The idea for these summer farm tours started a long time ago, when my husband and I began baking bread for farmers markets in 2004, meeting farmers and enjoying their fresh wares, while simultaneously learning more about the toxins that are an inarguable by-product of our industrialized food-system. As the years progressed, we asked questions, soaked up everything we could, and when we joined the Saturday Delmar Farmer’s Market in 2009, finally had the opportunity to make some lasting connections with farmers.
Last year, we visited our primary farming partners for our Farm to Bakery/Cafe, Jon and DJ of Farmer Jon’s Produce in Selkirk, NY, every week from June to October. They often met us at their farm stand, surrounded by their fields, and walked us through each plot talking to us about soil, weather, weeds, seeds, marketing, money and life. They showed us how to pick sweet baby corn and Roma tomatoes, basil, broccoli and Swiss chard, and inspired a keen interest in learning more about how our food is produced, what exactly is in it and how it might affect our family’s bodies. Our daughter got her feet and hands into our farmers’ well-cultivated soil (free from pest/herbicides/GMOs) and like us, developed a love for picking and trying new foods often raw, right off the vine.
We learned that the seasonal food available to us in Upstate NY during Autumn, with cool weather greens, hearty squashes, Brussels sprouts, garlic, potatoes and other tubers, mushrooms, herbs, eggs, meats, grains, and dairy, is geared to helping our bodies sustain long, cold winters that often last six months up here. Spring food consists of rhubarb, strawberries, lighter lettuces, kale, vitamin green, bok choy, tatsoi, mushrooms, kohlrabi, scallions, broccoli, fennel, asparagus and baby carrots, meant to flush out the system so we can enjoy the bounty of summer without feeling bogged down by winter consumptions. Melons, peaches, nectarines, berries, apples, sweet corn, radishes, squashes, fresh herbs, cucumbers, beets, carrots, sweet and green peppers, onions, tomatoes, cauliflower and potatoes (Adirondack reds and blues) take the sting of sweat away from a hot summer’s day with cool picnic fare.
The more we talk to our farming friends, the more we learn – and the more we eat. Our farmers take care of us. They throw in an extra quart of potatoes or give us unsold basil at the end of our weekly market, offer low prices on bulk seconds and barter vegetables or grass-fed/pastured meats and cheese with us for bread or pastries. I think they know how appreciative we are and they feel good about feeding our family (and our customers) Clean, Real Food, which is a big responsibility to take on, but they are as passionate as we are.
We remain inspired to learn as much as we can about the food we eat and our family’s education continues with a wider range of farmers with whom our bakery/café and Farmers Market have brought us in contact. We’ve profiled Meadowbrook Farms Dairy so far, our first seasonal visit this year to Farmer Jon’s Produce is the second installment of our Summer Good-Clean-Food Tour, here and near Albany, NY.
Farmers: Jon Audietis & DJ Stacey
Location: Selkirk and Coeymans, NY
# Acres: 43 (in 4 fields, including Tinhorn Farm’s pig/chicken pastures)
# Employees: None, except family members and crop mobs arranged with locals
In Business Since: 2008
Farmer Jon’s: A very wide range of fresh, responsibly raised vegetables
Tinhorn: Pastured pork/eggs/broilers
Saturday Delmar Farmers Market (332 Kenwood Ave., 9-1, June – December)
Farmstand (9W and Wemple Rd., open dawn till dusk in season, honor system/$ drop box)
On July 2, we made the 20 minute drive out 9W to Coeymans to visit the home of DJ Stacey, half of the farming duo known around here simply as “Farmer Jon’s”. Three to four acres of his personal land are dedicated to vegetable and melon growing, the other roughly eight acres are reserved for pastured pigs and chickens.
We had the opportunity to while away the better part of a hot afternoon talking to DJ about his history and philosophy of farming, and touring the land he and Jon cultivate. DJ comes from a farming family: His mom Judy just recently retired from her 30 year position as Albany’s Head City Gardener. His grandmother was an avid grower who had her own restaurant where she used her own produce, DJ regularly helping her in the field and kitchen through the years. His parents were self-described hippies who grew most of their own food and used homemade, plant-based medicinal remedies. Everything was grown using Permaculture ideals. DJ met his wife, Carrie Gordon, when they were 17 in the AmeriCorps program, and shared a passion for learning how to commercially produce and make a decent living from sustainable farming.
Carrie got her Agronomy Degree at SUNY Cobleskill, commuting an hour each way, while pregnant and helping farm their property, and they also worked together for a year at Basic Farm in Westerlo to learn organic farming methods. DJ wound up running the AmeriCorps team in charge of the Harvest For The Hungry Garden while Carrie eventually became the Albany Community Gardens Coordinator in the Mansion/Grand Street district near downtown Albany. Carrie ran the program until ACG was merged with Troy Community Gardens, to form what is now called Capital District Community Gardens (a program that is innovative, popular and thrives to this day). Carrie became pregnant again a few years later (they have two children), and was therefore unable to help contribute as much labor in the fields, so they switched to raising eggs and broilers, then rabbits and firewood.
