Three years ago, I wrote a story about high tunnel farming and instantly fell in love. I knew I wanted to be a piece of supporting other farmers and making a difference in my community. I knew I wanted have my hands in dirt year-round. I had no idea what was to unfold.
Fast forward to today. I've left my reporting life, but I am still in the business of truth—and it's a way better kind! I own a store bringing goods from more than 100 local farmers, growers, producers, artists, etc. to my friends and neighbors. These are people passionate and dedicated to their gardens, flocks, herd, talent and ingredients. If that's not truth, then I don't know what is.
If you've been wondering what's been going on behind the store, a high tunnel is going up. I simply can not wait until those veggies are on the OSM shelves. You'll be getting fresh cut greens all winter long, right from my back yard. None of this would be possible without the help, tutelage, unending support and unlimited knowledge of Paul and Sandy Arnold of Pleasant Valley Farm, Argyle. When they were gracious enough to work with me on the article, they said organic farmers really share their knowledge and experiences. I'm now seeing that first-hand and could not be more thankful for them.
Follow along with the progress of the construction, and in the meantime, take a quick read of the article I wrote that got it all started:
Tunnel farming takes hold on Washington County farm
By Christina Scanlon
Jan. 25, 2015
The wind was whistling and biting two weeks ago. Snow crunched beneath your feet, crusted over with thick ice. Closing your eyes and pretending you were on a frozen tundra wouldn’t have been a stretch. But this wasn’t the Arctic.
This was Argyle.
The sun was out and casting light through plastic walls. Beyond a sliding door, another world existed.
Stunning rows of Swiss chard, arugula and salad greens were a shock to the eyes.
The smell of earth, the smell of life, was a welcome perk.
Kim and Robert Arnold led a crew of three others, taking sharp knives to the tender stems. A quick cut, then a meticulous look and a discarding of weeds and lesser quality leaves was followed by another. And then another, until 40 pounds of greens filled crates, but the work had just begun.
Around Washington County, similar methods are used, as high-tunnel farming has taken root at several farms, and farmers around the nation are taking their lead.
Robert and Kim Arnold have grown up on the farm that Paul Arnold started in the late 1980s.
“There were plenty of people that said this wouldn’t work,”
Paul said, recalling his early announcement he was becoming a farmer, not having been raised in a farming family.
While farmers have never been accused of having an easy life, Paul embarked on the endeavor with a positive outlook.
“You can see trouble, or you can see opportunity,” he said.
Tunnel farming came later, at first just one structure that was used to grow food for personal use.
“We kept ourselves full of spinach,” Paul said.
That first tunnel was smaller, a mere — 26 feet long and 30 feet wide — than the ones they use today — at 144 feet long and 34 feet wide, to grow 200 pounds of food per week throughout the winter to sell at local farmer’s markets, which came in part by request.
“You’re going to be there, aren’t you?” Paul said they were asked by customers when winter farmers markets began in the area.
“We had a root cellar since 1988,” he said, where they stored vegetables harvested in the fall to be sold throughout the winter.
To expand into growing year-round was another matter entirely.
The small tunnel they started with could only grow spinach, the heartiest of the crops. The plants grow directly in the ground, not in containers or raised beds. Growing a variety of other plants requires a larger tunnel to retain heat longer through the night and provide a more even growing environment.
“We started playing around, seeing if it would work,” Paul said, improving upon their experience with their personal spinach tunnel.
“Well, this is kind of interesting,” he recalled thinking while working with other area farmers.
“The idea was catching on. We were discussing it. The information flowed freely,” he said. “That’s what’s great about organic farmers. We’re open and we share information. If we didn’t work together, we wouldn’t know so much.”
That knowledge is now making its way across the country, as experienced and start-up farmers alike attend seminars, conferences and presentations where Paul and his wife, Sandy, share their expertise.
Kilpatrick Family Farm
The Kilpatrick Family Farm in Middle Granville has been tunnel farming even longer. They began year-round farming immediately.
Michael Kilpatrick, who operates the farm with his wife, Savannah, began farming in 2003. Like Paul, Kilpatrick, had no immediate farming family.
By his first fall he was ready to take on the winter.
“Right from the get-go, I was intrigued,” he said.
The toughest decision for farmers to continue with year-round growing, he said, is not having the winters off to regroup before another growth cycle begins.
Kilpatrick said he’s constantly toying with new ideas. Currently on his mind is the possibility of a nine-month season, from October to April, taking the summers off instead.
Unlike the Arnolds, who sell nearly 100 percent of their products at farmer’s markets and a small portion to area restaurants, the Kilpatricks sell about 20 percent to local wholesale buyers.
“It’s a very fine line to be able to do that,” Kilpatrick said. With bigger sales come bigger production costs.
“As we’ve grown, we’ve gotten more efficient,” he said of being able to make it work.
