Down on the Farm
For their soon-to-be-published book, Hudson River Valley Farms, author Joanne Michaels and photographer Rich Pomerantz visited more than 40 dairy, produce, fruit, and flower farms between Westchester and Albany. Here are profiles of 10 of these farms — and their farmers — taken from the text
(page 10 of 10)
Ghent, Columbia County
The September 11th attacks and their aftermath were the major reason Dan Gibson resigned his corporate position and sold his home in the Manhattan suburbs. “My wife, Susan, and I were sitting on the porch of our Katonah home,” he recalls. “We saw a photo of this dairy farm for sale, and I said, ‘Let’s go look at it!’ ”
The Gibsons purchased the 450-acre farm in 2002, and asked Jim and Eileen Stark, a couple experienced in working the property, to join them as partners in a new venture: raising free-range cattle.
Dan’s dream was to raise top-of-the-breed, grass-fed and grass-finished, registered Black Angus cattle, a goal he has accomplished. He explained how many farmers raise cattle purely on grass for nine months, but during those last few months before slaughter they are “finished” with corn feed and antibiotics. It takes Dan three years to finish a steer; by then, he has wintered them three times. “We plant the best grasses — high in both sugar and carbohydrates — which makes for well-marbled, healthy beef.” There is a remarkable difference in taste.
Dan pointed over the hill to his pasture-raised chickens, and mentioned how people in New York City pay $5 a dozen for their superior eggs. “Free range means nothing: All chickens need is access to the outside for 15 minutes each day to be considered free range,” he explained. “Most free range chickens in this country never see grass, let alone taste it.”
I asked Dan if he ever looks back on his urban life and regrets his decision to leave it all behind. “I feel better about what I do now than anything I’ve ever done in my life,” he said. “The farmers around here once laughed at my ideas, but now they say, ‘We knew you were on to something.’ ”
From the book Hudson River Valley Farms by Joanne Michaels; photographs by Rich Pomerantz. Copyright © 2009 by Joanne Michaels and Rich Pomerantz. Used by permission of The Globe Pequot Press.
This article was excerpted from Hudson River Valley Farms: The People and the Pride Behind the Produce, which will be published on Aug. 25 by the Globe Pequot Press ($29.95). Author Joanne Michaels (inset), former editor in chief of Hudson Valley, will have a booth at this year’s Dutchess County Fair (Aug. 25-28, & 30), where she will sign copies of her book. Various county farmers will join her there to answer questions about farm life.
Photographer Rich Pomerantz’s work regularly appears in national and regional lifestyle and travel magazines. This is the third book in which his photos have been featured.
All of the farms profiled in this article are open to the public and welcome visitors.