Tag Archive | "Balsam Farms"

Community Supporting Small Farms

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By Emily J. Weitz

When Quail Hill Farms started as Full Circle Farm in 1988, it was the first Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) initiative in New York State. With ten families harvesting fruit from trees in Bridgehampton, the idea of sharing the labor and sharing the fruits of that labor was born.

Now there are dozens of CSAs across the state, and as many as 12,000 across the country. Quail Hill, which found its current home in Amagansett in the early 90s, has grown from the original ten families to 250. Even the term CSA has become commonplace, and is being touted by senators like Kristin Gillibrand as a way to support local economies and increase healthy living.

As more and more people learn about CSAs and join them, there are some expected growing pains that occur. The whole concept has had to evolve, as has the practice.

“Serving 250 families is very different than serving ten,” says Scott Chaskey, Director of Quail Hill. “Serving more people, you use more acreage, grow more food, sponsor more events… We’ve grown in all directions.”

Steven Eaton, who got his start in organic farming with Quail Hill six years ago, has seen different angles of the CSA. After two years with Quail Hill, he became an independent farmer on Springs Fireplace Road, farming one plot of land and selling his produce to friends and neighbors, and at the local farmers’ market once a week. Last March he was hired by Sylvester Manor on Shelter Island as the crew leader, which means he’s out in the fields managing the work.

“From my perspective,” says Eaton, “the idea of CSA has changed from what the name suggests. Community Supported Agriculture implies a community around the farm, supporting farmers in their work to ensure their food security. These people are saying ‘We want our produce to come from farms in our area and we don’t want those farms to struggle.’ It was a way for the community to make sure these farms that they value survive.”

In recent years, though, Eaton has noticed a change in the reasons people are joining CSAs, and he fears that it’s sometimes more of a trend than a real connection to the land that attracts them. Of course, there are still the people who genuinely feel it’s important to be connected to a farm, Eaton says. They want to know where their food is coming from and have a relationship with that food.

“This is more than a farmer exchanging with the community through a retail space,” he says. “At Sylvester Manor we have our regular harvest days, where we get feedback and have conversations. That’s very supportive to the farmer.”

Eaton believes that the name CSA is growing outdated, and it no longer reflects the trends happening on the East End. When the physical connection to the farm and the farming practices is not there, there is a disconnect between the people and the farm, so that they lose the very understanding of the farm that a CSA is supposed to create.

“If someone is expecting vegetables delivered to their doorstep, what happens if the basket doesn’t come or something isn’t in it,” he asked. “If you’re actually engaging in all the dimensions of a farm, you can understand the delicate nature of food and farming and how rich and joyous and difficult it can be… The trend of CSAs moving away from multi-dimensional participation is a huge disadvantage. That understanding, that dialogue, between farmer and community becomes lost.”

At the same time, as CSAs become more popular, more small, local farms are able to flourish. Balsam Farms, which has been around for a decade, began its CSA just two years ago.

“The CSA is only a small part of our farm,” says Ian Calder-Piedmonte, co-founder and farmer at Balsam Farms, who also is the outreach director for EECO Farm in East Hampton. “We prepare a box with items that are in season, and members come to pick it up at the farm. For us, it’s all about growing food and seeing people. We want as many people eating our food as possible.”

At Quail Hill, Chaskey has no problem calling the farm a CSA in the truest sense of the word.

“It’s who we are,” he says. “We started as a CSA, and we’ve influenced the beginning of lots of other CSAs, not only on the East End. Besides people around here, I’ve traveled all over the country speaking about community agriculture, running workshops and presentations about how you do it.”

The difference between Quail Hill and all the other farms on the East End is, at Quail Hill, the members do all the farming and harvesting. They get an intimate understanding of what is growing and how because they are involved in the whole process. At Sylvester Manor and other farms, like Amber Waves in Amagansett, members do some of the harvesting. For example, Eaton says, if members get a pint of string beans that week, they might be sent to the fields to pick their own.

“Being at the farm when the CSA shows up,” he says, “they’ll get out in the fields and pick basil, they’ll start talking, and they start to see those dimensions of farming. That, to me, is the biggest asset to upholding and encouraging that nature of the CSA. It educates like no other. If you sign up for twenty weeks and you come and see the ups and downs on the farm for twenty weeks, that’s a good education. That’s a huge chunk of the community that understands the nature of food, and how real food is. The value of food and farms goes way up the more people are educated. The value of food goes down otherwise.”

