Hurd’s Family Farm in Modena, now into its seventh generation of farmers, keeps growing its agri-tourism business every year. It’s one of the most visited apple farms in the Hudson Valley, with hayrides and pick-your-own apples, pick-your-own pumpkins, a cow-train for kids, animals, a gigantic corn-maze, a historic barn that serves as its farm market, an apple slingshot, and the kids’ corral. Soon a recycled bus painted to look like a cow-on-wheels for the kids to scamper around in will be added to the attractions.
“We try to add something new every year, and when we were given that bus, my daughter said she’d paint it which is what she’s doing today, so it looks like a cow,” said Susan Hurd, the matriarch of the family who runs the Modena market and agri-tourism activities and events. Her husband Phil tends to the tree planting, trimming, wholesale apple and apple packaging plant in Clintondale. “It works well that way,” Susan said. “He plants the trees, takes care of the orchard and the whole-sale market while I host all of our wonderful visitors.”
According to her, half the clientele comes from the Hudson Valley and the other half from the metropolitan area. What began as a sawmill and corn farm in the 1840s has evolved into the multi-faceted farm that exists today, a destination spot for families, children, school visits, New York City folk, couples, seniors and just about everyone that loves to pick an apple off a tree, go on a hayride, and enjoy acres of orchards, woodlands, ponds, streams and eco-trails. The farm has a national wildlife certification. It also hosts several outdoor adventure events like the Rebel Race and Wild Cat race during the off-season.
“I’m always trying to encourage people to explore our eco-trails because we have such a variety of orchards and woods and ponds and pastures and the river,” said Susan Hurd. “Sure, everyone loves a hayride, but I love to see people enjoying the serenity of nature and taking their time to explore the beauty of the farm, which is much more expansive then most people realize.”
The Hurds are gearing up for the heart of their eco-tourism season which will continue every day until October 31 with various themed weekends like the “Apple of Our Eye” grandparents’ weekend and the “Intergenerational Outdoor Adventure Weekend,” plus a children’s arts-and-crafts weekend and a free fresh air concert on Labor Day hosting up-and-coming teen bands.
From 1880 to 1900 the farm grew mostly small fruits like currants, raspberries, strawberries and grapes. Susan pointed to a series of beautiful paintings that illustrate the history and evolution of the farm which the Hurds took over in the late nineteenth century.
“What’s interesting when we researched the history is that the women did most of the picking as you can see by the painting,” she said. Then, in the beginning of the twentieth century the Hurd family started growing the “larger” fruits — apples and pears — while continuing smaller crops of raspberries, strawberries, peaches etc..
In the 1990s, Susan and her two children (her son Charles, now 28, is the farm’s general manager) were picking pumpkins. The farm opened up to visitors on Columbus Day weekend in 1996. It proved a revelation.
“It was only one weekend but it was so popular and fun that I knew this was the direction we needed to go in,” she said. “We had this big beautiful old barn [now the farm market complete not only with all types of farm-products like maple syrup, jams and jellies, and apple-cake mixes but also farm-related puzzles, toys and games for families and kids] that I knew could be put to a great use. And it was and still is!”
By 2000 Susan, with the help of family members and upward of 60 employees during the heart of the season, had grown the family-fun part of the farm that particularly served the pre-school and elementary school visits. Each year’s addition of more components has helped keep the farm fresh and exciting for returning visitors.
In 2010, son Charles wanted to try some things that he was interested in. He began growing heritage vegetables like tomatoes and peppers and okra. They now sell their fresh produce and farm products at several farm markets.
They’ve also added more animals that kids can enjoy and learn about and feed including goats, a donkey, rabbits, chickens, ducks and sheep. “The kids love the animals,” she said, “and I just enjoy seeing kids or people of any age getting out and enjoying nature.”
They’ve also begun growing five acres of Christmas trees, part of a plan to have a building with a fireplace to extend their season into November and December. They’re planning more winter-themed products and events.
The Hurds have received awards for their farm, the most recent being named the 2012 tourism business of the year by the Ulster County Regional Chamber of Commerce. “It is undisputed that agriculture gives our county a big part of its ‘product,’” wrote Rick Remsnyder of Ulster County Tourism. “Our working landscapes provide bucolic beauty attracting visitors to the region and enhancing the quality of life for all.”
To learn more about Hurd Family Farm, go to www.HurdsFamilyFarm.com or pick up the phone and call 883-7825.