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High Tunnel School: Best Management Practices for New High Tunnel Growers

This program is targeted for commercial growers new to high tunnels. NRCS cooperating farms are particularly encouraged to attend.
All who are interested in improving their crop yield, quality, and profitability by using high tunnels are welcome.

2 Locations and Dates:image272

Tuesday December 2, 2014
Civil Defense Center
7220 State Route 54 Bath, NY
10-3:00 pm
$25 includes lunch and materials
Register by Nov 26 at:

Thursday December 4, 2014
CCE Dutchess County
2715 Route 44 Millbrook, NY
10-3:00 pm
$30 includes lunch and materials
Register by Nov 30 at:

Speakers include:

  • Judson Reid, Cornell Vegetable Program
  • Amy Ivy, Eastern NY Commercial Horticulture Program
  • Grower Panel

Sponsored by Cornell Cooperative Extension, the Cornell Vegetable Program and the Eastern NY Commercial Horticulture Program. For more information contact Amy Ivy at

Are you a veteran farming in New York State, or an organization serving farmer veterans?

The Cornell Small Farms Program is pleased to announce an interactive meeting just for you — the NY Veterans in Agriculture Summit will take place on Thursday, November 6th, 2014 from 9:00am – 3:30pm at the NYS State Fairgrounds in Syracuse, NY.

About the Veterans in Ag Summit
The Veterans Summit will offer an opportunity to meet others interested in supporting veterans getting into agriculture; better understand the support services available to veterans and those interested in agriculture; and design programs and pathways to help veterans enter agriculture.

About the Organizers
The Summit is presented by a diverse team of collaborators:

  • Cornell Small Farms Program
  • NYS Department of Agriculture and Markets
  • Division of Veterans Affairs
  • Farmer Veteran Coalition of New York
  • New York Farm Viability Institute
  • National Center for Appropriate Technology (NCAT)
  • Cornell Cooperative Extension: Jefferson, Monroe & Erie Counties

The day will begin with ‘lightning’ introductions from organizations in NY that serve farmer veterans.

Jamie Critelli (Image courtesy of FVC)

Jamie Critelli (Image courtesy of FVC)

Featured speaker Jamie Critelli will describe the rewards of entering farming after serving in the military. Critelli will touch on the unique skill sets of veterans that compliment farming, highlight the challenges of reintegration into communities and outline basic strategies to improve support of veterans who want to start farming.

Following the morning presentations, attendees will be invited to participate in two of four ‘working groups’ to engage in facilitated discussion around the following topics:

  • Veterans Starting Farms
  • Veterans Employed on Farms
  • Communication and Outreach Strategies to reach NY Veterans
  • Training for Service Providers

These working group discussions will build the foundation for generating a NYS Work Plan for Veterans in Agriculture and a NY Veterans in Agriculture Task Force.

Who Should Attend? 
If you live in New York State and you…

  • Are a veteran who is farming in NY and want to help other veterans to do the same
  • Are a veteran who wants to farm or work in agriculture
  • Currently work with veterans who are interested in starting farms or working in agriculture
  • Want to employ veterans in your agriculture business

Space is Limited: Register Early
To register for the NY Veterans in Agriculture Summit, click here.  The meeting is free and lunch will be provided.  Space is limited, so early registration is encouraged.Registration closes on October 26th.  If you prefer, you may also register via phone by calling 607-255-9227.
General questions about the Veterans Summit should be directed to

Sign up for the “Veterans in Agriculture” Listserve
Interested in future programs and resources for Veterans in Agriculture?  Fill out our short Interest Form to be added to the listserve.

By Ed DuQuette

In the Summer 2014 issue of Small Farm Quarterly, we discussed the worldwide phenomenon known as Aquaponics. Getting started isn’t as complicated as you might think. It’s simple; you start with a fish tank, some fish and starter plants. Your new farming partner swims, eats, generates a lot of waste and does all the work for you. The only thing you’ll need to do is feed your new farming partner and watch your plants grow.

A simplified drawing of an Aquaponic system. This is only one of the many design options available.

A simplified drawing of an Aquaponic system. This is only one of the many design options available.