As the farm has grown, so has their family. The Kilpatricks welcomed their first child, a daughter named Charlotte, just one month ago.
Off the top of his head, Kilpatrick estimated hundreds of thousands of pounds of produce come from his 13 acres of farmland annually.
About 5 percent of their sales come from their broiler and layer chickens.
Kilpatrick also conducts presentations and offers consulting around the country.
They are teaching how to build the structures, sometimes called hoop-houses, that are covered with plastic. They’re sharing these experiences, both good and bad, and the techniques they’ve learned along the way.
The ground stays warm enough to grow the plants, mostly salad greens, spinach, arugula, Swiss chard, kale, parsley and Asian greens.
Heads of lettuce take too long to grow, and many varieties of other summer plants can’t take the cooler conditions.
Heat is not customarily used, though on a harvesting day when it reaches far below zero, a heater may be used.
There’s a limited window when they can access the tunnels. The sun being out is more important than temperature. The door can absolutely not be left open.
Once the greens are picked, they are washed and spun dry in a large mesh bag on spin cycle in a stainless steel tub dedicated solely for that purpose. Weighing and packaging follow, to be loaded up in the wee hours of the morning to make it in time for market.
Both the Arnolds and Kilpatricks hire outside of their families for help.
The Arnolds have eight part-time employees and add full-time help in the summer.
The Kilpatricks employ 12 to 15 in the summer and six to eight in the winter.
A team of employees is a must when harvesting for the market.
About five years ago, the Arnolds took on Michael Palulis as a part-time employee.
“I fell in love,” he said of his first day on the job. “This is what I want to do.”
He owned a restaurant at a ski resort and was used to taking odd jobs during the off-season.
He returned home that evening to a house he and his wife, Jennifer, had recently purchased in Salem.
“We have to buy a farm,” he announced.
Instead, “We slowly turned the house into a farm,” he said.
They added a greenhouse, a pond and an irrigation system, creating Echo Creek Farm.
For the first year, he still ran the restaurant, overlapping with farm duties.
“I was working about 100 hours a week. I was sleeping at the restaurant,” he said.
Though in the food industry, he said there was a definite disconnect between growing and cooking food.
“I’d call up and just have it delivered,” he said.
“I always wanted the best ingredients, but I didn’t have any understanding of what it required to get them,” he said.
Now he does, thanks to the tutelage of the Arnolds.
“I can call them, email them, every day,” Palulis said.
Learning alongside him are their children, Ella, 10, Madeline, 7, and Izaac, 5.
From the beginning, they knew they wanted to be a U.S. Department of Agriculture certified organic operation.
“My backyard where my kids play is my farm,” Palulis said. “I’m responsible for this land.”
Starting organic from the very beginning was easier, he said, because they were just starting out.
The Kilpatricks are also a certified organic farm, a decision made, in part, Kilpatrick said, because they wholesale.
“There’s a demand for organic,” he said.
Organic products are also able to draw a higher price.
The Arnolds, who only sell locally, are a certified naturally grown operation, which Kilpatrick explained is equally strict.
“In some cases, it’s even stricter,” he said.
Both Echo Creek and Kilpatrick farms sell through Community Supported Agriculture, where members join at the start of the growing season for a share of the anticipated harvest.
Food stays local
Will Siegel-Sawma of Queensbury, started as a CSA member about five years ago. An attorney by trade, he took a part-time position on the Kilpatricks’ farm during a period of less than full employment.
“Their principles meshed with mine,” he said. “The idea of food without chemicals and food as the first step in medicine, it was something I was already interested in.”
His full-time gig is now program coordinator at Mediation Matters, specializing in ag-related issues, which aligns well, he said, with his work with the Kilpatricks.
Now, he’s the market stand manager on Saturdays at the Saratoga Springs Farmers Market.
Though others that have seen the inner workings of the farms and created their own, Siegel-Sawma said he’s unlikely to take that on.
“I’ve always been into gardening, just not at the level of farming,” he said.
The one-word title- farmer — doesn’t cover the many tasks you have to master to make it work.
“There are 90 hats you wear,” said Kilpatrick, beginning a very long list. “You’re a welder, an engineer, an efficiency manager, an electrician ...”
Every day, they continue to learn.
“We’ve definitely killed some crops. We started small, so there were no massive mistakes,” he said.
Winter farming adds an extra element of risk. If a crop is destroyed, there’s no time to start again.
All three farms can be found at area farmers markets.
Jon Dickinson, president of the Glens Falls Farmers Market Association, said the market’s new location at Sanford Street School gained many new customers in the residential setting this season.
“People can walk to this location. Some came that had never attended before. They were surprised to see all that we have in the winter,” he said.
Julia Howard, market coordinator at the Saratoga Springs Farmers Market, said the winter grown produce adds depth to the variety offered.
