Elizabeth Ryan

Staatsburg, N.Y.

Farm Aid talked with Elizabeth Ryan who founded Breezy Hill Orchard and Cider Mill 23 years ago. She's also one of the founding farmers of the Greenmarket farmers market in New York City.

Tell us a little bit about your farm and what you grow.

I started Breezy Hill twenty-three years ago. We have a very diversified orchard at home and we also rent two other orchards. We grow quince, over one hundred varieties of apples, peaches, plums, cherries, strawberries, raspberries and pears. We grow some heirloom and old fashioned or traditional varieties - particularly in our two new orchards. We have endangered French and German plums and Esopus or Spitzenburg apples, which originated in the Hudson Valley and some say was George Washington's favorite apple. Just this winter, I also became partners with Knoll Crest Farm and the Messerich family; we raise layers and broilers for market and use in all of our baked goods.

Where can people buy food from your orchards?

We are at the Union Square Greenmarket (we've been there since 1975) on Wednesdays and Saturdays. We go to four other markets on Saturday as well: Inwood, Long Island City, Sunnyside, and Murray Hill. On Sundays we go to the Grand Street market and on Fridays we go to Mount Siani. We also do some local markets. On a peak Saturday we have up to twenty employees but we make sure that everyone who works at the markets also has a chance to work on the farm.

You were a founding member of the Greenmarket farmers markets. What was that like?

Many of the farmers who were attracted to these markets were struggling. They had no outlet for their products because they were too small or diversified for the big wholesalers. Some of the older growers actually tell stories about dumping their fruit because they couldn't sell it. When the market started, instantly we were embraced by the shoppers at the market. They were physically hungry. Some had never tasted anything so fresh. To farms like ours, Greenmarkets have meant survival. We would be out of business without these markets. As it is, we are one of twenty orchards left in a county that used to be completely agricultural.

What has it meant to have the support of such loyal customers over the years?

We are a mainstay in their lives. We watch their children grow up.

Why are farmers important?

Being a farmer is like being a doctor or an artist - we give back to the community. Health starts in healthy soil and healthy food. Everything starts with food and we feed people! We also maintain open space and natural habitat. Farmers preserve a non-industrial way of life, in rhythm with the land and seasons, which is important to our culture.

Describe an average market day. When do you get up and then get home again?

A typical market day actually starts two or three days before when we try to anticipate the weather (and then we argue about it!) and decide what to pick. Two days before, we butcher chickens. We always have to ask ourselves, "How many will we need this week?" because we never want to have any left over. This is when we start baking too. So we ask "What pies should we make?" and "What fruit is ready?" We press the cider on this day also. On market day, we get up around 2 a.m. to start loading the trucks. The first of six trucks heads off on the three-hour drive to New York. At 6 a.m. when the first truck arrives in Union Square, we start setting up the tent and by 7 a.m. the market is filled with customers. Set up is quite furious and by 8 p.m. that same night everything is gone. We usually get home around 11 p.m.

Does any particular market, or market day, stand out in your memory?

One of the eeriest markets…There was a general spirit of comradarie in the market after 9/11. Everyone agreed to meet in Union Square to see if there was room to set up. If there wasn't, we agreed to just find someplace and set up anyway. We felt that people needed to be fed. The entire market was covered with candles, flowers and photos. While we were setting up it was dead silent. You could have heard a pin drop. In the end, it was one of the biggest market days that we have ever had. People came to buy food but also to find friends. It was just incredible. We fed the city.

Do you have a favorite apple?

Everyone always asks this! If I have to choose…Russett apples.

What's your favorite thing about being a farmer?

Ripe pears on the tree are just about the most sensual thing. Fruit is just so in your face. The smell of the orchard in the fall or really ripe strawberries, it's just amazing.