I tried an experiment to see if it’s really that easy. I filled the fish tank with tap water, let it cycle for one day and then added fish and plants and waited to see what would happen. The plan was to pump the water from the fish tank into the plants’ soilless grow bed. The grow bed can be horizontal or vertical in design. I chose the horizontal design for the experiment. I filtered the water through the plants, plant bed medium and it returned cleaned to the fish tank. The nutrients rich water (fish waste) is in constant contact with the plants throughout the cycling of the water.

From every article and book I’ve read, I pretty much did everything wrong. I created an experiment destined to fail. Thirty days later I was surprised to find plants growing and fish swimming; my Aquaponic garden was thriving! Why didn’t it fail? That’s the big question. You see an Aquaponic growing system is a closed ecosystem, and if left to its own design, it will do everything in its power to succeed to its limits. As the months passed the system did start to fail. The pumps got clogged, hoses had algae build-up that reduced flow by 50%, fish were stressed and some died, plants started to wilt and the system was shutting-down.

Easy Come, Easy Go
Aquaponic systems are easy to start, and just as easy to fail if you do nothing. These systems do require maintenance, repairs, adjustment, and a learning curve. If you have a small system working it doesn’t necessarily mean that scaling up to a larger system will be successful. You will, however, have a better chance of success from the knowledge gained by operating that smaller system. As an example: pump failure on my small aquaponic system cost about $30 to repair, whereas the pump on my larger commercial system cost about $300. Also, I only have about a 3 hour window to replace that pump before I start losing fish stock and vegetables.

The healthy root system shown here was established in my experimental aquaponic system in just 30 days from a 4 inch starter basil plant.

The healthy root system shown here was established in my experimental Aquaponic system in just 30 days from a 4 inch starter basil plant.

The Basic Components
You’ll have to decide on what type of fish you want to farm. The four most common fish used in Aquaponics systems are; trout, cat fish, carp, and tilapia. These farming fish stock would be for food or reselling. You could also farm Koi or pool size goldfish. These are mostly for resale as non-food. On average in a healthy fish tank it takes about 7-12 months to grow fish to harvest (food) size. Each one of these fish species does have its own required growing environment, so choice could be limited depending upon where you live. Fish are usually purchased as fingerlings about 2-3inches in length from hatcheries. Fish can also be purchased online. In a starting system, figure about 1 fish per 2-3 gallon of water to be safe.

Holding TankThe fish tank can be an aquarium, plastic container, kiddie swimming pool, or an IBC container or anything that can hold water. Be sure containers are food grade safe for both fish tank and grow beds.

Grow BedsI prefer vertical growing techniques because of their space saving design. But you can also grow horizontal as well as vertical in round PVC pipe, square plastic fence post, or a flat tray grow bed. There are plenty of options. They are usually dictated by what you are growing and where.

PumpsPumps are determined by how much water volume you have and need to move. If your fish tank is 100 gallons you will want a pump that can recycle the water once (even better, twice) every hour. Pumps are rated in GPH (gallons per hour).

Air BubblerThe air bubbler is simply a continuous running air pump that supplies much needed oxygen to your fish and plants through a bubbler stone placed in the fish tank.

Tank Heater.  Depending on the fish species and season of year, you may also need a tank heater. They’re very straight forward; heater selection is based on the gallons of water you’re trying to heat.

Daily Operation
The Aquaponic system is a closed loop system. Water is recycled using 70% less water than traditional soil based systems. Because plants are fed constantly through a recycled system they become 4-6 times more productive and grow to maturity 2-3 times faster than conventional soil systems. Aquaponic fish and plants require a neutral PH for optimum health. System PH, dissolved oxygen levels and water hardness also need to be measured daily or weekly. These measurements are indicators of water and tank health, with PH and dissolved oxygen being the most important considerations. Measurements can be done with electronic metering or inexpensive disposable test strips. Quality organic fish food should also be used, if fish are healthy plants stay healthy. Prepared commercial fish food should be purchased as certified organic. If you use an Aquaponic system for growing, all produce and fish stock in your system would have an organic classification.

