While clusters of flowers mark the triumph of spring, so does the opening of roadside farm markets, unveiling their fresh vegetables at winter’s end. Never has the opening of our Hudson Valley farm markets felt more like a precious gift of normalcy in a world that appears to be tilting off its axis. But at Sunfrost Farm on Route 212 between Woodstock and Bearsville, at Wallkill View Farm Market on Route 299 on the flats west of the Village of New Paltz, and at Davenport’s Farm Market on Route 299 in Stone Ridge, the landscape is one we all recognize.
In Woodstock, the longtime owners of Sunfrost Farms, Matthew Ballister and his wife Kim Marie, are keeping their popular market open with all of the new social-distancing rules as well as strict hygiene protocols.
“We’re all wearing masks and gloves and have worked very hard to put our online ordering and home delivery in place,” said Matthew, who took over the farm from his father in 1983. “We’re selling a ton of produce and seeds because people are mostly cooking at home, and I think the situation we find ourselves in makes people think about how dependent we are on others for our food supply. We’ve been talking about this for years: about how much you can grow in a small area, and I hope that’s one thing that really catches on.”
The Ballisters have a café and a juice bar, as well as a large menu of fresh hot and cold foods that go hand-in-hand with their freshly grown produce and wholesale business. They grow a lot of their organic produce on their farm, including garlic, bok choi, heirloom tomatoes, broccoli, spinach, winter squash, potatoes and cut flowers. “People are cooking at home, and they’re very happy that we’re still open and providing them with the organic, healthy produce and vegetables that they need to be able to do that cooking. We will deliver, take it out to their car, their home. Our employees have been absolute angels, they really have. They’re here, they’re working, they’re helping to provide an essential service to people.” To learn more, visit www.sunfrostfarms.com/nindex.asp.
For those who need to get out, bring some flowers or plants into their home, some fresh bundles of spinach or seeds to start their garden, they can get all of their needs met while supporting local farmers. There’s a statewide push to encourage New Yorkers to continue to support local agricultural businesses to keep the food supply and the farm industry moving during the coronavirus pandemic.
“Almost every customer that has come through our door has said how happy they are that we’re open, and they go out of their way to let us know that,” said Sandy Ferrante, from the four-generation family-owned farm in New Paltz. “That makes us feel happy and proud.” The farm, known for its fields of sweet corn, is filled with fresh produce, flowers, baked goods, preserves and ice cream, as well as a fully stocked greenhouse and outdoor nursery.
While it’s conforming to governor Andrew Cuomo’s regulations on social distancing, the farmstand does have a steady stream of customers all day every day. “We have changed the flow so that everyone enters through one door and exits through another,” explained Ferrante.
All Wallkill View employees are wearing gloves, and only ten people are allowed in the stand at one time. If there are more, staff members kindly suggest that you wait in the gift shop or the greenhouse that’s part of the market.
The customer base hasn’t changed markedly. “They’re coming in less frequently, but buying greater quantities of produce,” Ferrante said. “A lot of our customers will come in two or three times a week, but now they’re coming in about once a week.”
Seed sales have gone through the roof. Maybe people have given up hoarding and started thinking about growing some of their own produce, As for the annuals and perennials, time will tell. “We grow everything for the planting season over the winter in our greenhouses,” he explained.
A big part of the market includes the gardening and landscaping business, which Ferrante says he hopes will remain part of people’s seasonal activities. As for trees and shrubs, he said, they’re “fortunate, because we buy those from a nursery.” Although they place their orders in the fall, he said that the nursery that supplies Wallkill View has been “very understanding, and we’re able to purchase on an as-needed basis.”
Another multigenerational family-owned and operated local farm, Davenport’s, is a staple business for the small rural hamlets of Stone Ridge and High Falls. “We’re open one day a week [Saturday], but we’ve moved our entire operation outside,” said Bruce Davenport, patriarch of the family. “Our main priority is our customers’ safety. We’re trying to encourage people to do their shopping for a week at a time, so that they don’t have to come out as often.”
To that end, the Davenports even offer a “fruit box,” a “salad box” and a “cooking vegetable box” that are already put together, so that people aren’t having to worry about who has touched what. “They were all packed yesterday, in a safe, clean environment by our wonderful staff.”
Like Sandy Ferrante, Bruce Davenport said that most of his customers “say that they feel safe and happy here, and feel good about being able to support our business. This is really a time when people want to shop local, and they want to know who they’re buying their food from. And we provide that sense of comfort.”
Seeds and flowers are flying out of the market, as are bags of potatoes and spinach – and soon, they hope, some hot food as well. Typically, the Davenports sell a variety of hot foods at the farm market; but, with the current situation they’re hoping to get their hands on a hot-dog cart so that they can offer their customers coffee and donuts in the morning and chili and hot dogs in the afternoon.
“Right now, we’re open one day a week, but if we need to go to two days a week to keep people at a safe and comfortable distance, then we will do that,” said Davenport.
State Department of Agriculture commissioner Richard Ball encouraged New Yorkers to continue to support the state’s farms and agricultural businesses in a press release issued this past week. “While the state works to mitigate the impact of coronavirus, commissioner Ball reminds consumers that food-producing farms, farmers’ markets, food and beverage manufacturers, grocery stores and retail food stores have been designated as essential to the food supply chain and continue to work to produce, process, transport, stock and sell healthy, local New York food and beverages,” the release stated.
Farmers’ markets across New York are using guidance from the state. A number of farms and food and beverage producers are also offering their products on the farm for direct purchase or through their websites for delivery. For additional information, please visit the NYS Grown & Certified page, a local farmers’ market website, or go directly to the producer’s website.
New York farms and food producers can also be supported through ShopTasteNY.com, an online shopping portal that allows for consumers to have New York-produced products delivered right to their door. According to Jen Metzger, chair of the New York State Senate’s Agriculture Committee, “Shop Taste NY is a great initiative that will enable New Yorkers to easily and conveniently access the diverse array of high-quality, fresh local food produced in their region and around the state during the coronavirus pandemic.” She added, “As we continue to adapt to social distancing, the new online portal will greatly expand opportunities for households, schools and businesses to participate in the local food movement, support New York’s farms and contribute to a healthier society and more environmentally sustainable economy.”
Victoria Giarratano, a specialist with Cornell Cooperative Extension, said that the organization was proud to partner on the launch of the e-commerce site ShopTasteNY.com. “This is another great example of supporting New York State agriculture and creates a platform for promoting producers, farms and small businesses,” she said. “The incredible diversity and richness of products by region will allow shoppers to purchase items from across New York State, increasing the economic impact to these small businesses.”