Date: 8/16/2007

Farm to School Heroes, New Hampshire - Colebrook & Loudon, NH

Sandra Garner - Snow Hill, NC

Robert Elliott - Louisburg, NC

Orpha Gene Watson - Nash County, NC

Harold Wright - Bladenboro, NC

Sarah Hoffmann & Jacqueline Smith - Weston, MO

Art Tanderup - Neligh, NE

Tom Rogers - Madera County, CA

Abbe Turner - Kent, OH

Deb Windecker -  Frankfort, NY

Chuck Deichmann - Belmont, NY

Carroll Wade - Jasper, NY

Ben Shute - Clermont, NY

Kevin Jablonski - Argyle, NY

Andrew Pittz - Missouri Valley, IA

Chris & Donna Garza - Calhan, CO

The Crutchfields: Life Under Contract - Lamar, AR

Jeff & Annie Main - Capay, CA

Kate Canney - Needham, MA

Kara Fitzgerald & Ryan Wood Beauchamp  - Cuttingsville, VT

Dru Peters & Homer Walden - Dover, PA

Jenn Halpin - Carlile, PA

James & Ida Burkholder - Berks County, PA

Zoë Bradbury - Langlois, OR

Rosie & Ward Burroughs - Denair, CA

Gary Purgason - Madison, NC

Stanley & Evan Hall - South Paoli, IN

Jim Gerritsen - Bridgewater, ME

Zach Ducheneaux - Eagle Butte, SD

Jacob & Courtney Cowgill - Conrad, MT

Tom Nuessmeier - Le Sueur, MN

Sherri Harvel - Kansas City, MO

Gail Fuller - Emporia, KS

Jason Schmidt - Newton, KS

Nick Meyer - Hardwick, VT

The Local Food Hub - Charlottesville, VA

Corky Jones - Brownville, NE

Pat Trask - Wasta, SD

Carol Ford & Chuck Waibel - Milan, MN

Mike Weaver - Fort Sybert, WV

Glyen Holmes - Dothan, AL

Will Allen - Milwaukee, WI

Rebecca Goodman - Wonewoc, WI

Eric Odberg - Genesee, ID

John Kinsman - Sauk County, WI

Luciano Alvarado - Fayetteville, NC

Russ Kremer - Osage County, MO

Hector Mora - Monterey County, CA

Theresa Podoll - Fullerton, ND

Mary Hendrickson - Columbia, MO

Jen Friedrich & Dom Fernandes - Carver, MA

David Senter - Washington, DC

Jere Gettle - Mansfield, MO

Rhonda Perry & Roger Allison  - Howard County, MO

Walker Claridge - Hatton, MO

David Marvel - Harrington, DE

Jerry Harvey - Promise City, IA

Donley Darnell - Newcastle, WY

Greg Massa - Hamilton City, CA

Stuart Veldhuizen - Dublin, TX

Joel Greeno - Kendall, WI

Jeremy Freymoyer - Hamburg, PA

Alan and Lori Callister - West Concord, MN

Jeanne Charter - Billings, Montana

Susan Meredith & Brenna Chase - Brunswick, Maine

Elizabeth Keen - Great Barrington, MA

Missy Bahret & Casey Steinberg - Amherst, Massachusetts

Justin Pitts - Jones County, Mississippi

Kim Buchheit & Mike Robinson - Wise Acre Farm

Ben & Alysha Godfrey - Cameron, TX

David & Serena  - Mount Vernon, WA

Andres Mejides - Homestead, FL

Jamie Collins - Carmel & Carmel Valley, Ca

Kenneth Barber - Ithaca, N.Y.

Genell Pridgen - Snow Hill, N.C.

Chris Kobayashi - Hanalei, Hawaii

Matthew Kurek - Jamesport, N.Y.

Elizabeth Ryan - Staatsburg, N.Y.

Klein Family - Silver Springs, N.Y.

McKinley Hightower-Beyah - New York, NY

Adam Barr - Rhodelia, Ky.

Stan Schutte - Stewardson, Ill.

Francis & Susan Thicke - Fairfield, Iowa

Ben Burkett - Petal, Miss.

Doug Flack - Enosburg Falls, Vt.

Bob and Kathy Perol - Troy, Maine

Bob Muth - Gloucester County, N.J.

Jim Kinsel - Pennington, N.J.

Mary Seton Corboy - Philadelphia, Pa.

Miguel Martinez - San Juan Bautista, Calif.

Tony Thompson - Cottonwood, Minn.

Laura Garber - Hamilton, Mont.

Wettsteins Update - Carlock, Ill.

Kelli Emenes - Covington, La.

Brian Futhey - Woodward, Pa.

Tom Trantham - Pelzer, S.C.

Ryan Wolfe - Chebanse, Ill.

Hank Moss - Erath, La.

Jim Core - Folsom, La.

The Wettsteins - Carlock, Ill.

Kristen Kordet - Madison, Wis.

Bruce & Fran Conard - Martinsburg, Ohio

Mike Nolan - Austin, Texas

Maggie's Farm - Athol, Mass.

Kristi & Brad Fernholz - Appleton, Minn.

Stacy Hall and Bill Dix - Athens, Ohio

Jack & Julie - Barre, Mass.

Bud Odland - Clarion, Iowa

Andrew Stout & Wendy Munroe - Carnation, WA

Rick and Lora Lea - Northeastern, Wash.

Cynthia & Joel Huesby - Walla Walla, Wash.

David Mills - Brandon, Vt.

Ed Snavely - Fredericktown, Ohio

Kim & Ann Seeley - Bradford County, Pa.

Mark Parrish - Boston, Mass.