This is a 2-month old avocado tree grown in an Aquaponic system from an avocado nut. Again, notice the healthy root system. Avocados seem to love the Aquaponics environment.

This is a 2-month old avocado tree grown in an Aquaponic system from an avocado nut. Again, notice the healthy root system. Avocados seem to love the Aquaponics environment.

Just about anything can be grown aquaponicly. You are not limited to vegetables and herbs. I have grown avocados, pineapples, potatoes, carrots and house plants. I’m always experimenting.  You can even grow from seed; it’s a little tricky but can be done.

Lessons Learned
I have spent a great amount of time testing, operating, reading and watching tons of videos on the subject of Aquaponics. Here’s what I have found. Keep it simple, start small (less than 100 gallons). Try your system for one complete growing season. Eat everything you grow, take plenty of notes and learn from your mistakes.

Edward DuQuette has an engineering background and is currently teaching at several colleges offering aquaponics classes in their extension programs. He also offers consulting services for the aquaponic systems enthusiast and can be contacted by e-mail at

For more information, visit

Why breeders show and what can be gained by showing your well-bred animals

By Melody Reynolds

Our farm started to be exposed to animal shows as many do, with a youth program. The animals taught my children responsibility and the ability to nurture and love animals. The Rhode Island 4-H program offered many opportunities for the children to take their beloved goats out of the barn and enter them in fairs. The fairs encouraged the 4-H er’s to work with their animals and display them to their best ability. The shows offered showmanship and fitting classes. Showmanship taught the youth how to best position their animals to the greatest advantage. Fitting classes inspired the youth to bring a perfectly groomed, trimmed and clean animal into the show ring to express the quality of care taken.

Miriah Reynolds showing her well bred Saanen.

Miriah Reynolds showing her well bred Saanen.

As my children were developing these skills and winning awards for their hard work a greater benefit for our dairy goat herd was developing. In addition to the 4-H fairs the older my children got the more “open” shows we attended. The open shows, usually held by the American Dairy Goat Association, exposed our goat herd to breeders from all over the United States all looking to improve their herds and competing for the “best doe in show” based on the perfect goat characteristics determined by the score card point system.

Exposing our herd to this bigger array of dairy goat breeders opened up the possibilities for us to improve our herd.  We love our goats and did not realize we had become “barn blind.” We, until that point, bred to bucks that were convenient and local. We were ensured kids but the quality of kids was always a roll of the dice. Yes, we did get lucky many times with award winning animals that measured up to score card standards but our breeding’s were never consistent and we were not able to track or find characteristics that we wanted or knew how to duplicate.

Being exposed to a larger population of dairy goats and dairy goat people made us aware of traits in our breeding program that we liked. I was able to look into a show ring and say “that’s where I want our herd to be.” I would watch the ADGA shows and start asking questions to the breeders who had what I hoped to achieve.

This information was transfered to our barn decisions. We started to be able to look beyond the personalities of the goats and choose the stock that had the most desired characteristics. From that point a slow and steady culling of goats started to evolve and I became less “barn blind” and more observant of the flaws we needed to correct and where we could improve.

The exposure to open shows had many other benefits that affected the goat herd and our family as goat breeders.

The more shows we attended, the more people started to see our breeding program and what we have.  Last year we sold out of our buck and doe kids before they were born.  This was a direct result ofattending open shows and all the knowledge fellow dairy goat herders shared with us. We were able to make educated breeding and buying decisions.

The best benefit I receive from the open shows is spending a day with other likeminded people, “goat people.” Having various conversations all day with potential buyers and breeders enriches us all. Yes, we are competing against each other in the show ring for the best dairy goat, but after the show, for the most part, we all want to help each other grow a well-developed, healthy, and milk producing herd.

The years of transporting my children to 4-H shows to teach them the skills needed in life taught me the skills I needed to best show our goats to their best ability, clean, trained and in great conformation.

