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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!

Shunpike Dairy!

It was a rainy morning when all 7 of us Vassar students ventured off campus to explore agriculture in the local environment. Shunpike Dairy was our first stop of the day and will be the focus of this essay. We arrived at Shunpike after the 25 minute car ride and were greeted by a fairly typical small dairy set up. A small barn and adjacent farmstand were planted among faced wooden pastures on a gently sloping and slightly rocky landscape.

Shunpike is a small local dairy that is family run out of Millbrook NY located near the Carry Institute. Shunpike’s heard holds an impressive variety of cows with e Milking Short Horns, Jerseys, Black Jerseys, Linebackers, Brown Swiss and even some Belted Galloways among their ranks. This variety of cow must produce a very interesting tasting milk, because each breed produces a slightly different type of milk as far a butterfat and nutrient richness go. Shunpike also sells their own and other value added products at their farm stand having an excellent farmers cheese available as well as a hard cheese and another farm’s maple syrup. But the crux of Shunkpike is their raw milk.

Raw milk is simply milk that hasn’t been pasteurized yet, the process used to eliminate the potentially harmful bacteria that can live in cows milk. Milk can become contaminated with these bacteria in a variety of ways, usually either the cow get an illness such as mastitius or through improper milking techniques. Mastitis is an infection of the utter that can usually be recognized by farmers observing and clumps, discoloration of blood in the milk or unusual sensitivity on a particular quarter (cow utters are divided into 4 sections called quarters, each with one teat). Cows who aren’t well cared for and are living in germ heavy environments are at higher risk for mastitis and their raw milk shouldn’t be consumed. Improper milking, milk transfer, milk storage, or general facilities could all also lead to the contamination of milk. During most milkings the cows teats are sterilized both before and after using hydrogen peroxide or iodine so make sure no bacteria are pulled off the teat into the milk, or have the chance to infect the teat for the 30 minutes it stays open after milking.

Drinking raw milk is certainly a risk, but it is not inherently unsafe, using best practices and keeping milk clean reduces the risk of infection and raw milk comes with many benefits including better taste, less processing, more profits going directly to small farmers and higher nutrient content to name a few. Shunpike and other small raw dairies are continuing to sell milk the way humans drank milk for thousands of years, and I for one very much appreciate that.

The day concluded with visits to the Vassar Farm and Sprout Creek.


The Class Goes to Phillies

Our class recently visited the Phillies Bridge Farm Project in New Paltz, NY. It was a rainy April day, but the energy and excitement of the farm team kept us going!

The Phillies Bridge Farm Project – if you can, consider donating to help the farm get a new tractor! All donations are matched.

The Phillies Bridge Farm Project is run by a large team of directors, managers, farmers, and apprentices. On our visit we got the chance to meet a handful of them – Dan Guenther, one of the co-founders of the farm, Mr. Guenther’s wife, who described herself as a “naturalist who hates farming,” Myriam Bouchard, the farm’s administrative coordinator, and Rhyston Mays, a farm apprentice who recently graduated from Vassar!

The farm project has a really interesting history. A non-for-profit farm since 1999, Phillies Bridge provides a wide range of educational opportunities centering around local agriculture. They offer a summer day camp for kids where they can get their hands dirty and explore the Discovery Garden, as well as agricultural workshops for adults. But don’t get me wrong – they also grow a ton of

Tasty tasty tasty produce!!

fresh and organic vegetables and herbs. The farm operates a large CSA program that allows customers to pick up a box (one of two sizes) of fresh produce and herbs every week. The farm offers over 150 varieties of vegetables, herbs, and flowers that you can get. And what’s more, CSA customers get the option to ‘pick-your-own-field’ any day of the week during daylight hours.

Prof. Nevarez and farm apprentice/Vassar alum Rhyston Mays look out over one of the farm’s growing acres

Hearing about Dan’s motivations for farming was pretty inspiring. One of the first things Dan did was hold up the acclaimed book, The Omnivore’s Dilemma, by Michael Pollan. Dan told us that basically everything he does falls along the same argument that Pollan makes – the American food system is unsustainable and unjust, and we need to do something about it. That something, for Dan, was starting the Phillies Bridge Farm Project. The farm seeks to show that local and sustainably grown agriculture can be economically feasible, ecologically sustainable, and can be done in a way that is socially just.

