Editor’s Post: ‘Community Voices’ Contributor, Emily L of Capital District Dining Blog, is back with a terrific farm tour of The Berry Patch! We get our berries from The Berry Patch for many of our FSC Academy classes, so I’m very excited that Emily got a chance to have a personal tour! -Christina
I work at a museum in northern Berkshire county, and I live in Albany. I am always on the hunt for good food options that fit in with my long daily commute. Last year, we had a CSA share at Shaker Mountain Canning Co. (which is unfortunately no longer in business). I was on my way to pick up our CSA share, when I was trying to figure out what we were going to serve for dessert to our good friends we were having over for dinner that night. The male part of the couple has a pie obsession, and as I was pondering the options I saw a big “Fresh pies!” sign. I pretty much did a U-turn right then and grabbed me some of that pie. It went over great, but what was even better was that I discovered a great farm store where I could buy all kinds of things.
I thought it would be fun to go visit the farm and let you all in on a behind-the-scenes tour. The Berry Patch , also known as Stone Wall Hill Farm, LLC is a first generation family farm run by the wife/husband team of Dale Riggs and Don Miles. Don works as an Environmental Health Scientist with the NYS Department of Health (so that they have health insurance), and Dale works 120 hours a week (even if she has to be in the fields until 8:30 pm she still has to be back out there at 6am the next morning). Don helps out at the farm store on the weekends while Dale sells their produce at the Troy Waterfront Farmer’s Market on Saturdays and the Lebanon Valley Market on Sundays (at the corner of Routes 20 and 22 in New Lebanon, NY). Dale has help in the form of college kids, a high school kid, a local woman who works part-time, and some agricultural workers on H-2A Visas from Guatemala. One thing that seemed clear to me was that all the products I enjoy so much from the farm store take an enormous amount of work and expertise to produce. She said the whole place started out just as a corn field, and that the whole enterprise was in fact from-scratch farming. I felt really grateful for all the work that goes into producing the ingredients for me to make my delicious summer gazpachos and cucumber salads.
On my tour, I learned a lot about agricultural methods and the diverse varieties of products the farm grows. Dale wrote a guide about growing pumpkins that Cornell University still uses. Pumpkins are one of their specialties, and they were already looking great in the field.
At the Berry Patch, they plant several plantings of the same type of vegetables at different times so that broccoli doesn’t just come in at one time – it comes in throughout the season. This was the same with arugula, other lettuces, tomatoes, and strawberries. At the Berry Patch, they have all kinds of ways to extend the growing season and the availability of certain types of produce. They have both heated (for tomatoes) and unheated (lots of lettuces) greenhouses, and this makes it so they’ll have a great selection deep in the autumn.
I loved getting to see some of the baby lettuces that I will probably be able to purchase in a few months.
I also learned unfortunately about the spotted wing fruit fly which inserts itself into not-yet-ripe fruit, and makes it so you end up with maggots in your berries. Dale has some traps going with a syrup of yeast, sugar, and water throughout the raspberry crops, but this pest is a real problem in farms in New York State right now.
At the Berry Patch they do not grow root vegatables. There are other things they sell at the Farm Store that are not produced on site, like: maple syrup (Dale’s brother makes it), local honey (delicious), the pie mentioned above (a woman in Columbia County makes them and also sells them at the Schenectady Greenmarket on the weekends), and other items including the fruit that she gets from trees in Columbia County (this fruit is used in the pies).
They do however grow many things, including: 18 varieties of melon, 4 kinds of broccoli and cauliflower (Romanesco, purple, yellow, green), 12 varieties of lettuce, 7 varieties of eggplant, 35 varieties of tomatoes, 18 varieties of sunflowers, kale, and “the best tasting” collards (according to one enthusiastic customer). Here is the Romanesco cauliflower, which I found quite beautiful.
They also grow 18 varieties of pumpkins and 18 varieties of winter squash. Dale said Rumbo squash is really tasty. She said that while people think acorn and butternut squash are the tastiest types of squash, she thinks that many other types they grow there are far tastier. And of course, they also grow blueberries, raspberries, and strawberries.
Some important take home points:
- If you’d like a larger amount of some of their produce for the purposed of jam or preserving you can call them ahead time at, 518-733-6772, and they can bring as much as you need to the Troy’s Waterfront Farmer’s Market. They would not just bring a huge excess as it would go bad if they brought more than they sold, but they are totally willing to bring more.
- They are looking to hire a farm manager. They want someone who knows what a strawberry plant looks like, and can handle the farm store.
- They have a CSA program that is a “Free Choice Farm Share”. Depending on when you purchase it in the year you get a certain percentage off your produce purchases, but you get to choose what you want. They have this arrangement both at the market and at the farm store, At the farm store farm share holders can purchase other products like the pies, maple syrup, and honey as well as the products grown at the farm. I think this sounds like a great deal, as our enthusiasm for a CSA last year sort of waned in connection with our consumption of dandelion greens.
- What a great place with such delicious produce and nice people. Thank you so much to Dale Riggs for given me a really informative and fun behind-the-scenes tour!