Melody Reynolds owns the first certified goat cheese and dairy in Rhode Island and has been raising goats for 25 years. She can be reached at

For more information on showing dairy goats contact the American Dairy Goats Association at  or the Dairy Goat Journal at

Local farmers are cashing in on Gastronomic Tourism in a big way, but with one-third of all tourism spending floating around waiting to be captured, the market hardly seems saturated.

By Carla Snyder

Food-based tourism is more popular than ever. Exemplified by TV shows like Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations and Parts Unknown, celebrity chefs are taking to the tourism circuit around the globe. Great Britain’s Alan Coxon, a multi-award winning chef and TV show host, named the ambassador of food this month, will be promoting Great Britain’s food, beverage and tourism industry as a whole.

Chefs Sam Strock (left) and Josh Fidler (right) prepare small plates to begin the Rettland Farm Supper Club event.

Chefs Sam Strock (left) and Josh Fidler (right) prepare small plates to begin the Rettland Farm Supper Club event. All photos by Rettland Farm

Known by many names, Gastronomic Tourism is a measured food trend across the globe. Once focused solely on the wine industry, food-based tourism, that is travel planning focused on educational, cultural or experiential activities surrounding the local food of each visited region, is now a significant trend in the local food sector. According to Quan and Wang, 2004, when data was just beginning to be gathered, over one-third of all travel dollars were devoted to food purchases. For many travelers culinary based tourism extends much further from the plate. It includes attendance at local food festivals, tours of local farms, a visit to the farmers’ market and private dining experiences at many of these locations. According to 2012 data, eating-related activities are the second most favorite activity of all tourists visiting the U.S. This translates into a substantial opportunity for agri-tourism farms as well as those selling directly to the public or local foods based restaurants.

Local farmers are cashing in on this trend in a big way, but with one-third of all tourism spending floating around waiting to be captured, the market hardly seems saturated. If you happen to be located near an established tourism

Dinner guests dining in the barn at Rettland Farm.

Dinner guests dining in the barn at Rettland Farm.

epicenter, like Gettysburg, PA, transitioning to this trend is easy. One small, diversified family farm offered their first on-farm supper in June. Rettland Farms paired up local Chef Josh Fidler, his 154 Supper Club and Chef Sam Strock to offer a night under the stars. Seats were opened first to their Community Supported Agriculture members, those who are already local supporters of the farm, and then to visitors at large. Participants to this exclusive dinner were treated to a tasting menu of 6 local food dishes to fill their bellies and provide ample conversational topics for an educational and fun evening on the farm – the makings of a perfect tourism experience.

In New York, already a famed destination for wine-focused tourism, growers are taking advantage of the new hard cider trend. Cider Week, an event brand that has spread across the country celebrates what they deem “America’s oldest libation.” With events from New York to Washington in the months of October and November 2014, this tourist-marketed experience offers full day celebrations gathering apple growers and hard cider makers from each region to celebrate this hip, ultra-local trend. Events offer demonstrations, tastings, local food pairings and socializing space for foodie tourists and locals alike.

Chef Sam Strock prepares menu items over open fire at Rettland Farm.

Chef Sam Strock prepares menu items over open fire at Rettland Farm.

For agricultural producers, marketing to capture tourism dollars may be easier than you think. Simple changes such as telling your customers where you grow and how you sell your products may make all the difference. Producers have noticed an upswing in restaurant sales after talking to shoppers at their farmers’ market stands about which restaurants buy their products. This enables the foodie driven shopper to not only visit your stand while they take in the scene at the farmers’ market but to get pointed to a restaurant to visit while in town. When it comes to tourism, word of mouth says it all. Be sure to encourage customers that buy directly from you as well as businesses that purchase your product to promote their use of your local products on websites like Trip Advisor and Yelp. One local food comment can go a long way to entice the right food-focused tourist.