“There’s cold-storage vegetables, hydroponically and greenhouse-grown herbs and tomatoes. We have honey and meat and eggs. It’s really mind-blowing that it’s all right here in one place.”
Beyond the goods, Howard said there’s a sense of community that can’t be found in a grocery store.
Laura McDermott, a regional agriculture specialist with Cornell Cooperative Extension in Washington County said some area grocery stores may offer organic produce at a reduced price, but it’s coming from California.
“By the time it gets here, it’s only lasting a couple days,” she said.
Here, the farmers are harvesting just before the markets. You could be buying and eating salad greens that were literally cut less than 24-hours earlier.
“Buying organic and buying local are very important to people,” McDermott said. “These farmers fill that niche.”
As we were warned before beginning our tour of St. Croix Farm in Valley Falls, farm owner John Moore could talk for hours about grasses.
He did talk about grass. A lot. And every word was fascinating.
The picturesque fields are green, but an attempt to count the types of grasses and plants quickly showed a landscape rich in many, many varieties. Most I'd heard of before and never thought much about: Crab grass, bedstraw, dandelion, clover, violets, burdock....alone they may not seem so impressive, but together, they weave a nutritionally dense diet for the cows.
More fascinating? We learned that the underground structure of roots connects with mycorrhizae, where plants can actually share nutrients! (Sorry if this is not new info to you! I'm still super excited about it!) You can read a little more about it here.
We watched as the herd was let into a new field for "first bite" of new "teenage" grasses, which like teenagers, have lots of energy. Every step through the process of feeding the cows is carefully planned and executed.
Some fields will be allowed to go to seed, further strengthening the growth and density.
In some years, the fields may have chickens in them, instead supplying plenty of nitrogen to the ground below. It's a careful dance the Moores do, satisfying to their souls, beneficial to the cows' health and creating an exceptional product.
There's more than 700 acres on St. Croix Farm. A peek on Google Earth shows a patchwork of greenery, hard work and the cows, delightfully entering a new field as the satellite snagged the photo.
A snapshot of feed lots in the midwest shows a dishearteningly different view.
While the cows are outside in the sunshine in those feedlots, they certainly are not enjoying the life the St. Croix cows are afforded.
There are arguments on both sides of whether grains should be fed to cattle. Regardless of your opinion, for taste or ethics, one thing is true: A cow can also be raised solely in a barn, never seeing daylight and if it's fed a diet of grass, it can be labeled as "grass-fed, grass-finished."
That's another reason to head to Google and search for your suppliers.
While I make every attempt at Old Saratoga Mercantile to research the farmers, visit their property and do my homework on the slaughterhouses and butchers they are using, Google Earth is one tool in easy reach for everyone.
I'm lucky to have connected with more than 100 farmers, growers, suppliers, etc., doing things the right way right here in our area, and especially thankful for people like them for working with me, opening their doors and helping us all learn alongside them.
I’ve been selling Luce Farm hemp-infused products here in the store for nearly two months now. More than 200 jars have gone through the doors, and I’ve received nothing but positive feedback from everyone who has tried it.
Their reasons for trying CBD oil have ranged from minor aches and pains, to ADD, anxiety, sleep disorders, digestive issues, psoriasis, chronic pain and side effects from kidney failure and cancer treatments.
I’d used CBD oil myself, for joint pain, but honestly hadn’t looked into its other uses until people started requesting it.
As I do with all of the products here, from a bar of soap or pair of mittens, to a head of lettuce or rack of ribs, I find out where it’s coming from.
Are they all natural ingredients? Are the animals treated ethically? How are you storing your product? How are your employees being treated?
All of these factors, and many more, come into play when I decide what I want to offer in the store.
While I strive to carry as much local product I can, there are some things we can’t get here. No one in New York is growing coffee or coconuts, so when I have to source something outside our region, I look to a proven trusted producer.
Finding a supplier for CBD products was no different.
I started out looking at some nationally known names in the industry, along with some lesser known ones.
Eventually, I was introduced to Luce Farm, and I knew instantly this was a good fit.
These guys are growing and processing it themselves, less than two hours from here.
They are spending the roughly $100,000 per acre it costs for super critical CO2 extraction and third-party testing. That testing verifies not only that there’s not more than 0.3 percent THC in the products— establishing that this is not marijuana and completely legal— but also tells us exactly how many milligrams of CBD are in each serving.
Not all companies are testing.
I really stress that when I am talking about why I love Luce Farm so much.
They are doing this right. Not everyone is, yet still charging very high fees for a product in which they didn’t make a huge financial investment.
That not only bothers me in an ethical sense, because it just isn’t fair to the ones who are making those crucial investments, but I would never feel comfortable selling a product I couldn’t say with certainty I knew what was in it.
Their extraction process is natural and environmentally friendly, doesn’t use solvents or chemicals and provides them with full spectrum oil.