After a few years of hard labor supporting a thriving firewood business, DJ blew out his back and the kids were getting older, so the Stacey family (after a break) began raising pastured pigs and growing vegetables again on the land they currently have inhabited for 15 years. Movable electric fences (which provide a psychological boundary and a deterrent to predators) direct the pigs to rotating pastures planted with Sudan grass, two annual ryes, oats and rape. They root up Native American arrowheads, wallow in the mud pit under a huge willow tree, take shade in new huts in the pasture, return to the pig house for shelter, need affection and to be talked to (DJ says they’re smarter than dogs), and as Katie found out, like their backs scratched with a stick! Early summer is piglet season and DJ has about 58 as of this writing! Several his Highland Japanese girls – Nubbins, Marshmallow, Mini, Sugar and Cleo – have recently given birth. DJ sells his pork mostly to families looking to stock up their freezers for the season. Visit Tinhorn Farms Facebook page for more information, DJ will be happy to give you prices if you’re in the area and interested. The thick bacon and perfectly spiced chorizo he and his butcher create are out of this world.
We checked out DJ’s baby chicks with the kiddo for an hour (he’ll soon be offering pastured eggs and Japanese black-boned broilers called “Wuji” or “Silkies” – he says a strong broth made from their bones can be used a potent healer), then headed over to Jon’s residence just a bit farther down 9W past Wemple Rd. where he has 4-5 acres of a huge variety of produce growing, and a giant greenhouse with a solar-powered misting bench for greens, early tomatoes, zucchini and a whole host of seedlings.
The Stacey family began to partner with Farmer Jon, also a lifelong grower, in 2008. Even farmers get grumpy, and with several good reasons: Malfunctioning equipment, too dry or wet weather, deer, pests (flea beetles this year), poor harvests, never-ending work in-season, not enough work out of season (I imagine there are a plethora of other examples), so although Jon was on the farm he wasn’t much in the mood to talk. I profiled him a bit a couple of years ago in an aborted-blog-effort to help promote the farm (we just got too busy trying to build up the bakery but we still visited every week and posted lots of pictures on our Facebook page which thankfully did result in more business for them). He grew up on a dairy farm and since partnering with DJ, has converted to sustainable farming practices. Right now, he’s working on a Solar powered tractor and together they take care of the fields with watering, moderate weeding, planting, picking, managing the farm stand and Saturday Delmar Farmers Market, and keeping an eye on those flea beetles.
Weeding and tilling by tractor requires precision.
“Healthy vegetables are a byproduct of healthy soil.”
Jon and DJ use only non-GMO seeds from Johnny’s Selected Seeds and FedCo. They only spray their fields, which haven’t seen pesticides in 15 years, with fish emulsion and kelp. They use unsold/overripe fruits and vegetables as compost on the fields, rotate crops as a pest deterrent, plant cover crops to return micronutrients to the soil, and let fields lay fallow when necessary. The farm stand fields are laying unplanted for 6-8 weeks now so the soil can rest, then buckwheat or sunflowers will be grown, which break disease/pest cycles and promote optimal soil health. Nothing gets planted in the same field twice each season, and Jon & DJ follow rigorous rotating schedules in order to ensure the soil provides optimum nutrients and a minimum of pests. As you may be gathering, taking care of the soil is top priority for these farmers.
This year, they are growing: green beans, garlic, sugar snap peas, red peppers, 11 varieties of broccoli, carrots, red Brussels sprouts, cucumbers, bok choi, tatsoi, vitamin green, tomatoes, basil, celeriac, kale, kohlrabi, parsley, New Zealand spinach, a variety of squashes (yellow summer, zucchini, pumpkins, patty pan), Swiss chard, Chinese Napa cabbage, amaranth (quinoa), eggplant, sweet corn, sunflowers, and new experiments with barley, wheat and rye (thanks to a new grinder), some of which we hope to use in the bakery.
WHY DO YOU FARM SUSTAINABLY?
DJ’s answer to this is succinct: “Because I don’t know any other way.” We’ve been on the receiving end of his impassioned viewpoint on more than one occasion, so I know he cares that the food he’s growing/raising is produced according to his rigorous, sometimes stubborn, standards (yay for stubborn sustainable farmers!). This way of life allows him to be his own boss and to adapt to his family’s changing needs. He and his family clearly love and are totally engaged with what they are doing, and they never stop educating themselves (and others). DJ takes the lumps that come with farming and the glory of bountiful harvest with the same practical outlook of a man who has had his fair share of both over the years.
These guys can never resist goofing off with each other when I ask for photos. I’ve been told farmers don’t pose!
KATIE’S QUESTION: “Can I Pick That?”
Over and over again, she asked! This question, and the enthusiasm with which it was offered, warms my aging/overworked cockles more than I can adequately express in print. Our farmers recognize the importance of the early introduction of fresh foods in a child’s life, and gladly bend down to give careful picking instructions and other tidbits of information, shoulder to shoulder in the sun…an experience I hope won’t soon be forgotten by either of them (or us). Our child is excited about fresh food, our farmers are patient and knowledgeable and the bounty is clean – a winning combination that drives our family to pursue more relationships of this nature. The dividends have wide-ranging, positive effects on us personally as a family, for the livelihood of our neighbors, community and environment, and our mental, spiritual and physical health.
I hope this post inspires YOU to make connections with the responsible food producers in your area. Get out there and grow, pick, preserve, cook and eat some good, clean, local foods! The memories you create will come back to you, making your family meals infinitely more sweet and satisfying.
The goal, for us, is to help provide a long, robust life for our little peach.