Local grower appointed chair of New York Apple Association board of directors

Three generations of the Dressel family — Rod Jr., Sarah and Rod Sr. (Photo by Julie O’Connor)

Sarah Dressel of New Paltz’s Dressel Farms was recently appointed chairperson of the board of directors for the New York Apple Association (NYAA). She first joined the board in 2016 and last year was its vice-chair.

The NYAA represents approximately 694 commercial apple growers across New York State, who produce more than one billion pounds of apples annually, second only to Washington State. The organization exists to promote the consumption of apples grown in New York.

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The funding to promote state apples and apple products is accomplished through the Apple Marketing Order (AMO), created as a marketing tool by an alliance of growers in 1959. New York State commercial apple producers pay into the AMO through the state Department of Agriculture and Markets (NYSDAM). The New York Apple Association is charged with expending those funds on the apple industry’s behalf. The advantage of the association for apple growers is that it allows individual farms “to have a bigger voice in the industry,” says Dressel.

The NYAA’s board of directors is made up of 15 growers who represent six growing regions across the state. Directors are elected to three-year terms by growers in their district, and can serve two terms. The chairperson generally serves for one year.

According to NYAA’s president, Cynthia Haskins, the appointment of Dressel as chairperson of the board is a significant sign of women assuming leadership roles throughout the agricultural industry.

For her part, Dressel says she’s honored to represent and help lead the organization at a time in the apple industry when there is so much going on. “There are so many new varieties everybody is coming up with,” she notes. “There’s a big shift in marketing from the traditional print to digital, and social media has a much bigger impact now. There’s a lot of changing, moving parts, and we’re moving to keep up with the rest of the world.”

Dressel is a fourth-generation apple grower. Dressel Farms began with Sarah’s great-grandfather, Fred Dressel, who bought the farm in 1957 after being its foreman for more than 15 years. Together with his son, Roderick, Fred improved and grew the farm, and eventually Rod, Jr. would join the business after graduating from Cornell University.  

Today, the farm is run by three generations of Dressels, including Rod Sr., Rod Jr. and his wife, Debbie, and their children, Tim and Sarah, who both earned agricultural degrees from Cornell. (Their sister, Elizabeth, is preparing to go to grad school for chiropractic studies.)

Tim obtained a New York State license to produce and sell brut cider, which he hosts tastings for and sells at the orchard. He named the business “Kettleborough Cider House,” which was the original name of where the cidery now stands.

Sarah manages the horticultural aspects of her family’s farm along with the retail stand business and pick-your-own operations. Post-graduation from Cornell, she completed the Young Apple Leader program through USApple, a national version of the New York Apple Association, and she is active in a number of industry organizations in addition to NYAA.

Dressel is a member of the Hudson Valley Young Farmers Coalition and serves on the board of the Highland-based Hudson Valley Research Lab (HVRL), an independent 501(c)3 organization that partners with Cornell University’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. The group supports research benefitting commercial fruit and vegetable growers and protects the agricultural heritage of the Hudson Valley and Eastern New York. Dressel says it’s an advantage to have the caliber of scientists at the HVRL available as a resource so close to home, especially when problems with pest management or diseases in crops arise. 

Apple growers these days have to balance the traditional demands of farming along with keeping abreast of new technologies and advancements in the industry. Dressel recently toured apple-growing operations in New Zealand as a member of the International Fruit Tree Association. “Being in the Southern Hemisphere, their seasons are different than ours, so we were there just in time to see them start harvesting,” she says. “We stayed about ten days, touring around, and it was really interesting to see what they’re doing. They’re on smaller farms, typically, but their technological advances are really awesome. They’re pushing the limits on how many trees you can put in an acre, using different types of tractors and equipment to harvest, and they have different varieties [of apple] than we have.”

Dressel Farms grows nearly 30 different varieties of apples on 400 acres, if you count the handful of European and French varieties they grow for the hard cider, Dressel says. Their primary business is selling apples wholesale. But for locals and tourists, it’s the pick-your-own operations and year-round farm stand there that comes to mind when they think Dressel’s. Eight acres of land are devoted to strawberry beds, and the farm is also known for their peaches, pumpkins, cherries and blueberries, as well as great cider donuts and apple cider.

New these days is the closing of the soft-serve ice cream business and the launching of their own homemade hard ice cream, sold at the farm stand in small quarter-pints ($1.25) and pints ($5), with many of the flavors made using their own fruit. “We have a strawberry ice cream now,” says Dressel, “a peach and blueberry, and we’ll have apple when it’s that season.”

Dressel Farms is located at 271 State Route 208 in New Paltz. The roadside stand is open every day from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. For more information, call (845) 255-0693 or visit http://www.dresselfarms.com/. ++

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