Business has never been better for Joe and Laura Aiello, longtime Glasco residents whose passion for growing vegetables snowballed into Mangia Bene Farm, for three years a mainstay of the Saugerties Farmers Market. Yet as the Aiellos steadily increase acres under cultivation and add new products to their business, looking ahead, they’re certain the days of abundant cheap food are numbered.
“People are going to have to learn again about what it means to eat food that’s in season,” says Joe. “Also, I can tell you for a fact the climate is changing. Why it’s changing is a question better left to the scientists. And in addition to the longer, earlier heat this year, broken only by produce-pounding downpours, I’m seeing a new orange fungus.”
Aiello said all the area farmers who were not flooded out by Irene later experienced crop blights. He attributes that to non-indigenous pathogens transported by extreme weather patterns such as tropical storms. He hasn’t spent any time researching what the orange fungus might be – that’s the kind of indoor activity he reserves for the winter – but he knows it’s new, and unwelcome in his beds.
“Our normal farm fungi are white or green. This new orange one affects everything and it dries extremely powdery,” describes the farmer.
It’s not just the record-setting heat and heartland drought conditions that have pushed corn and soybean prices to new heights that’s making Joe apprehensive about the food supply writ large. It’s that most consumers are on “a total disconnect as to where their food really comes from, and what it takes in terms of labor, water, and fuel to get it onto grocery store shelves,” says Joe.
Farmer & philosopher
You see, Joe Aiello isn’t just a farmer. He’s become something of a food-supply philosopher. He modestly claims that’s an inevitable consequence of having one’s hands in the dirt every day and keeping over 100 chickens, 25 ducks, rabbits, and pigs. The meat and poultry they sell is professionally processed by a USDA-certified slaughterhouse. He’s deeply disturbed by his anthropological field observations of the modern American relationship to victuals.
“We Americans have been taking it all for granted. The food supply is very fragile!” says Joe. “Deep inside, I’m really afraid, because there are 19 million people in New York State and we can only feed six million. New York City has only a three-day food supply.”
The Aiellos both grew up in working-class Italian families in which foraging and growing food was an economic necessity. So, also, was learning how to cook with expertise. Convenience foods and eating out weren’t an option. The Aiellos began gardening together as newlyweds living in a rented apartment in Glasco, near where they now own a home. Their landlord was delighted to let them take over his neglected garden in exchange for some homegrown eggplant, etc. Laura says this shared interest has always been an especially happy part of their long, comfortable marriage. To her, being a capable gardener and an adept cook is part of being a thrifty, self-reliant, responsible wife and mother. She’s following in the footsteps of her mother and grandmother.