As the first decade of the new millennium has passed, this writer has met many people in our community who ask “what does the future holds outside of the tourist base that is so integrated into the summer season?”
Essentially, the long term survival of the North Country/Ontario region will have to evolve outside of industries that already dominate: tourism, healthcare, military, government, and education institutions. One such evolution/revolution is farming, augmented into the organic/eco-tourism niche.
To most familiar with Wellesley Island, the idea of organic farming may be something that would conjure up images of another century. While vacationers have flocked to the island for many years, farming seems as a concept visible only from the vast open lands along County Route 100 along with the wild apple trees (and feasting deer). The economic realities and climate for many forms of traditional farming have proved to be challenging, but Dani Baker and David Belding of Cross Island Farms is amongst a burgeoning group to see this region as an ideal community for organic farming.
Amidst the economic metamorphosis that changed much of the North Country in the latter part of the 1900s, the organic food movement has found root in several towns of Northern New York, including the farm that takes the name of Wellesley Island’s Cross Island Road.
Dani and David’s concept of an organic farm began in earnest through a Cornell Cooperative extension class called “Building Your Small Farm Dream”. They brought that dream to reality in 2005 on 102 acres of land newly purchased from the Harden family. By 2005 the Harden farm had already switched from a dairy herd to a fruit and vegetable operation. With the “template” in place, Baker and Belding began growing certified organic fruits and vegetables. As a means of augmenting the product offerings, a fair amount of experimentation brought several varieties of fruits and vegetables to market.
In fact over the short span of five years this enterprising couple have diversified well beyond the original concept. David wrote early in the operation that by 2006 they had, “made maple syrup for the first time (11 1/2 gallons) and sold it, planted 140 Christmas trees, had our first honey harvest from our bees and sold the honey, planted, grew, and sold 3500 square feet of vegetables, planted 36 cold hardy grapevines of 11 varieties, opened and operated our road side produce stand, planted raspberries, rhubarb, asparagus, cherries, and apricots for future years' harvest, and picked and sold pears and apples from trees already on our property. Oh, and we also got certified organic on August 1st. We also purchased supplies to start some Shiitake mushroom logs, but amazingly we have not yet found the time to get those started! We also made piles of compost and prepared a new field for expansion.”
Their success through the Cross Island roadside stand and farmer’s markets (including one in Alexandria Bay), prompted the owners to consider a more diversified product line. The demand for naturally raised meat has brought Dani and David into producing certified organically-raised goats and pigs (including a hybrid Tamworth/Yorkshire variety).
What does Organic mean? Organic meat is a “macro concept” meaning animals living in a low stress environment, coupled with natural feed and a healthier outdoor climate, leading to a better product (and lower fat) . There are no hormones, chemicals, or antibiotics in the raising of the animals.
As David says, “In the old days, if you used natural fertilizers and didn't use chemicals, you were organic. In recent years the USDA (United States Department of Agriculture) has taken to regulating the use of the word "organic." To call ones' produce or animal products organic, farmers and processors must follow the National Organic Standards (NOS) of the National Organic Program. Farmers must be certified by an approved certifying agency, keep extensive records, pay annual certification fees, and be inspected annually, in addition to spot inspections.”
Cross Island Farms became Certified Organic by NOFA-NY Certified Organic LLC in August of 2006 and continues to be certified. It is a designation they and their customers take seriously.
Expanding the scope
For those who would like to experience living on a farm through a vacation, Dani and David offer two great ways to experience the pastoral life. One is the “Primitive Camping” experience. The stripped down camping experience (that means no electric/sewer hookups), allows the ultimate connection to nature. Amongst many amenities included in one’s campsite is a pond (some include a beaver pond), grasslands, and (in many spots) a stone fire pit.
For the daytime experience, there are Cross Island Farms tours, as well as the experience of working on the farm. Dani and David frequently bring in groups in the area to experience life in this unique environment. Additionally, David visits local schools in the region to speak about some of the joys of farming (including on Agricultural Literacy).
To round out the concept David will host and conduct farm and garden workshops. The classes will be held at the Farm and will once again demonstrate how this eclectic mix of activities has made Cross Island Farms a truly unique and shining example of the burgeoning new industries that is surely making a positive impact in the region.
Below is a letter Dane Baker circulated to her patrons in April. It is a fine example of life on the farm... Cross Island Farms, Wellesley Island, New York.
Dear Friends and Patrons of Cross Island Farms:
As I write this the morning of April 27, (2010) thick white flakes are blowing and falling outside my window and accumulating on the green grass below.
The goats, pigs and chickens have sought shelter inside their run-in sheds where they can stay relatively warm and dry. The hoop house is buttoned up against the weather with it's contents covered with row cover to retain the heat radiating up from the earth.
It's a good day for me to stay inside as well, to finish repotting tomato and pepper plants destined for our Self-serve Roadside Greenhouse due to open this Saturday. I also need to update our web-site listing to reflect the new herb and vegetable offerings this season. In addition to herb and popular heirloom and hybrid veggie plants, we will have some garlic and potato seed for sale this year.
Everything sold in the greenhouse has been grown here at Cross Island Farms, in our fields or started in our farmhouse under lights as early as this past January.
Yesterday we had another "pigs on the loose" incident. We've been having problems keeping our portable fence electrically charged enough to contain our 9 strapping piglets. They had "escaped" on several occasions over the past few days. Yesterday I was alerted to the escalation of the problem when David called me from his cell phone. Sounding discouraged, he pleaded, "I need your help - the pigs are in the road."
Several of the (not so little anymore) piglets had congregated in one lane of Cross Island Road and a neighbor had stopped her car waiting for the road to clear. When I entered the scene, I immediately thought, "thank goodness it's not July 4th," when our road traffic can be bumper to bumper.
Luckily, we had a potential volunteer, Daniel, visiting for the day and we enlisted his help to herd the pigs into the large pasture encircled by our sturdy perimeter fence, which we are able to keep amply electrified. With arms outstretched to simulate a barrier, we three humans coaxed and cajoled the critters out of the road, through a field, over a bridge, through our back yard, over another bridge and through a swinging gate after which they were finally inside the secure enclosure.
Then we three humans collectively breathed a long, deep sigh of relief.
The pigs, on the other hand, were thrilled to have the run of our large pasture, which they immediately began to explore en masse.
Well, that's today's news from Cross Island Farms.
Peace, Dani Baker
By James Rappaport, Indian Point
James is a regular contributor to TI Life. He loves to explore the region and travels to many places over the summer. Jim enjoys covering a wide variety of stories. He is a summer resident of Indian Point.