Photography by Michael Heller

EECO To Educate About Farming

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Driving past the Long Lane home of East End Community Organic Farm (EECO Farm) it is not uncommon to see families tending crops, children playing amongst the rows of fresh vegetables and herbs. Further in, professional farmers can be seen harvesting crops for their farm stands and the growing number of farmers’ markets on the East End, while cars dip in and out of the lot in front of EECO Farm’s own stand to buy fresh lettuce and zucchini just plucked from the vine.

For Ian Calder-Piedmonte, of Balsam Farms, the experience of farming is not one that should be limited to those with access to land, but something celebrated by everyone on the East End. To that end, the board of EECO Farm announced a new initiative last week led by Calder-Piedmonte aimed at bringing the knowledge of successful farming into schools, restaurants, houses of worship and home gardens throughout the South Fork.

The EECO Farm Outreach program was conceptualized as the perfect way for the farm to honor its 10-year anniversary. The not-for-profit was founded by Annie Bliss and Lauren Jarrett and manages close to 50 acres of East Hampton land leased from the town. In turn, it offers leases for gardens to families as well as commercial farmers, chefs and even beekeepers who are committed to organic growing.

In its most basic philosophy, the Outreach program is aimed at bringing the experience and expertise of farmers like Calder-Piedmonte to individuals and institutions on the East End interested in starting their own organic garden or improving their existing one.

Calder-Piedmonte is leading the effort. A local farmer with Alex Balsam at Balsam Farms, Calder-Piedmonte was educated at Cornell University.

“EECO Farm itself is a unique community of gardeners, small farmers, the farm stand — there are a lot of different things going on there,” said Calder-Piedmonte, seated at a table at Bruce Buschel’s Southfork Kitchen in Bridgehampton, a mecca to local food. “It was Bruce and some other members who thought it would be a good idea to reach out to the community and become a resource for those with questions about growing.”

Already, the Outreach Program is working with East Hampton High School environmental science teacher Rob Schack to develop a school garden there and has worked with the district’s middle school Nature Program garden. The Outreach program has also begun working with restaurants interested in building kitchen gardens, much like the one at Southfork Kitchen, to help bring local produce onto as many menus as possible.

“The idea is to make EECO Farm a bigger part of this community,” said Calder-Piedmonte.

For Schack, the experience his students have simply visiting EECO Farm, let alone growing their own school garden, is something it’s hard to place value on.

“It is tremendous for so many reasons,” he said. “I start talking about food production and sustainability, what is going on with their food to engage the students,” he said. “They are honestly used to looking at things scientifically in small segments, not in terms of the big picture. So when we go to the farm and start looking at the soil, talking about de-nitrification, they recognize it is a concept tied into a larger aspect of being a part of a working farm.”

“It means a lot,” he added. “It gives credence to the fact that science is not just something thrown at them to learn, but there is an actual application.”

Schack sees the school garden as something that can be incorporated in an experiential way into a number of subjects, including math and local history.

“It is also creating this sense of place at the school, which I think is important,” he said.

That garden’s deer fence is currently being built as well as cold frames. Calder-Piedmonte said he hopes to have vegetables planted for harvest this fall.

According to Bliss, the goal at East Hampton like many school gardens is that eventually food from the garden will make its way into the cafeteria, expanding the role of the garden into not just an educational resource, but a nutritional resource as well.

Calder-Piedmonte was careful in noting that this is not an Outreach program designed to offer free agriculture labor, but is conceived as a resource for knowledge.

“We can help people make the right decisions about whether a hoop house or greenhouse is right for them, what kinds of seeds to plant and when, what to look out for,” he said.

Calder-Piedmonte added the agricultural community, which is growing by leaps and bounds each year, is interested in more people becoming a part of its burgeoning community. It’s a community generally populated by farmers’ interested in improving the quality of soil through organic or all-natural farming, rather than destroying it through the use of pesticides,

“If people want to grow here and are interested in growing on this land, we want to facilitate that,” he said.

“I think that EECO Farm is answering a call we have heard on the East End,” added Buschel, noting more people each year are interested in eating local food.

“It all comes from a desire in the community and in the consumer to know where their food is coming from, which sparks this kind of programming, which is a good thing,” said Calder-Piedmonte. 
“I have had some kids in my class who have never enjoyed fresh food like this,” added Schack. “To see a kid and realize they are eating a tomato, fresh from the ground for the first time is amazing. You may not like the store bought tomato that has been bumping around a truck and has been bred to have thick skin as a result, but you might like this. It really changes your whole perspective.”

