closer to the former), with a spacious, brand-new, super-clean, industrial look, strings of lights hanging from one side of the interior to the other, and massive skylights.


While I knew that the two-day event would have prepared food, a bar, vintage clothes, and handmade crafts and gifts, I also imagined that “farm-fresh food” meant stands with offerings like greens, vegetables, eggs, and meat. To my surprise, although a few stands were from farms, almost everything being sold was value-added! My housemates, boyfriend, and I had been planning to pick up some veggies for dinner, but almost everything at the Farm and Flea was too expensive for us. Of course, it may be that farms were only selling yarn, tallow soap, and charcuterie (two different stands), because it is early yet in the growing season. However, I think the value-added products were designed to match the clientele: incredibly young, and incredibly hip, looking for fancier gifts. Behind the counter? Also young and hip. One of my housemates, from Brooklyn, told me that many people from the City are moving to Hudson, and after visiting the Farm and Flea, I believe it.

List of vendors (slightly blurry!).
List of vendors (slightly blurry!).

We arrived starving and ate DELICIOUS but pricey food at the dining area (bacon-goat cheese-pickled onion sandwiches on a baguette for three of us, a farrow bowl with greens and a poached egg for the fourth). Sitting and eating at the communal wooden table, I realized that my boyfriend and the man across from him both had tattoos on their knuckles. The Farm and Flea was full of tattoos, cool glasses, and lots of babies (since even the attendees who were parents were still young). We walked around, looking at pottery, felted animal toys, ginger health elixers, homemade jewelry, grow-your-own mushroom stands (I talked to the guy behind the counter, who told us his friend had thought of the business and that they operate out of Rochester but sell all over the country online), and tons of vintage clothing. I bought a walnut brownie for $5 that I realized had tiny dried flowers on it. There was also a goat outside, seemingly present for petting purposes only (it was very cute).

My housemate's flower strewn chocolate cupcake with Himalayan sea salt.
My housemate’s flower strewn chocolate cupcake with Himalayan sea salt.
Smugtown Mushroom's grow your own mushroom logs.
Smugtown Mushroom’s grow your own mushroom logs.

All in all, I really enjoyed looking around at the Farm and Flea, and it definitely confirmed much of what we’ve talked about in this class: much of the capital to support farmers (and local artisans?) seems to be coming from NYC or ex-NYCers, and it seems that for farmer’s to compete in a market like the Farm and Flea, they have to leave veggies at home and bring only specialty items (for instance, while Sawkill Farms was there, they were only selling yarn and soap).

Cards from the Farm and Flea.
Cards from the Farm and Flea.

A Syrupy Sunday

DSC_0067This past weekend, for my independent field trip, I visited Crown Maple’s sugarhouse at Madava Farms. Crown Maple is a relatively new maple syrup company that began in 2010, but plans to be the largest maple syrup producer in the world in a few years. The owners, Robb and Lydia Turner, lived in New York City but grew up on farms, and wanted a more rural place for their daughters to be able to escape from city life. After purchasing the land, they realized they were sitting on a gold mine of maple trees, and began the process of tapping the trees. In order to grow the company, they also purchased over 4,000 acres in Vermont, to increase the number of trees available for tapping. In total, they had around 90,000 taps total this past year, but have the capacity to have up to 400,000 as they keep growing.

All the trees are hooked up to each other through an elaborate system of tubes, which lead to a vacuum pump in a collection house. In season, which runs during the time in DSC_0070which the days are in the 40s-50’s but the nights are freezing, there are from 1-3 spiles in each maple tree, depending on it’s size and age. After running to the collection house, the sap (which at this point is clear and liquidy, only about 2% sugar) runs through pipes underground to the sugarhouse, which is where the café and gift shop are also located. In the sugarhouse, the sap goes through a variety of steps to remove most of the water, as it is bottled at 67% sugar. Based on the time of year and temperatures outside, the syrup will come out in different forms, as “Amber,” “Dark,” or “Very Dark.” Crown Maple also produces a “Bourbon Barrel Aged” syrup, as well as maple sugar, which is made by cooking the syrup until all the water is gone. They also sometimes have a “Golden” syrup, but the temperatures have not been cold enough the past two years, so they have not gotten any of this flavor.

As part of the tour we took, we got to taste these various syrups. It is amazing how different the various syrups taste. The “Dark” was my favorite—DSC_0068it had a slightly stronger taste than the “Amber,” but did not have the weird aftertaste left by the “Very Dark.” I was not a huge fan of the one that was aged in a bourbon barrel, but I was amazed at how much it tasted like bourbon, considering there was no actual bourbon in it.

Throughout the tour, I was surprised at the efforts taken to make this intensive process more sustainable. Although extracting the sap in the first place is fairly sustainable, since it does not damage the trees and, if anything, encourages the protection of these large areas of old forests, getting the sap from it’s original 2% sugar to 67% sugar takes a lot of energy. However, Crown Maple invested in some machines not normally used in maple syrup production that make this process more efficient, such as using reverse osmosis. Additionally, they capture the steam created from the evaporating water and use it to pre-heat syrup, as well as sterilize the steel barrels they store the syrup in. Crown Maple also value keeping their production local, and try to hire workers from local communities.

Overall, it was a sweet visit to Crown Maple, and I may have to go back for more in the future.