Tag Archives: #ES291 #HudsonValley

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!

Letterbox Farm Collective – by Julia and Greg

The Letterbox Farm Collective, located up in Hudson, is a young farm worked by young farmers growing organic vegetables and meats. The farm was founded in 2014, when the 64-acre property was purchased with the help of ambitious fundraising events as well as crowdfunding and the Young Farmers Grant from New York State. The farm is run by Faith, Laszlo, and Nichki, three young farmers committed to sustainable farming and running their farm in almost a co-op business model. In just a short time, the team at Letterbox has grown the business from neglected lands into something marketable and economically viable, providing high quality produce and meats to the Hudson Valley and even as far south as Manhattan.

We were greeted by Moo, the friendly and excitable farm sheepdog, as we arrived, and then Faith led us on a tour of the fields, greenhouses, and livestock houses. The farm produces primarily for restaurants (including the farm-to-table restaurants in Hudson), for farm markets, and also for local CSAs. About 80% of the farm’s revenue comes from wholesale selling to restaurants and the farmer’s markets, with only about 20% coming from the CSAs. The team at Letterbox works year-round, with over 300 plantings a year. Faith showed us the peas that had just been planted, as well as microgreens, beets, scallions, herbs, and turnips, all growing in the greenhouses. In addition to these businesses, to help increase profits the farm acts as a venue for weddings as well as a site for a rural Airbnb. Faith also works as an agricultural educator, teaching (and learning) about market gardening and cooperative farming. All of their hard work has really paid off, as their sales have grown 19 times since the farm’s founding in 2014.

The farm crew works with small equipment, densely growing their crops on small plots of land in order to maximize yield from a given space.  They implement various methods to ensure that the soil remains nutrient rich; these include ground cover and various methods of fertilization, including a chicken tractor which deposits chicken manure as it moves across the farm. Small scale farms require this imported fertility, as the land is farmed intensively.  Another method for maintaining fertility is crop choice; for example, Faith showed us their pea crop, which fixes nitrogen and increases soil nutrients for the next crop. Market gardening, the business model that Letterbox Farm has adopted, tend to make more money per acre due to their farming techniques and crop choices.  Overall, the farm dedicates 3 of its 64 acres to intensive vegetable production.

One of the keys to the Letterbox Farm Collective’s success has been its establishment of many “enterprises,” as Faith calls them.  In addition to produce, the farm also raises meat chickens, pigs, and rabbits. About 80 birds per week are raised and processed on the farm’s pasture system.  With so many different endeavors taking place on a relatively small property, Faith admitted that the greatest challenge on the farm is creating consistent and efficient systems so that all enterprises can run smoothly without unnecessary challenges.  As we know, depending upon the weather for crop production is already challenge enough.

We ended the trip by visiting downtown Hudson, home of the world’s most expensive antique shops, as well as several ice cream parlors that don’t serve ice cream until May.  A quaint and aesthetically pleasing town, it was very interesting to observe the type of restaurants to which Letterbox sells of its produce.

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 http://www.wallkillviewfarmmarket.com/), 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 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.

Holy Sheep!

Glynwood Center (Eilis’s photo)

On Friday, we ventured down south to Putnam County to visit Glynwood Center. Although Putnum County is not known for its agricultural productivity because of the hilly terrain, Glynwood is thriving as a sustainable farm focused on educating young farmers.

Glynwood Center is located on the historical 225-acre Perkins estate, but today is has been transformed into a certified organic vegetable farm and transitional organic meat producer. They take advantage of the hilly environment by allowing their livestock to graze in areas that otherwise would not be used for anything. This helps their organic approach, as they are able to rotate the livestock through the fields to serve as a natural fertilizer and herbicide (by eating the weeds).

Beyond the produce and livestock, Glynwood Center is also a institute for education and agritourism. They house five apprentices at a time, focused on either livestock or vegetables, who engage in an intensive year-long program combining hands-on work in the fields with in-class instruction. Additionally, Glynwood Center has 20 guest rooms for visitors to stay in. These could be people interested in learning about local food, or just looking for a rural escape from the business of New York City.

Ken Kleinpeter and his loyal friend (Baynard’s photo)

Glynwood Center also works with nearby farmers to help them increase the value of their products. In 2010, they launched the Cider Project, an international collaboration between farmers in France and in the Hudson Valley. This project encouraged farmers to consider turning their leftover apples into hard cider to expand their economic opportunities. The Cider Project was a great success, and now they are pursuing other value-added projects, such as establishing a local charcuterie market.

Our lovely tour guide for our unexpectedly cold adventure was Ken Kleinpeter. Ken grew up in Louisiana, and has a long history of working in sustainable agriculture. He ran the first sheep dairy operation in the United States, and worked in Bosnia as a USAID consultant. In 2005, he joined Glynwood Farms as the Director of Farm and Facilities and is currently the VP of Operations.

One of our favorite moments was when Ken led us into the old bank barn on the property. This barn is strategically built on a slope, so the hay trucks could unload the hay at the top, which would fall to the bottom where the animals were waiting to feed. This barn is no longer operational for farming purposes, but it has a new function as a sought-after location for high-fashion photo-shoots. Well-known companies like Brooks Brothers, Anthropologie, and many more have yearly photo-shoots on the Glynwood property, providing another source of income for the farm.

Our favorite baby lamb standing (almost) tall and proud (Dahlia’s photo)

However, the highlight of the trip was all the animals we saw. When we stepped out of the van, Dudley, Ken’s loyal farm dog that followed us throughout our tour, greeted us enthusiastically. We briefly said hello to Ken’s horses, a mix of retired racehorses and riding horses. The tour culminated in the new barn, full of cows, lambs, and pregnant goats. Our favorite was a six-week old lamb recovering from pneumonia, who was still figuring out how to walk.

After unintentionally filming the first part of our blooper reel, it began to snow, signaling that it was time to say goodbye to Ken, Dudley, and their wonderful sustainable farm.

If you want to learn more or visit for yourself, check out their website at https://www.glynwood.org/.