Mr. and Mrs. Guenther tell us about their produce

At this point in the visit the wind and rain were making it a bit hard to sit still, so our hosts took us on a walking tour of the farm. Though the nature trail was closed, the farm’s land was plenty beautiful. Phillies Bridge also has a recently built, climate-controlled hoop house where they grow plants until they’re ready to be transplanted to the outdoors. Inside, safe from the rain and surrounded on all sides by lush vegetation, our hosts afforded us the opportunity to simply look at and smell their produce as we pleased.

The Phillies Bridge Farm Project is a really cool place. The farm is beautiful, its motivations are so good, and everyone we met seemed to really believe in the farm’s mission statement. Plus, I would’ve loved to go to a summer camp there as a kid. I definitely recommend paying the farm a visit and meeting with the cool people that run it. For more information about the Phillies Bridge Farm Project, check out their website!


Rise & Root Farm

By Aidan Zola and Tamika Whitenack

We arrived at Rise & Root Farm, located in Chester, New York, on a sunny Friday afternoon. Rise & Root Farm was founded in 2014 by four women–Karen Washington, Lorrie Clevenger, Jane Hodge, and Michaela Hayes–who all had a vision. On their three acres of leased land, they grow a huge range of flowers, fruits, and vegetables, most of which go to farmer’s markets in lower-income parts of New York City as part of their food justice and sustainability mission. They farm side-by-side with three other farms, all of them pledged to grow organically, in the rich black soil that Chester is known for.

When we first stepped out of the van, we were greeted at the farm by Michaela. She gave us a very brief introduction to the farm before Karen Washington emerged from the storage barn, welcoming us to the farm and inviting us inside. Ms. Washington served as our guide for the farm, and throughout our visit we gained an insight into her vision and mission through her charismatic personality and conversation.

We began our visit in the storage barn, where Ms. Washington explained that this space and land is actually shared between Rise & Root and three other farms. The land is actually owned by investors, which was helpful in Rise & Root’s initial establishment on the land. As Ms. Washington explained, getting land is one of the most difficult aspects of starting to farm, and being able to lease land from the investors assists in this challenge. Rise & Root and the three other farms on the land cooperatively share the storage space, farm fields, and greenhouses on the land. Although they are each independent farms, Ms. Washington highlighted that they share many of the same values and have an understanding about acceptable farming practices and land use.

After showing us some seedlings in the storage barn, we ventured out into one of the high tunnels. Ms. Washington explained the way in which high tunnels allow farmers to extend the growing season by allowing plants to grow protected from the outside elements and weather conditions. The abundance of growth in the high tunnel showcased the fertile properties of Chester’s black soil, and we even got to taste some of the edible flowers flourishing in the corner. Most of us were pleasantly surprised, the taste was similar to raw broccoli.

Ms. Washington then brought us into a second high tunnel where she talked about her experience as a food justice advocate and social justice activist. A resident of the Bronx for more than 25 years, Ms. Washington discussed her first-hand experience with low-income communities and disparities with access to affordable, healthy foods. She lamented the lack of whole produce that is made available to these types of communities, and shared her vision for the future. Ms. Washington also runs an urban farm in New York City–Garden of Happiness–and has kickstarted a local farmer’s market that is located in the Bronx. She concluded our tour with some words of encouragement and wisdom: always chase after your dreams and don’t let anyone stop you.

Sprout Creek Farm

My name is Ethan and I am a sophomore from Freeport, ME. I am an ENST major so #ES291 is required but I am still really excited to explore the Hudson Valley through the lens of agriculture! I am a huge fan of cheese, kayaking, french fries, and Game of Thrones. On campus I work as a student fellow and a tour guide, lead for the Vassar outing club, sing in Home Brewed and play ultimate!

Today we headed to sprout creek farm to hang out with their dairy goats and dairy cattle! 10/10 cheese

Goat Friend

Julia and a goat at Sprout Creek Farm

Hi! My name is Julia and I’m an Environmental Studies major and a French Correlate and I’m from Arlington, MA.  Shortly after this photo was taken, this goat almost succeeded in eating the zipper off my jacket.

The Indoor Organic Gardens of Poughkeepsie

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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

Sophia and Moo Friend

Hi! My name is Sophia Burns and I am a sophomore Urban Studies major from South Jersey (aka the breadbasket of the Garden State). I love the outdoors and have been getting more interested in the Hudson Valley through my field work, so I’m really looking forward to all that we’ll be doing in this course!

Here I am with my “moo” friend. Many cow kisses accepted on this day.