When I visited Patroon Land Farm on its cold, windy hilltop behind the Helderberg escarpment, I was struck by how impermanent it all seemed. Half-plowed fields were still waiting for a string of warm days for planting to begin. It’s hard to believe that this scruffy collection of buildings and just five employees could produce over 450,000 pounds of produce for the Northeast Regional Food Bank since 2006.
The project began when Pauline Williman placed her family’s 162 acre farm in a land trust and began producing food for the food bank on her own. In 2006 the Patroon Land Foundation and the Food Bank became partners and hired Mark Weinheimer, a professional farm manager. The partner’s vision was to create a sustainable farm that would supply fresh produce to the food bank, educate community volunteers, and create an income stream through the sale of CSA (community supported agriculture) shares. In CSAs, consumers pay for their weekly share of the harvest in advance and share in the bounty (and the risks) of the farm.
According to Mark, the CSA had 450 shares last year and expects to sell 600 in 2014. Most of the farm shares are delivered to members who work in NY State office buildings but a small percentage of shareholders stop by the farm to pick up their produce every week. Popular items that can’t be grown in the rocky hilltop soil are sourced from other like-minded farms — corn from Barber’s farm in Middleburgh and carrots from Schoharie Valley Farms.
Mark and I looked out across the empty fields. It was mid May and the wind was brisk. “We have a bunch of volunteers coming tomorrow and I hope it doesn’t rain,” he said. It’s been too cold and wet to plant so far and the greenhouse is bursting. He pointed out the flats of larger vegetables waiting outside the greenhouse for planting. “Hardening them off?” I asked, trying to sound knowledgeable. “Not by choice,” he said, and shook his head.
The next day, when I stopped by to take pictures under towering clouds and warm, humid air, the place was humming with volunteers transplanting seedlings in the greenhouse and working on a road project. If you’re looking to join a farm CSA, your membership in Patroon Creek Farm will not only feed your family but many others by supporting the work of the Regional Food Bank of Northeastern New York.