On October 1, farmers and local food businesses around the Harlem Valley joined together to host the first ever Farm Day. The collaborative event was held in four locations, each boasting its own attractions, from hay rides, to craft markets, to petting zoos, to farm tours. There was no lack of great food options at each farm.
Upon visiting any of the participating farms, customers were given an area map highlighting four destinations: Locust Hill Market and Hoofprint Cheese Company, JSK Cattle Company, Soukup Farms, and Brookby Dairy. If a stop at one of these area farm stores was not incentive enough on its own, each store held a raffle and a special prize was given to anyone able to check out every farm on the tour.
A New Trend in Farming
The five hosts – all local, family-owned agriculture businesses – recently teamed up to form the Harlem Valley Farm and Food Alliance (HVFFA). The group’s goal is to raise awareness for the direct-marketing local food businesses that have been springing up in the Harlem Valley over the last couple of years. Each of the five businesses is a new farm enterprise, even if some of them are working on land inherited from their families. Older farm businesses, which were often dependent on commodity crop prices and in competition for affordable land against the residential real estate market, have been disappearing for years in New York. Beginning farmers today usually opt to market at least some of their products directly to end customers, and so rely on their nearby communities to take notice and shop local.
Shoppers have good reason to be excited by this trend. At the first stop on the HVFFA Farm Day tour, Locust Hill Market and Hoofprint Cheese Company – located on the same property in Millbrook – welcomed visitors to sample Hoofprint’s goat’s cheese paired with local herbs and oils. A cheese making demonstration, afternoon milking, and paint-your-own-pumpkin were among the activities during the day. Sisters Amanda and Katelyn, who run the businesses with their husbands, grew up on a farm in Millbrook and are keeping the family tradition alive. They started both businesses in 2015.
Next stop was JSK Cattle Company. Run by husband and wife team Jason and Heather Kading, the farm pasture raises Angus beef cattle and sells both 100% grass-fed or grain-finished beef as butchered cuts from their on-farm store, in bulk, and through a meat community supported agriculture (CSA) program, which gives customers a discount for buying in bulk upfront, but allows for monthly pickups. The Kadings also raise and sell pork, chicken, turkey, and eggs.
Maple syrup producer Soukup Farms in Dover Plains opened its doors as the third stop on the Farm Day tour. Jennifer and Mark Soukup have been integral to the launch of HVFFA. After hosting some well-attended farm events, such their third annual Harvest Festival on October 21 – 22, they realized that small local farms, which primarily market directly to their customers, depend on agri-tourism for success. They hope the cooperation between farmers in HVFFA will encourage more and more people to target the Harlem Valley when they visit our region.
Brookby Dairy, the last stop on the Farm Day tour, hosted several local food and craft vendors. Their farm store, which opened in Dover Plains in 2016, offers raw milk – a rare treat that is hard to find even in the Hudson Valley, a former dairy stronghold – from their small, mixed-breed herd of pastured dairy cows. The Vincent family, which has owned and operated the farm for over 150 years, led Farm Day visitors on a tour of their barn and facilities, and demonstrated their milking process in the afternoon.
Harlem Valley Farm Day was a rare opportunity to meet the farmers and entrepreneurs who are trying to take advantage of the growing interest in local and sustainably raised food. Area residents will be grateful to note that all of these farm stores operate year-round, so there is no need to wait until the next Farm Day to check them out.
To keep track of all five alliance farms, visit their Facebook page @HarlemValleyFarmandFoodAlliance.