Every time I run across Pete Taliaferro he’s covered in dirt. Good dirt. Farm dirt. Dirt in his hair. On his weather-lined face. Under his fingernails. Boots, jeans, work-shirt — covered in good old New Paltz Plains Road dirt. He reminds me of my own kid who has a 20-acre working CSA farm in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Western North Carolina. Every time I go visit him he’s covered in that loamy red Carolina dirt. You see, it’s all about authenticity. Dirt is authentic. Working in it is authentic. Farming is authentic. Not agri-business. Not boutique farming. Not gardening. Farming. Just farming. No trust fund here. No part-time farming. No gentleman farming. Just farming and all that implies. For Taliaferro, like with my son in Carolina, it is all-or-nothing. And I guess if you have that calling, that is all it should be.
Taliaferro, raised in Stormville and then Highland/New Paltz, was born to it, starting in the “ag industry when I was 13. I always had a passion for gardening and worked with my father in his garden, then with my uncle in his greenhouse,” says Taliaferro.
There the young burgeoning farmer mixed soils and helped both his father and uncle grow vegetables to feed their families. He grew up “dirt poor” (the family used an outhouse) and after his father was killed at 33 in an auto accident, forcing his mother — at age 26 and with three kids (Pete was the oldest, his youngest brother was born three days after his father’s funeral) — to move the family across the river to Ulster County.
He first worked at the little Villas that were embedded in Southern Ulster, those little enclaves of Italian culture in and around Highland, Marlboro and Modena. “But then I started helping a guy with his farm, planting and plowing,” says Taliaferro. He was 14.
Working through high school, he was driving a truck to the early weekend New York Green Markets, selling the farm’s produce at stands over the mountain in Napanoch, at the vegetable auction in Milton and loving every minute of it.
Taliaferro then got a job with Crist Brothers in Walden as an operator in their orchards, working his way up to general manager during his time at Dutchess Community College in the engineering program. “But I hated the academic grind,” he says. “I’m a hands-on guy, a problem-solver, so I left college and stayed at Crist’s for six years. It was 600 acres of apples. A top-notch operation where I learned a shit-load of stuff about organization and was involved with a lot of inventive things, how to improvise, look at things from all angles. But I wanted my own farm and didn’t know how I’d ever get it. I had good social skills, and after my early years of family turmoil, I finally had some stability with a family of my own.”