“I think there is also this whole other level of satisfaction when you have planted a seed and watched it grow,” said Calder-Piedmonte. “And then there is a whole other level of satisfaction when you eat something freshly picked from your own garden.”

For more information on the EECO Farm Outreach program contact ian@eecofarm.org.

Wine and Winter Veggies: Farmers Market Moves Indoors for the Holidays

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By Claire Walla

As summer dies down and the cold air sets in, life here on the East End tends to, well, settle down for a long winter’s nap. Farmers and crops included. By the time Thanksgiving rolls around, farm stands and farmers markets typically have closed-up shop for the season.

However, this year beginning Saturday, December 4, the Sag Harbor Farmer’s Market will be back in business for three more weekends, bringing local farmers and vendors in direct contact with the community each Saturday from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. through December 18.

Though during the warm summer months the market is held in the space outside the Sag Harbor Yacht Club on Bay Street, buyers and sellers this month can rest assured their fingertips will not go numb while handling home-grown goods; the winter market will be housed at 34 Bay Street — inside the new retail building directly across the street from its summer locale.

“We had the opportunity, so we did it,” said Ana Nieto, who, along with Ivo Tomasini, began managing the Sag Harbor Farmers Market this past year. “We were both kind of sad that it was going to end.”

So when the opportunity came to rent the space across the street, Nieto and Tomasini jumped at the chance.

So far, about eight of the market’s 17 summer vendors will take part, but Nieto said this is mostly because plans for the winter market got off the ground a bit late in the game.

“We want it to be a continuation of the summer market,” Nieto explained, but added there will be other vendors as well because not all who participate in the summer market were prepared to extend their season. “The farmers just weren’t thinking of winter, they typically plan [their harvests] for April through November.”

She added that Bette Lacina and Dale Haubrich, who run Bette and Dale’s farm stand on the Sag Harbor Turnpike, expressed interest in the winter market, but were unable to participate this year for that very reason.
“The main difference [between this market and the summer market] is that there will be much less fresh veggies,” Nieto said. “But there will be crafts for the holidays.”

Buyers can also expect to see goods from Mecox Bay Dairy, Grapes of Roth and Taste of the North Fork, plus other foods that aren’t necessarily seasonal, like baked goods, fudge, Italian pastries, fish and pickles. Nieto and Tomasini are hoping to get a Christmas tree vendor to the market as well.

Tomasini said that while most vendors and customers welcomed the idea for the winter market, some vendors cautioned him and Nieto about holding a market at this time of year when the population dwindles compared to the summer, and sales are usually down. However, Tomasini maintains that the winter market is merely an experiment this year. “We’re just throwing it out there … I don’t know if it’s going to work,” he said.

Depending on how much interest is generated over the next three weekends, Nieto and Tomasini will decide whether or not to tackle this project again next year. And if they do, their hope is that they will get in touch with farmers soon enough to be able to incorporate more fresh foods into the mix.

Though buyers shouldn’t expect to see everything offered during the summer — delicate crops like lettuce, for example, typically don’t last through winter’s first frost — Tomasini and Nieto hope to incorporate more hearty fresh seasonal foods into the market, like root vegetables, and freshly preserved foods, like sun dried tomatoes and pestos.

According to Ian Calder-Piedmont of Balsam Farms in Amagansett, there are several fruits and vegetables that can also be grown and stored throughout the winter months. He said Balsam Farms, for example, stores potatoes, sweet potatoes and butternut squash all winter long. He added that vegetables like broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, and more sturdy leafy greens like kale and collard greens can also be grown in colder climates.

“They can take the frost and keep on going,” he said.

And while not all foods can be stored for months on end, Calder-Piedmont noted that vegetables like carrots, beets, celery root, apples, onions and cabbage can be stored successfully through the colder seasons.

Balsam Farms typically doesn’t sell its crops via farmers markets, choosing instead to sell wholesale, as well as through its farm stand in East Hampton. Calder-Piedmont noted that the business does typically slow down this time of year. However, like Nieto and Tomasini, he believes people’s attitudes toward food are beginning to change.

“I’m optimistic that there can be winter markets in the future,” he said.
“The whole trend is really kicking into high gear,” said Tomasini of eating locally grown seasonal foods.

“[Supporting this effort] is something that we’ve been wanting for a while. We wish we had started thinking about [the winter market] a bit sooner,” Nieto added. “But again, we had the opportunity to do it, so we did.”