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 9 of 10)

McEnroe Organic Farm

Millerton, Dutchess County

I had heard over and over again how organic farming on a large scale is impossible — until I met Ray McEnroe, who farms 770 acres and is known affectionately as Raymee by his fellow farmers.

After Ray’s father died in the early 1980s, he and his wife bought their farm from his mother. Ray started out growing three acres of certified organic crops in 1988. Gradually he transformed his father’s dairy farm into the largest organic farm in the Hudson Valley; in season, there are now two to three tons of tomatoes produced every week.

There are also 150 beef cattle grazing on the hillsides along with 130 sheep and lambs. There are chickens, turkeys, and pigs. Ray loves being involved in the whole business — growing crops and watching the harvest, as well as dealing with the animals. “And I enjoy eating the asparagus, tomatoes, all the crops,” he said.

“To me, farming is all about clean food,” he explained. “If you have good soil and enrich it, plants will grow out of any infestation.” His large composting operation combines leaves, source-separated food waste from the farm’s restaurant (as well as from the restaurants at the Culinary Institute and the Omega Institute), and manure from the animals — “clean waste.” The process includes filling large caterpillar-like plastic bags that mulch in the hot sun. They are then opened — not one of the favorite tasks on the farm, according to Ray, who described the smell as putrid.

“Organic farming is not new,” Ray said, observing that before chemicals were invented, everyone farmed organically. “The government has brainwashed farmers into thinking chemicals and fertilizers are the way to go.” He is living testament to the fact that organic farming can be done profitably — and on a large scale. And he’s the first to admit he never thought it was possible.

Next: Grazin’ Angus in Ghent


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