This post is part of my at the table series, where I share stories and photographs that celebrate the men and women on the front lines of an inclusive, sustainable food system.
This entry is sponsored by my friends at Empire State Development and the New York State Grown & Certified Program. All opinions, as always, are my own.
It’s time for another at the table post, you guys! Are you pumped? Because I am PUMPED.
Since we’re headed full-tilt into the foodiest of foodie holidays (TURKEY DAY, I’M COMIN’ FOR YA!) I thought it would be nice to take a hot minute and talk not about our turkeys, or our side dishes, or the happiness coma that is a giant pot of buttery mashed potatoes – but about the people who grow and harvest and package and inspect all that food so that we can be overstuffed couch potatoes every fourth Thursday of November (and, umm, all the other days as well). Because this week and every week, I am so tremendously thankful for our farmers.
So today, let’s talk about Amos Zittel and Sons Farm in Eden, NY.
I stopped by their farm for a visit last week to talk crop production, see their state-of-the-art greenhouses, and learn a bit about their participation in our New York State Grown & Certified program.
(BOOM! That’s the logo. For emphasis and stuff).
Like many farmers, the Zittels work their land as a family: they’ve passed the farm down from generation to generation since they began farming in Eden Valley back in 1897. (1897, YOU GUYS. Just let that sink in for a minute).
Today, the Zittels farm 300 acres spread across various fields in Eden, where about 260 of those acres are active in any given year. The remaining land lies fallow (which means no crop production happens on it) to give the soil a chance to regenerate and retain its productive nutrients. (When we stopped by the brussels sprouts fields, Kevin Zittel pointed out one empty field with the occasional turnip growing and another with plenty of grass – two restorative techniques to help keep soil healthy and fertile for generations to come).
Another thing that helps the Zittels keep their land happy and productive? The more than 50 years of detailed crop records they keep. These records show them exactly what was grown on which piece of land and when, and during the slower winter season, the Zittels go back to those records to help them plan their spring planting and rotate crops efficiently.
By rotating crops every year, farmers can balance the nutrients and microorganisms in the soil. Different crops release different nutrients and attract different microorganisms, and if you plant the same thing in the same spot too many times, it can degrade the soil (making it impossible for anything to grow at all).
Crop rotation and soil preservation is SO SCIENTIFIC – there’s a good overview here if you’d like to learn more (which you totally should, because it’s crazy interesting).
The Zittels’ annual crop roster covers everything from peppers to corn to flowers to baby cucumbers, but when I stopped by last week they were focused on brussels sprouts (WOOT) and the last of the broccoli and cauliflower.
Side note: these babies are the star of our Thanksgiving menu tomorrow ⬇️⬇️⬇️
And, okay, let’s switch gears for a hot minute to talk about the New York State Grown and Certified program (NYS G&C for short, because we’re about to get super cool and abbreviation-y UP IN HERE).
NYS G&C is a new labeling program here in New York – the goal of which is to help consumers (that’s us!) enjoy an extra level of transparency and easily identify environmentally-consciously produced food from local farms.
But beyond the consumer piece, here’s why I love programs like this: they serve as a show of support for local farmers who are competing in a global marketplace. The NYS G&C label won’t just encourage farmers to stick to good practices – it will shine a spotlight on the men and women who are literally putting the food on our tables.
Participation is FREE to farmers. The program is voluntary and state-funded, making it accessible to farmers who may not have the capital to invest in something like the USDA Organic Certification (which is expensive and time consuming – another issue for another day, but important to know!) Participating NYS G&C farmers (like the Zittels!) must pass inspections for safe food handling, environmental stewardship, and food quality. They must also be currently certified to Good Agricultural Practices (GAP) and participate in Agriculture Environmental Management.
(PS: If you’re in New York State, look for the NYS G&C label hitting stores and green markets in spring 2017!)
At the end of our farm visit, I asked a few of the Zittels what they really, really wanted us to know about family farmers. Their answer was pretty simple: don’t forget about us.
While we’re off enjoying the perks of a global, not-necessarily-sustainable-or-economically-fair-to-the-workers food marketplace (watermelon in January? Anyone?) these long-standing family farmers are still here.
They’re still working long hours for low wages, they’re still constantly evolving to be more sustainable, they’re still passing their land and their passion down to their children, and they’re still showing up for us every. single. day.
And THAT, my friends, is pretty awesome. (So let’s thank them by buying a lot of their tasty food, yes? Yes. Good).
Ok. Ready for pictures? (Psh. Of course you are!)
This is a sponsored conversation written by me on behalf of Empire State Development . The opinions and text are all mine.