Carla Snyder is the Agricultural Entrepreneurship and Marketing Educator with Penn State Extension in Gettysburg, PA.  She can be reached at 717-334-6271 or by email at

By Elena Mihaly

legal services food hubConservation Law Foundation (CLF) would like to announce the launch of a new project under our Farm & Food Initiative called the Legal Services Food Hub. The Legal Services Food Hub is a free legal services clearinghouse for farmers, food entrepreneurs, and related organizations. CLF is piloting the Legal Services Food Hub in Massachusetts with an initial focus on cases involving transactional issues, such as land acquisition/transfer, estate issues, taxes, contracts, and corporate formation, among others. For example, if you’re a farmer considering transitioning your farm to the next generation, we could match you with an estate planning attorney. Likewise, if you’re a farmer interested in entering into a purchase agreement for new land, we could find you a real estate attorney to represent you during the land transaction. Involving an attorney can help farmers avoid unforeseen liabilities, draft enforceable contracts, negotiate sound lease agreements, and effectively navigate other legal transactions.

The Legal Services Food Hub serves farmers, food entrepreneurs, and nonprofit or community organizations formed for the purpose of supporting farmers and food entrepreneurs. To ensure that these free services are going to those most in need, participating farmers and food entrepreneurs are subject to an income cap: the gross sales of the business must not exceed $75,000, and the applicant’s household income must not exceed 400% of the Federal Poverty Limit. A chart with the 2014 Federal Poverty Limits can be found at

CLF plans to expand this project to additional New England states after the Massachusetts pilot. Please call the Legal Services Food Hub Coordinator with any questions at (617) 850-1744, or visit our website to learn more at

By pooling product, the 25 farmer members of Adirondack Grazers have more than doubled their return on grass-fed beef.

By Sarah Nechamen

New York State loses a farm every three days. For many of these farmers, the economics just didn’t work out: they were spending too much time and money producing, marketing and distributing their products to justify the return. The Adirondack Grazers is a grass-fed beef cooperative that is trying—and succeeding—in solving this problem. I talked to cooperative founder Sarah Teale to find out just how the 30 member cooperative managed to decrease the farmers’ workload while increasing their profits.

Tuesday Miller plays with a cow at Rosie’s Beef.

Tuesday Miller plays with a cow at Rosie’s Beef.

Sarah Teale is not only the beef cooperative founder, but is also a filmmaker— an Emmy-nominated filmmaker at that, who lives in Manhattan and produces groundbreaking documentaries for HBO. So first I had to ask: how did she end up running a grass fed beef cooperative in upstate New York?

“My husband had a farm up in Washington County for 30 years,” she explains. “A local farmer used to work the property for us and he had a dairy herd.” But like so many farms in the area, the farmer ended up selling the herd, and the fields became brushy once no one was actively cultivating them.  One day, the farmer suggested to Sarah that she and her husband Gordon start a grass fed beef operation. The problem was, Sarah and Gordon actually couldn’t produce grass fed beef—not by themselves, and not in a way that was financially sustainable. Sarah recognized this after meeting with Cooperative Extension agent Sandy Buxton and subtracting the costs from the potential earnings to find out how much the farm could actually make with a beef herd.  According to Sarah, “It turned out that we couldn’t make anything, and in fact we’d be losing money!”

Sharing the Dream

Sarah wanted to share the Adirondack Grazers’ success with other farmers, and even serve as a model for other groups looking to form cooperatives of their own. How convenient, then, that she is an Emmy-nominated filmmaker!

Sarah teamed up with Lisa Jackson (another Emmy-nominated filmmaker) to create a documentary on the Adirondack Grazers and its member farmers. The feature-length film is nearly finished and in fall of 2014 will be released to not only the cooperative members but also to farmers across the country. It could even end up on TV.

“I will be showing it to HBO, but I have no idea how interested people will be in a film about beef farmers,” Sarah laughs.

The Adirondack Grazers also intend to write a how-to pamphlet on the ins and outs of forming a cooperative.

“Maybe we can put the film inside the how-to pamphlets and get it out to everybody,” considers Sarah. “Maybe I’ll go write a grant for that too!”

Until the documentary and pamphlet are finished, the cooperative is using their website and Facebook page to provide outreach to farmers looking to start a cooperative or join the Adirondack Grazers who, it turns out, are currently looking for new members.

So Sarah came up with the idea of putting a cooperative together, as a way of collaborating with other beef producers to increase the amount of money the farmers could get for each pound of their beef. She set up a meeting in November of 2011 to gage interest and a surprising total of 40 farmers filled the room that day.

