For more than 20 years, a 32-acre tract of alluvial land on the banks of the Wallkill River on Plains Road in New Paltz was maintained as a CSA by Sylvester (“Pete”) and Robin Taliaferro. While they didn’t consistently apply for organic certification, they always practiced organic agriculture. Despite all their years of hard work, the Taliaferros never quite recovered from the financial setbacks caused by Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee in 2011. By 2018, the handwriting was on the wall: It was time to find a new tenant to lease the farm and retire. That search has now ended. Beginning this spring, a new CSA called the Lo Farm at Taliaferro’s will begin selling produce to members and the general public — whether or not the community is still practicing social isolation due to the Coronavirus pandemic.
The name comes from the first initials of the young couple who have leased the farm, Leah Munsey and Orlando Diaz. Munsey grew up in Little Rock, Arkansas and Diaz in Carmel in Putnam County; he became acquainted with New Paltz during a brief sojourn here at the age of 20, living with friends who had graduated from SUNY. He got his own education — a Philosophy degree — in Albany, along with a taste for horticulture while doing volunteer work in community gardens. The pair met after college when they were both working as AmeriCorps interns in the Montana Conservation Corps, building trails near Glacier National Park. “That was my first real foray into outdoor labor,” says Munsey, whose degree is in Economics. Soon afterwards they did another internship at a small organic farm in Montana: “We just fell in love with it,” she enthuses.
They moved back East in 2013 to work on several organic vegetable farms, including a CSA on Long Island, and ended up in the mid-Hudson last year, with a dream of starting a farm of their own. “We were looking in the general Hudson Valley area for a while — Columbia County, Greene County,” Diaz recounts. “We got in contact with Pete a couple of years ago.” One thing led to another, and now they’ve taken up the mantle that the Taliaferros were ready to lay down. “We’re excited, because New Paltz is such a great community.”
While a few new varieties will be added to the list of what gets grown at 187 Plains Road, the new proprietors will mainly try to carry on the Taliaferro tradition, “We did a survey of former members to find out their favorite produce,” says Diaz. And they will continue to follow National Organic Program guidelines, with the intent that the farm will once again be certified organic by NOFA-NY for the 2020 season. Proclaiming themselves “total nerds about this cutting-edge agricultural science,” the pair plan to emphasize nutrient-dense produce by using plant tissue testing and sap analysis, in addition to fostering soil health and practicing other organic farm management techniques.
What makes Lo Farm different from other CSAs is the way members will be able to shop for produce: via a prepaid Farm Card. “According to the traditional CSA model, customers pay a lump sum at the beginning of the season and get a box of produce every week,” Munsey explains. “But we’ve found that people really gravitate toward being able to choose. With a prepaid card, members can come and use their card to choose whatever products they want, anytime they want. This system provides the farmer with up-front support, which is really important early in the spring; but you get extra bang for your buck.”
Non-members will be able to purchase produce from the Farm Store all season; but, instead of a member discount, CSA members will get value added to their Farm Card over the purchase price. There are three levels: The Taster costs $100 and is worth $110; the Healthy Eater costs $300 and is worth $345; and the Veggie Lover costs $500 and is worth $600. Unused card balances at the end of the season won’t be refundable, but used-up cards will be refillable.
The Farm Card can be used at various local farmers’ markets where Lo Farm will participate — Rhinebeck and Nyack, for starters — in addition to the Farm Store, which will be open Tuesdays, Fridays and Saturdays beginning sometime in May, depending on the vagaries of weather. Members will also get some extra perqs, including being able to pick their own herbs and flowers free of charge, plus a Harvest Festival in the autumn.
But isn’t this a bad time to be starting up a business that involves retail contact with the public? Diaz and Munsey don’t see it that way at all. While they’ll be retooling the Farm Store operation a bit in response to the COVID-19 crisis, including the addition of a system for preordering and enhanced use of gloves and hand sanitizer, they already had health concerns at the top of their priority list even before the pandemic arose. “We are committed to providing our customers with produce that is healthy and safe to eat,” says the Lo Farm website. “Both Leah and Orlando have a Certificate of Training from the Produce Safety Alliance; we are completely up-to-date on the safety standards and protocols laid out in the FDA Food Safety and Modernization Act that was signed into law in 2011. We strive to incorporate these standards into each aspect of our operation: From the moment a plant sprouts in our greenhouse or field, to the time that plant is harvested, and all the way until it lands in your shopping bag, we take particular care in eradicating all risk of the development of foodborne illnesses in our product. Our customers can rest assured that we make every effort to uphold these food safety standards.”
“We are full-steam-ahead, especially now,” says Munsey. “This whole situation is a really good way for us as a community to return to our roots and eat locally sourced food.”
You can order your 2020 Farm Card online now at www.thelofarm.com, where you can also sign up for a newsletter that will alert you about opening dates, store and market hours and what crops are about to pop. Restaurants interested in bulk orders can make purchase arrangements as well. To learn more, text or call (914) 391-6553, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.facebook.com/thelofarm or www.instagram.com/the_lo_farm.