Saturday, September 08, 2007

Upstate-Downstate Caravan Day 4

By Hank Herrera
Managing Director, New York Sustainable Agriculture Working Group

September 7, 2007 – Day 5

Chatham, Ghent and Red Hook

We got off to an early start on this next-to-the-last day of our journey. We drove first to a pleasant coffee shop and bakery in Chatham searching for wireless internet access of all things. Apart from the personal inconvenience of limited cell phone and broadband internet access in the rural communities we visited, we now have a much greater appreciation for the challenges faced in our rural communities to get connected to the wired world.

Next we traveled down the road to the A. Oombs and Sons Dairy Farm. Eric Oombs and his brothers manage this 340-head dairy herd. In addition they prepare and sell feed to their neighbors. Mary Gail Biebel from the local organization, Chatham Keep Farming, described an impressive grass-roots initiative to preserve farmland in the Town of Chatham. Judy LaBelle, President of the Glynwood Center in Cold Spring, described the role of the Keep Farming Program at Glynwood in the process. The Chatham Keep Farming Program involved an extensive community assessment of farming as part of the revision of the Town’s Comprehensive Plan beginning in 2004. The process led to a set of recommendations that the Town Board endorsed, including the immediate formation of a permanent Community Agricultural Partnership committee. This successful initiative ensures that the Town will balance farming and development to keep the value of agriculture at the forefront in its future planning.

From Chatham we traveled Ghent for lunch at the Hawthorne Valley Farm. The Farm is a 400-acre pasture-based, Biodynamic® farm. The Farm is associated with pre-K through 12 independent Waldorf School and provides a rich learning experience for the students. Farm staff prepared a superb lunch from products from the Farm, including brownies made by 7th graders with a surprise, mystery ingredient (it was beets!). After lunch Martin Ping, the Director of the Hawthorne Valley Association that includes the farm and the school and other programs, told the history of the Farm, which began with Waldorf teachers taking their vacations on a farm and deciding to buy the farm to put their beliefs into practice. Today the Farm includes diversified dairy, egg and vegetable production, value-added products like yogurt, cheese, lacto-fermented vegetables and baked goods. The farm markets its products directly at its own farm store (located on-site in a new building that reflects “the thoughtful aspects of green technology”) and at Greenmarket locations in New York City. The Farm is almost completely self-sufficient, producing its own inputs like compost and feeds, in alignment with Biodynamic® principles that honor the interconnectedness of all living things and considers the farm itself as a living organism. Hawthorne Valley Farm is an inspiration, reflecting their success in achieving their mission focused on social and cultural renewal.

From the Farm we traveled to the Greig Farm, where our caravan connected with the Sustainable Table Eat Well Tour of America for its grand finale event. We dined on delicious local food, enjoyed musical entertainment and visited the exhibits of dozens of Hudson Valley farms and food producers. Mark served on a panel talking about local food with Diane Hatz, Founder/Director of Sustainable Table and Chef4Life Laura Pensiero, owner of Gigi’s Trattoria at Greig Farm. At the event Mark received a proclamation from NYS Governor Elliot Spitzer proclaiming Sunday, September 9, Farm Aid Day in New York State and thanking Farm Aid for its work promoting local agriculture.

We left Greig Farm for the Glynwood Center where Judy LaBelle provided our accommodations for our last night on the caravan.

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