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 3 of 10)
Pleasant Valley, Dutchess County
Paul Wigsten’s family has farmed in Dutchess County for four generations.It was a dairy operation until the early 1970s. “Wigsten’s Ice Cream was quite well known locally during the 1960s,” Paul told me.
Paul and his wife, Robin, transitioned into growing crops because “neither of us wanted to milk cows twice a day.” He does the tractor work, and Robin handles the financial aspect of the business.
The crops are on a five-year rotation schedule and at any time half of the farmland is in hay; the changeover keeps the soil healthy by continually using different nutrients. Compost and manure fertilize the crops and red worms, ordered over the Internet, add to the mix.
In addition to his farm work, Paul is the produce buyer for the restaurants at the Culinary Institute of America in nearby Hyde Park. With the price of California produce increasing, local crops have become more attractive. “I like the weird stuff. Mesclun lettuce was the rage a few years back; now it’s baby mix,” he said, explaining how food fads are as fickle as those in the fashion world. A case in point is the Ramapo tomato, a New Jersey variety that went out of production. Recently agronomists decided to bring it back. “They bred seeds at Rutgers, and I can’t wait to try it,” Paul said.
“I like to grow vegetables for restaurants that appreciate the unusual and are willing to pay the price,” he said. “You won’t find my Romanesco tomatoes at Wal-Mart.”
Next: Philip Orchard in Claverack