Tag Archives: #goats

The treasure in our backyard: Sprout Creek Farm

 The first fieldtrip in the Field Experiences in the Hudson Valley class was a near-by destination: Sprout Creek Farm, located in the eastern part of the Town of Poughkeepsie. Our visit began with a few words from Sister Margo Morris, who co-founded the farm in Greenwich, Connecticut in 1982, originally as an educational off-shoot of the Convent of the Sacred Heart school. Novice farmers, Margo and other teachers taught students how to farm while they were learning the ropes themselves, an experience that proved transformational for that first generation. Eventually the farm moved to its Poughkeepsie location, inheriting a dairy operation from the estate of Elise Kinkead, a landowner (and Vassar graduate, Margo says) who wanted her farm preserved as a non-profit educational institution.

Sister Margo Morris

Today Sprout Creek Farm is known for many distinctions. Its award-winning cheese and other products are found in finer grocery stores and on restaurant menus across the Hudson Valley. Children get their hands dirty on the farm through school field-trips, day-long activities, and summer camps. A number of young farmers apprentice their way through Sprout Creek Farm; one of them, educational director Katie Williams, was an eager guide for our class visit. Executive director Mark Fredette (a.k.a. Chef Mark) prepares farm-to-table menus at public and private events on the farm. An inviting farm store is the typical final stop for guests visiting the farm.

 This wide-ranging educational mission isn’t cheap. Although Sprout Creek’s cheese is sold commercially, it costs about $7/pound to produce when all educational expenses are considered, I recall Chef Mark saying somewhere (though I can’t remember the source, so don’t quote me). By 2017, Sprout Creek Farm was in serious financial trouble and undertook an ambitious fund-raising campaign. (I was a speaker at a fund-raising event last fall.) The story has a happy ending: in January, Marist College agreed to take control of the farm while letting Margo, Chef Mark, and the others in the nonprofit continue to manage it. Marist has undefined plans to incorporate Sprout Creek into its curriculum somehow, but Margo said everyone is very happy with the autonomy the college is giving the Sprout Creek crew.

I hope my students appreciate the economic context and innovative solutions highlighted by this story, but I fully understand if the thing they took away most from their visit was the first-hand encounter with the animals and land at Sprout Creek Farm. Cows, goats, pigs, chickens, guinea fowl, farm cats, and a reclusive family of mice (am I missing anything?) aren’t things that college students — or most anyone else today, for that matter — interact with everyday! I assigned everyone to take a “goat selfie” for their first blog posts, and I suspect these pictures will burn up their social media feeds. (The farm of course recognizes how excited people are to get nuzzled and nibbled by goats; wisely, this has become another opportunity fund-raising and farm marketing.)

For more history of Sprout Creek Farm, this 2012 article on the Rural Intelligence blog is a really good source.

Thank you, Margo and Katie, for your hospitality!

Sisters Hill Organic Farm

Sisters Hill Farm SignThis Sunday I visited Sisters Hill Farm, a CSA in Stanfordville, Dutchess County.  The farm was founded by the Sisters of Charity of New York in 1998 on land that had been left to the congregation, with Dave Hambleton being hired as the head farmer.   Under Farmer Dave and the farm director Sister Mary Ann Garisto the CSA was developed from scratch, growing from having one acre in production to five.  It now provides fresh, organic food to 200 members, with produce also being distributed to soup kitchens, pantries, and those in need by the Sisters in the Bronx, who started the farm with the goal of providing healthy food that nourishes the body and spirit while helping the local community and the earth.

While visiting I talked to Alison, one of the apprentices for the 2014 season.  She and the other two apprentices live at Sisters Hill and spend the season working and learning from Farmer Dave, with each getting a chance to run the farm for a week at the end.  The four of them do all the work themselves and Alison says Dave is amazingly efficient, organizing everything so well that they only have to work 45 hours a week, which is low for farmers.  When I visited things were just getting started, with a lot of plants still in the greenhouse, but the first pick up date for members is going to be in only three weeks.  Sisters Hill greenhouse

The season usually runs from Memorial Day to the first week in November, but if you renew your membership you get a special Thanksgiving share too.  Since that was the last offering everything the members got from it was still up on the chalkboard seen below.  To go with all those vegetables you could pick up a turkey at Thunderhill Farm down the road, which also provides the eggs sold at Sisters Hill.

Sisters Hill Thanksgiving

Pick up days are on Saturday and Tuesday, though Saturdays are busier, partly because a lot of the members are weekenders from the city.  There are weekly newsletters with recipes and notes from the farmers and people are also often talking and swapping recipes while picking up their food.  In addition to what was harvested for the shares, members are also allowed to pick a set amount of produce on their own, directed by signs on how to harvest the different kinds of vegetables.  This is especially fun for kids, allowing them to not only to see where their food is coming from but to chose it themselves.  There is also a flower garden from which you can pick a certain number of stems a week.

No flowers yet I'm afraid
No flowers yet I’m afraid

The farm has plenty more plans for the future, having recently gotten some cameras to make educational videos on farming and to film a time lapse of the growing fields.  Farmer Dave also plans to renew trails on the farm land where people can walk, run, or bike.  When the trails are done, regular exercise sessions will be organized so that the farm can meet its goal of improving health by encouraging healthy habits as well as healthy eating.

To learn more about Sisters Hill Farm visit their website here!