With the initial meeting and plenty of help from Cornell Cooperative Extension, Sarah had little difficulty finding farmers from upstate New York and Vermont who were willing to become members. but the next hurdle was finding a way to fund the project.

Sarah applied for and received a SARE grant after the November meeting and that money ended up being crucial to getting the project off the ground, paying for both the insurance and for a lawyer to incorporate the cooperative in June 2012. Later, it even funded farmer profiles which were posted on the Adirondack Grazers website to increase transparency to the customers.

Making Decisions Cooperatively
Once the Adirondack Grazers officially formed, they needed to devise a marketing plan targeting how and where to sell their beef: wholesale or direct, fresh or frozen, and the big question of pricing, were just some of the issues that the Grazers struggled with.

So the group set up a board made up of farmers who are members of the cooperative, plus Sarah, who “doesn’t quite count as a farmer.” The  board started with  5 members who met weekly to discuss these questions and  vote on a decision. The full membership meets every few months to vote on large decisions such as pricing. Sometimes, an early decision had to be changed down the line because things didn’t work out as well as expected: for example the attempt to sell frozen beef rather than fresh. It didn’t help that the Grazers’ freezer spontaneously broke down over the winter, but the real problem was with the demand.

“Down here in New York City the chefs don’t want frozen and the retail customers don’t want frozen either. Everybody wants fresh meat. Which is silly actually, but they don’t know that,” laughs Sarah.

Sara Bigelow of the Meat Hook performs a meat cutting demonstration.

Sara Bigelow of the Meat Hook performs a meat cutting demonstration.

On the other hand, the decision to sell wholesale instead of direct marketing was one that worked out quite well.

“We found that our sweet spot is wholesale,” Sarah says. “We tried to sell retail and direct. You can’t do it fresh because it’s too scary; you have to get rid of every piece. And we found you can’t do it frozen either on the volume because you get rid of some hamburger and the steaks but then you’re left with a lot of the other things. You’re left with the eye rounds and the shanks and bits that people don’t know what to do with.”

So instead of wrestling with farmers markets, Sarah sells the beef to stores like Honest Weight in Albany and Healthy Living in Saratoga, to online markets like Fresh Direct, and to a number of butchers, distributors, and the odd restaurant that knows what to do with a whole cow.

Another decision which worked out surprisingly well was setting the price very high compared to commercial beef prices. In the beginning, the marketers (Sarah herself and Lisa Randles of White Clover Farm) had trouble selling the expensive meat, even in New York City where they focused most of their marketing. But commercial beef prices fluctuate up and down and are currently leaning heavily towards the “up” end of the spectrum, so the Adirondack Grazers’ beef, which is kept at a steady rate of $3.50 a pound, has become much easier to sell.

Cows grazing at Rosie’s Beef.

Cows grazing at Rosie’s Beef.

In general, the cooperative has worked out a good system for marketing and distributing their beef. The farmers drop their animals off at Eagle Bridge slaughterhouse.  From there, the beef is transported to various restaurants and retail stores, and to New York City butchers and restaurants via food transporter “Fresh Connections.” (These connections were virtually all made by Sarah during a summer whirlwind spent running around New York with meat samples.) The cooperative then takes 15% to pay for the marketing and distribution, and the rest goes in a check straight back to the farmer.

The Bottom Line
Cooperative members are now taking in more than twice the money for their steers than they received before joining Adirondack Grazers. How does the cooperative model increase profits so much?

There are a few different ways, according to Sarah: first, the members work together to affect the markets. If one farmer contacts a butcher or distributor and says “I’ll sell you my beef for $3.50 a pound,” they are much less likely to get a sale from that than if all 25 farmers in the area demanded that same price.

The cooperative also takes care of marketing and distribution, so that each farmer doesn’t need to spend time and money driving four hours down to New York City in order to get a good price for their product. And finally, cooperatives open up markets such as restaurants that require a steady supply of beef every week, an idea which a small farm by itself just doesn’t have the volume to entertain.