Some companies boasted “pure” CBD. In my experience, research and the feedback I’ve gotten from the many users, a full spectrum CBD oil, rather than a purified oil, may offer more healing benefits, as it contains some terpenes and other cannabinoids removed in the purification process.
Since carrying the Luce Farm products, many companies have reached out to me to carry their line.
Honestly, every conversation has confirmed that Luce Farm was the best decision I could have made.
Many are simply repackaging oil they’ve purchased from other suppliers. I’ve also seen companies switch sources in a hasty manner, not possibly putting in the research to make sure it’s the best quality, but in an effort to label it “local.”
That’s just not what I put on the shelves here.
I buy from the farmers, the ones putting in the hard work, the ones passionate about their product and handling it responsibly and why I couldn’t be happier that Luce Farm is among them.
The second token was hidden in the Blessings Box (now called the Little Food Pantry) located next to the library. I was hopeful to bring attention to the box itself, as it’s such a great way to gather our community together in support of each other.
Any time, day or night, you can drop off nonperishable food items, or perhaps a toy or a pair of mittens, for a neighbor to be able to enjoy, too.
I’ve checked it out every day since I hid it, and every day there seems to be different items inside. It’s pretty exciting to be a part of a community where we work together like this.
Here were the clues:
Clue #1: A Gerry and the Pacemakers song
This was Ferry Cross the Mersey. The token was hidden somewhere on Ferry Street. I particularly liked one line from the song, though, and while it wasn’t part of the clue, it seemed fitting:
People around every corner
They seem to smile and say
We don't care what your name is boy
We'll never turn you away
Clue #2: A Shakira song
This was the one, I think, tricked everyone the most, sending everyone in different directions. I had some certain it was Old Saratoga Eyecare, because she has a song called Eyes.
She also has a song called Bicicleta, but nope, it wasn’t on the fantastically bright bikes we have in the village.
The song that fit the clue was Todos Juntos, which she sings with Dora the Explorer. I added an extra hint, saying to ‘explore’ more Shakira songs.
As it turns out, Shakira also has a song called Explore Islands. Oops!
Todos Juntos has some wonderfully appropriate words to lead to the Blessings Box:
Things are much better when we do it together,
We can help each other when we work together,
Everything’s better when we do it all them as one
There comes a time we all understand,
When we could use the helping hand,
One who believe we could reach for the stars,
Things are much better when we do it together,
We can help each other if we work together,
Everything’s better when we do it all them as one
Clue #3: A Frank Loesser song
This was Baby, It’s Cold Outside, because the token was outside.
Clue #4: A Malvina Reynolds song
This song is Little Boxes. It seemed too easy of a hint at the time, but again, she has several songs to send you on a wild goose chase, like The New Restaurant, Black Horse, Mailman Blues, Street Corner Blues….
I added an extra hint, when I said to weed through her songs. Little Boxes is the theme song to the TV show Weeds, and even threw in an extra $5 token.
Clue #5: A Martina McBride song
She sings a song called Blessed. I thought together, with Little Boxes, we’d have a winner. Nope.
Not wanting to add yet another singer to send everyone in yet another direction, I went with a photo clue. I took the picture in front of the box and posted it, hoping the nice sidewalks were enough to give it away, and directed everyone to Instagram to view it.
Clue #6 A song entitled, "I'm standing right in front of it in the picture on the OSM Instagram.”
Finally! We have a winner!
Know your roots.
It’s printed on the back of the business cards here at Old Saratoga Mercantile, but it’s more than a catchphrase.
It was one of the driving forces in deciding to open the store.
I want to know where my food comes from. Was it grown or raised here by my neighbor, using the same practices I would use? Or did it come from a giant commercial operation, using sprays or methods to unnaturally, but with a much higher profit, plump up the product? Was it tossed in a truck to make a thousand-mile journey before it landed, weeks later, on my plate?
I think a lot of people want to know, too, but don’t have the time to do the research.
Most people can’t walk through the grocery store and read every label, google every farm name, research countries of origin before you determine your purchase.
I can, though, do research on our local farmers and producers. I can visit their farms, sample their foods, meet their families, talk to others who use their product—and when I’m done, I’ve compiled the beginnings of my inventory list here at Old Saratoga Mercantile.
It’s been almost four weeks since I put that open flag up, and I’ve got a growing list of local vendors who I’m lucky enough to have met and secure their goods. Here’s what we’ve got today, I’ll continue to update everyone as we naturally grow, just like the food we offer here.
Cake by Alissa
Noelle Jackson Soaps
Pleasant Valley Farm
Battenkill Valley Creamery
Earthly Remedies by Erin
Argyle Cheese Farmer
Klein's Kill Fruit Farm
Goose Island Potatoes
4 Grove Candles
Saratoga Peanut Butter
Second Chance Fibers
Rupert’s Rising Breads