Golden moment: Pick your own sunflowers at Hudson Valley Cold Pressed Oils’ fields in Pleasant Valley

The Haight family. (Above, from left to right): Sunny the dog, Allison, Jeff, Delaney, Colin, John, Cheryl, Claudia, Kevin and Traci Haight. (Surprise Photography)

Kevin Haight founded Pleasant Valley’s Hudson Valley Cold Pressed Oils in 2014, though he had originally planned to produce biofuel. During a spike in diesel prices around 2012, he farmed lands purchased from the Robb brothers to grow sunflowers, which produce the highest seed-to-oil yield per beaker. But as the price of diesel fell, Kevin realized that he had produced something of much more interest: a pure, tasty oil for cooking, baking and general consumption. His brother Jeffrey, as well as his wife, fellow Culinary Institute graduate Allison, “convinced him,” says Jeffrey, “to convert it over to food oil.” They eventually came on to help run it, making Hudson Valley Cold Pressed Oils a true family operation. Today it cultivates more than seven acres from both the Robb and nearby Plass farms, with a focus on all things sunflowers.

True to its name, a cold-pressed oil is produced without any heat to speak of: a process that results in less oil per seed – only about 35 percent extracted – but a much purer, healthier and ultimately more delicious product. Jeffrey compares this to large-scale commercial oil producers, who heat their products until “it doesn’t taste like what it came from.” “If your oil doesn’t taste like something,” he claims, “they’ve done something to it to get rid of any flavors that were there.” Hudson Valley’s oils, meanwhile, not only taste like sunflower seeds, but are also high in monounsaturated fats, proteins and especially Vitamin E. The Haights sent their oil to be tested at the CIA, who returned a “smoke point” – the temperature at which an oil begins to burn – of 387 degrees, meaning that it can be cooked hotter, and for longer, without losing any flavor.

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Because cold-pressing extracts only 35 percent of the initial oil, it results in an unburnt high-protein meal that can be fed to livestock or milled into flour. The Haights sell this flour, ideal for gluten-free baking, as well as a pair of baking mixes – brownies and, because it’s darker than a blondie, a “brunette” mix. Other products include truffle oil, a sugar scrub, sunflower hummus and, because of the high (over 30 percent) Vitamin E content of sunflower oil, a skin-rejuvenating “sun stick” for use on the face. These can be found at a number of local businesses, including Samuel’s Sweet Shop in Rhinebeck and the Taconic Parkway’s Taste of New York store, as well as on the business’ website.

The last few years have been a period of expansion for Hudson Valley Cold Pressed Oils, with Jeffrey and Allison’s participation resulting in a greater presence at farm markets, higher diversity of products and wider distribution in both stores and restaurants. They are also planning to open a brand-new production facility by the fields, and have been approached by companies that produce cannabidiol – a/k/a CBD – products, because, says Jeffrey, “CBD attaches very well to sunflower oil.”

For Jeffrey, at least, the most enjoyable change has been the opening of the fields to the general public. From the beginning, he says, people came to see and take pictures of the seven acres of sunflowers, sometimes taking their own back home with them. “Where else can you stand in the middle of a sunflower field like that?” he says. “There aren’t that many opportunities around.”

This year, to keep track of visitors, as well as to keep their fields in order – “safety was our biggest concern,” says Jeffrey – the Haights systematized things, instituting a season, setting prices and adding concessions. The U-pick season varies depends on the growing season, which itself depends on the weather, and will run this year through Labor Day. Members of the public are invited to stroll across three acres of blooming sunflowers. Visits and pictures are free, with each flower costing $3, and $25 for a fill-your-own bucket of eight flowers or more. A portion of food and drink concessions goes toward local charities like the Sparrow’s Nest, whose mission of providing meals to cancer patients hits home for the Haights, who lost their mother to cancer in 2002.

The U-pick season has proven popular, with around 7,000 visitors in 2018 and, though they don’t yet have an official count, significantly more so far this season. Jeffrey describes it as an inviting, almost bucolic atmosphere, and seeing others enjoy his farm, he says, is by far his favorite part of business: “Everybody’s happy. We have tens of thousands of bees, but we haven’t had a single person stung by one.”

For more information on the last week of pick-your-own sunflowers, visit https://hudsonvalleycoldpressedoils.com or https://bit.ly/2HtUbHB. For general inquiries or to place an order, email hvcpoinfo@gmail.com or call (845) 489-8368. These Hudson Valley Cold Pressed Oils pick-your-own  fields are located off of Sleight Plass Road in Pleasant Valley. 

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