Winter growing is a challenge for northeast farmers but a visit to NOFA-NY Certified Organic Farm in Claryville New York in mid-January demonstrates that it can be done and done well. Kate and Conor Crickmore are meticulous farmers and surprisingly Conor declared emphatically that aesthetics was a “very important part of the operation.” Maybe it’s Conor’s background as a restaurant owner in New York City rather than his commitment to the USDA regulated details of growing organic food that prompted this comment. But one would have to agree, that in spite of the long-term belief that organic food might not look as good as conventionally grown food, when it comes to marketing your product “aesthetics” does matter.
“It all ties in together anyhow” said Conor. Methods of harvesting, proper packaging, labeling, getting produce to market so that it is beautiful also reflects the care that goes into growing food “on a human scale”. Nothing at Neversink Farm is overreaching in scale or volume, yet Neversink offers diversity of products that the Crickmores are developing slowly and carefully paying strict attention to National Organic Practices (NOP).
Growing under-cover in hoop houses are an important part of Neversink’s year-round operation. In summer, it is cucumbers and tomatoes “They must have even heat” says Conor, “to develop a sweet juicy flavor.” And with his restaurant background, one can see that flavorful food is what it is all about, from his slower, growing meat chickens and heritage breed layers to the stunning Tansworth pigs that add to the farm’s diversity and manure source.
Employing a “stacking of functions” the Neversink poultry flock prepares the ground in the high tunnel for early spring planting. In the warm weather the poultry are truly free ranging guarded against predators by two donkeys who are kept primarily for their contributions to soil fertility.
The winter crop consists of mixed salad greens, including Mizuna and Tatzoi which are put into rotation with spinach and lettuce in the greenhouse beds. The greens are delivered in “just picked” condition, washed, nicely packaged (with a gold label) to specialty food stores and restaurants in the area.
The greenhouse crop varies as the months progress into spring taking advantage of the natural course of the sun in fall and winter. Neversink CSA subscribers, retailers and farmers market customers were also treated in late fall to greenhouse grown carrots. Conor remarked that “no carrots or potatoes are left” so storage is not presently a problem. Everthing is kept to scale with appropriate yields for the season’s demands and marketing opportunities, remembering their motto “Human Scale Sustainable Agriculture.”
For more information and to appreciate the diversity of this outstanding organic farm please visit the Neversink Farm website where you may find information on food events, farm tours and CSA subscription as well as more insight into the philosophy that inspires “beautiful” organic farming which goes much deeper than appearance.