All in all the cooperative members get a steady $2.98 per pound paid directly to them, regardless of the price of feed or commercial beef or fuel. This high price combined with the farmers’ increased herd sizes (a 55% increase since the cooperative was formed) has put the Adirondack Grazers on track to return a whopping $1 million to farmers this year.

Environmentally Friendly Beef
Though economics are the main driver for many farmers who choose to join a cooperative, the benefits aren’t only financial. The cooperative model is also environmentally friendly—at least where beef is concerned.

Adirondack Grazers Richard and Cynthia Larson operate a grass-fed beef operation located in Wells, Vermont.

Adirondack Grazers Richard and Cynthia Larson operate a grass-fed beef operation located in Wells, Vermont.

“What we’ve shown to everybody is that there’s a huge market for 100% grass fed beef,” explains Sarah.

And the co-op members are taking notice. A few of the Adirondack Grazers farms still finish their animals on grain, but more and more are switching over to 100% grass fed because there is such a big market for it. That switch brings down costs from fuel, equipment, and grain, which again increases profit for the farmer but also makes the farm a lot more sustainable: every decrease in fuel, and especially every eliminated manure lagoon, decreases greenhouse gas emissions from the farm.

Even more than the per-farm emissions, cooperatives have the potential to increase the viability of the local foods movement itself. As Sarah puts it, “People like to think that local is happening and sustainable is happening, but it’s not happening on a scale yet that is sustainable. It’s being built on the backs of people driving four hours to a farmers market.”

So perhaps the solution to creating a food system that is truly locally and regionally based, which can sustain itself both environmentally and economically, is for farmers to cooperate— to create the economies of scale needed to be financially viable without sacrificing that small farm dream.

It’s certainly working for the Adirondack Grazers.

Sarah Nechamen is an undergraduate Plant Science major at Cornell and the Small Farms Program summer intern for 2014.

Anyone interested in joining the Adirondack Grazers’ Cooperative should call their office at 518-409-5599 or contact Sarah Teale at 917-941-0481. Learn more about SARE project number FNE12-738 at

On average, CSA’s have to replace 55% of their shareholders every year, so what can we do to keep them coming back?

By Brian F. Moyer

One of the attractions of having a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) farm is it allows you to focus more on farming and spend less time on trying to figure out where you are going to market your harvest.

While there may be some truth in that, one still needs to find the “community” portion of the CSA that will support your farming venture, so let’s look at some ways to find shareholders or members and explore some methods you can use to keep them.

According to a survey of shareholders of CSA’s in the Mid-Atlantic Region that was compiled by Lydia Oberholtzer for the Small Farm Success Project, on average, CSA’s have to replace 55% of their shareholders every year. This can be a lot of work and worry every winter when you’d probably rather spend your time planning and ordering seeds for your upcoming season.

Who Are Your Shareholders?
Spend some time learning about the members of the community you want to grow food for. What are their staple foods? What do the demographics look like?

Shareholder bags ready to be picked up. Photo by Carla Snyder

Shareholder bags ready to be picked up.
Photo by Carla Snyder

Knowing who is in your community might influence the products you will offer, drop off points, what kind of shares you will offer, events you may have, and how you communicate with your shareholders.

Finding Shareholders
No matter what form of agriculture you do, you will have to be involved in some form of marketing and CSA’s are no exception. The dictionary definition of marketing is: the total of activities involved in the transfer of goods from the producer or seller to the consumer or buyer, including advertising, shipping, storing, and selling.

Marketing requires three things; time, tools, and a bit of knowledge. Time for marketing is not the first thing we think about as farmers but maybe it should be. Think of it this way, the harvest isn’t fully complete until the food is in the customers hands.

There are many marketing tools available to us today that can make reaching out to your customers or shareholders much easier. The trick is selecting the tools that are right for you.

There are the obvious ones, logo, business cards, and invoices. These are very important. They give your business a “look” or “feel” and something that your customers will recognize immediately. Once you have those basics, how are you going to use them?

How do your potential shareholders get their information? Do they search websites? Do they use Facebook? Do they have a newspaper subscription? Knowing the demographic you are trying to reach will help you select what marketing tools will work the best for you.

