Unadilla silt loam: It’s a mysterious-sounding tongue-twister of words to the uninitiated, but to Nick Cipollone, president of the Rondout Valley Growers’ Association (RVGA), it has everything to do with the future of farming in the Hudson Valley.
Unadilla silt loam is prime farmland soil, he explains, unique to the Rondout Valley and one of the reasons that the RVGA promotes preserving the land there for agriculture. “Millions of years of glacial activity deposited all this beautiful topsoil in the Rondout Valley that is wonderful for growing sweet corn and vegetables,” he says. “The fact that these soils are here provides an opportunity for farming to occur here.”
It’s important for people to know that, Cipollone adds, “so they’re not ‘ho-hum’ about a Wal-Mart built on top of a 50-acre piece of beautiful farmland.” Save the commercial development for places where you can’t do anything else with the land, he advises.
And while the future of farming in the Hudson Valley depends on preserving the land for agriculture, there’s another piece to that puzzle, according to Cipollone: You need to have farmers to work that land. “To have farmers, you need to have young people that want to do farming; and to have that, you have to be able to make a living at it,” he says. “For young people who don’t have a family generational farm business, for them to get into farming? The capital requirement it takes to buy land and tractors is unbelievable.”
And even for those like Cipollone who did grow up in a farm family, the path is far from easy. “I never thought I’d do this,” he says. “I have two Bachelor degrees, and I thought I’d be a teacher or an investment banker. But I did ten years in the corporate world and decided it wasn’t for me.” Farming means long hours and hard work, he says, but he’s glad now that he made the decision to come back into it. “If you can make a living, it’s very rewarding.”
As part of its mission, The Rondout Valley Growers’ Association works toward making farming possible for future generations of farmers that “we’re all going to need,” says Cipollone. “We all like to eat food, but somebody has to grow it.” And if we have to buy it from China or Chile, he adds, you don’t know what they’re doing or how they’re doing it. “But you can come to my farm and other farms around the area and we’ll tell you exactly how we’re growing it. I think that’s pretty valuable.”
Cipollone also serves on the board of the Ellenville Chamber of Commerce, the Greater Wawarsing Local Development Corporation and the Sullivan Wawarsing Rural Economic Area Partnership. Cipollone’s family farm history began when his grandfather, George Barthel, and Barthel’s father-in-law, George Rode (pronounced “roadie”), established Bar-Ro Acres, naming their new venture by taking parts of both of their surnames. There was a double meaning in choosing a name that sounded like “borrow,” says Cipollone: The two Georges rented, leased and borrowed land to farm on for many years – “probably upwards of about 800 acres at their peak.” But after Barthel purchased a 350-acre farm in Kerhonkson and one of his major customers went bankrupt without paying him, that meant the end of that.
By the 1980s, the family was farming the land directly behind where Barthel’s Farm Market is located today. That parcel is no longer available for farming, having been commercially developed; so today they farm in Accord, on land purchased in 1999 by Cipollone’s stepfather, Gary Sachetti, and his mother, Roxanne Barthel Sachetti (George Barthel’s daughter). The farm is run by Cipollone and Sachetti. The farmstand is managed by Roxanne and Cipollone’s fiancée, Rebecca Rosado.
Barthel’s Farm Market offers a variety of homemade pies and other baked goods, along with fresh produce from the farm in Accord. While George Barthel primarily farmed sweet corn and potatoes (crops grown on larger pieces of land), today the family concentrates on growing vegetables. The land originally was a nursery farm, with trees and shrubs growing that they continue to dig up and sell, making room for more vegetable land as they go. “It’s been kind of an ongoing process over the past five years or so,” says Cipollone.
What was once a spring and summertime venture is now active most months of the year, April through December. They open in early spring with nursery stock and greenhouse products; then, after the summer produce growing season is over, they sell pumpkins and homemade cider in the fall and Christmas trees in December.
And that new sign outside Barthel’s Farm Market? Regular customers will know that the family has used a similar “man-in-the-sun” image for years, but may not realize that the friendly face on the sun beaming back at them from the new sign is painted to resemble the features of George Barthel. The sign’s designer, Maria Reidelbach of the Corn Cow Company in Accord, suggested giving the sun features that would resemble someone special to the family. “Now it’s a nice homage to my grandfather,” says Cipollone, “who kept the farm going through some very rough times so that we can farm today.”
George Barthel is remembered by those outside the family as an enthusiastic supporter of the community, the longest-serving Ulster County legislator, a chairman of March of Dimes and a deacon and elder at his church. The new “George-in-the-Sun” design is featured on tee-shirts, sweatshirts and colorful baseball hats at the farmstand.