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Veterans and Their Families Learn about Local Agriculture Straight from the Farmer’s Mouth

Attendees toured Cross Island Farms to gain inspiration from a diverse farm operation.

by Alyssa Couse

Cornell Cooperative Extension of Jefferson County recently hosted its second farm tour for veterans, active duty military and families.  The first tour was held back in May at Center Dale Farm, which is a veteran owned and run Angus beef farm.  This tour was hosted by Cross Island Farms (CIF), a diverse organic operation on Wellesley Island.  David Belding and Dani Baker gave attendees advice and a detailed tour, starting in one of the most unique features, their edible forest garden, or as Dani refers to it, “the Garden of Eatin”.

Alyssa Couse of CCE Jefferson welcome’s attendees and shared about the Cornell Small Farms Program resources. Photo by Alyssa Couse.

The group gathered at the entrance of the stone walkway as Dani described the inspiration of the garden and her hopes for it for the future.  With 7 layers of vegetation, from ground cover to tree branches, the edible forest garden offers herbs, fruits, hops, and several exotic species that do indeed have edible parts.  This especially appealed to those interested in growing produce and hops.

David then led the group to the first four legged habitat.  Three sows came to the edge of the fence to check out the visitors.  Cross Island Farms sells USDA cuts of pork, including bacon.  After a lengthy farm visit this spring, I was treated to a BLT sandwich made with CIF bacon, lettuce and tomatoes and without exaggeration, it was the best one I’ve ever had.  David and Dani previously hosted a veteran volunteer, Infantry Capitan a Sam Palmer (featured in the spring edition of Small Farms Quarterly) who took what he learned from the CIF practices and the Cornell Small Farms Program and applied it to his own farm in New Hampshire where he too now raises organic pork.  Check out his Sapling Forest Farm Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/SaplingForestFarm/

Next stop was the path alongside the livestock chute where animals can be weighed and given a closer look if need be.  Several beds of produce and greenhouses lined the other side of the walkway.  Dani talked about the fabric coverings they use to help protect the crops while still allowing 85% of sunlight through.

Last stop was the livestock pasture.  Holy goats!  All 30+ group members got to visit with the goats up close and personal in their pasture.  Some came right up for scratches but most kept on eating along with the Belted Galloway beef cattle in the background.  These goats are used for both milk and meat and the cattle are raised for organic grass fed beef.  David and Dani shared some wisdom on soil health and pasture management as it is the foundation of any successful farm.   Attendees asked questions and walked the pasture as Dani finished preparing lunch.  The meal featured hamburgers with fresh tomatoes, pasta salad, bean salad and a beet salad all featuring ingredients from the farm.

Given the discussions over lunch and positive feedback after the event, this was a beneficial experience for attendees and the hosts.  The diversity of Cross Island Farms ensured that there was something to perk everyone’s interest.   Stay tuned for the next farm tour!

This material is based upon work that is supported by the National Institute of Food and Agriculture, U.S. Department of Agriculture, under award number 2015-70017-22882. Funding for the program is also supported by the Planting Seeds Initiative spearheaded by State Sen. Patty Ritchie, R-48th District, Chair of the NYS Senate Agriculture Committee and New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets.

Alyssa Couse is the Agricultural Outreach Educator for Cornell Cooperative Extension of Jefferson County.  Part of her job is to help connect transitioning soldiers and veterans with resources and connections in the agricultural industry.  She can be reached at amc557@cornell.edu or 315-788-8450

Here are links to the CCE Jefferson website and to the North East Beginning Farmers Project Farm Ops page.  Any questions feel free to contact Alyssa at amc557@cornell.edu:

http://ccejefferson.org/agriculture/farm-ops-agriculture-and-the-military

http://smallfarms.cornell.edu/projects/farm-ops/

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