By Hank Herrera
Managing Director, New York Sustainable Agriculture Working Group
Rochester, Newark, Romulus and Ithaca
Tuesday began at the Rochester Public Market, where farmers and buyers meet three days each week as they have for more than 100 years. The market has so much history, and the Farm Aid Upstate Downstate Caravan made its mark with a press conference hosted by Market Master Jim Farr. Tom Ferraro, Executive Director of Foodlink, told of the regional foodbank’s commitment to finding solutions to the logistical challenges of bringing healthy local food to local schools. Tom donated the refrigerator truck and driver to the caravan to carry the food we are bringing to Manhattan. We heard from Ray Vercruysse, a local farmer from Fairport. Ray sells his vegetables at the Rochester Public Market and has for the past 65 years! His son Rich now runs the farm but Ray still gets to the market by 6:00 a.m. on Thursdays and Saturdays, where selling his fresh, local food to the 25,000 or so shoppers on a typical Saturday continues to provide a good share of the farm’s income.
We moved on to Rochester’s new soccer stadium, PAETEC Park, home of the Rochester Raging Rhino’s, a First Division United Soccer League team. The Rhino’s and Foodlink hosted the Farm Aid Upstate Downstate Caravan and over 50 youth from City of Rochester recreation centers for a wonderful local food lunch, prepared by Freshwise Caterers at Foodlink. Freshwise prepares healthy, nutritious meals for Kids’ Cafes, charter schools, day care centers and other institutional meal providers in the Rochester area. For this event Freshwise Catering procured chicken from Peter McDonald’s farm in Romulus, vegetables from Raindance Harvest Organic Farm in Webster, and greens from Freshlink Farm, the hydroponic farm in Penfield owned and operated by Foodlink.
From Rochester we drove east about 25 miles to Newark and the Peacework Organic Farm. Elizabeth Henderson, Greg Palmer, Ammie Chickering and Katie Lavin farm 18 acres of beautiful land set between the Ganargua River and the drumlins—low whale-shaped hills left by the glaciers. Peacework provides vegetables for 300 families through the Genesee Valley Organic Community Supported Agriculture program. In return, the shareholders provide the farmers with a living wage and pay for all expenses of the farm with no debt. The CSA members and the farmers truly are a community. Shareholders work on the farm as part of their CSA commitment. Peacework Organic Farm is now protected farmland owned by the Genesee Land Trust and leased to the farmers.
From Newark we drove south to Romulus to the McDonald Farm. Peter McDonald and his family raise livestock on 220 acres. They produce over 5,000 chickens, 350 turkeys, 70 to 80 beeves, 70 pigs and a few dozen sheep, all on pasture. Peter sells his products in Ithaca and Rochester through the McDonald Farm Connection. His customers order by email and he delivers to established distribution sites once every two weeks.
Peter said, “In our lifetime we will see the reversal of the demise of the small family farm.” It is a powerful vision. As Peter talked, we visited with the young turkeys getting ready for Thanksgiving, lots of chickens, a few sheep and some pigs, all friendly and happy to visit with us. Finally we loaded up 150 pounds of frozen chicken and headed to Ithaca.
We came to the home of Vicki and Gregor, long-time friends of Farm Aid. Vicki is an event planner who has worked on Farm Aid concerts for 10 years, and Gregor owns the Ithaca Bakery, renowned in this region for its fine bread and baked goods. Vicki and Gregor prepared a sumptuous local food dinner along with great conversation. Food and community, community and food—it is all connected.
Now we head to Albany.