Nationally, the demographics of CSA shareholders are suburban or urban, they are educated, mostly female ages between 30 and 49 and are already consumers of organic foods. They want high-quality food and they want to support local farms.

If this is the demographic of your community, then such internet tools like websites and social media might be one of your options. Ah, but not all social media is created equal. There are demographics for different networks. For instance, if a majority of your shareholders are women, the social network site Pinterest may be one you will want to look into since a majority of its users are women. Social media can be a good tool for instant and brief communication with your shareholders.

Whatever you decide to use, all your tools should direct people to your website. Think of your website as the hub and your other tools such as Facebook, Pinterest, blogs, E-newsletter, etc., as spokes. The website is where all the important information should be.

A website should include three main things and they are what farmer Lisa Kerschner of North Star Orchards calls background info, basic info, and bummer issues.

Background information would include letting folks know why they should invest in you. Are you an experienced farmer or are you just starting out? Why should they become shareholders of your farm? Be sure to include any testimonials from existing customers if you have them.

Basic information would cover things like how much is a share? Where do I pick up my share? What does a share include? What are my responsibilities as a shareholder? Also let folks know if you are partnering with any other farms to provide products for the shareholders.

Bummer issues tackle questions like, ‘what if I can’t pick up my share this week?’ or  ‘What happens if there is a crop loss?’

Keeping Shareholders
Just as you need methods to communicate with your shareholders, you should provide ways for the shareholders to communicate with you. You need to know why they join, stay, and leave. How do they use the produce you provide? Is it enough? Is it the quality they expected?

Some tools you can use:

  • Create a ‘core group’ of shareholders for advice, feedback and planning.
  • Create opportunities for feedback (during season, end of season)
  • Talk to members at pick-up
  • Have a ‘Comment Tree’ (paper, web, email)
  • Have an Email listserv for the shareholders
  • Conduct surveys (email, web, paper) at the end of the season
  • Learn why members don’t renew

The biggest reward for taking the time to use these tools effectively is having clear and better communication with your shareholders. This will result in better retention rates and spending less time in the winter trying to find new shareholders and more time doing other things.

For more information on marketing, visit  and

Brian F. Moyer is a Program Assistant with Penn State Extension in Lehigh County PA. He can be reached at 610-391-9840 or

Message from the Editor

It happens every year, and always surprises me.  Last summer, just after the first long, soaking rain of summer, I walked out to the garden to see a carpet of slugs feasting on a tattered array of succulent green stems that were once peppers, basil and hearty greens.  I went straight to the local farm supply store to purchase another round of starts and added a large bag of Earthbound organic slug killer to my cart.  A little sun and the slug killer worked wonders and the new plants were soon looking delicious and hearty enough that they attracted a midnight visit from some local deer who browsed them to the ground. I half-heartedly replanted, mostly surrendering to the fact that I was likely sticking charitable snacks in the ground for an infinite number of hungry fauna patrolling the great backyard.Violet_2013

Several months later, despite the stresses of weather and herbivory, I bent down to see modest fruits forming on most of the garden veggies. The resilience and abundance of nature always surprises me.  I know I’m not the only one whose fruits and vegetables are suffering early heat or late frosts, drought or excessive rains, and damage from any number of creatures with wings and legs and hoofs.  And yet, as the days grow shorter, the farm stands and stalls grow fuller with bountiful displays of the harvest.  It certainly is hard work to tend a farm or garden, but we can be thankful that nature does a miraculous job with its part.

During this busiest time of the year, don’t forget to find a shady spot, rest your head, and be amazed by nature’s work!

Best wishes,

Managing Editor

Cornell Small Farms Program Update

Summer is often a quiet season in the Small Farms office.  Researchers and students head out to the fields to focus on seeding research plots and data collection, and our home in the Plant Sciences building gets pleasantly quiet and reflective.  This summer, we had a productive meeting with our Small Farms Leadership Team who helps us plan upcoming projects and prioritize focus areas. We’re all ready to jump into a busy Fall season of launching new programs and generating new resources. See below!

Sparking a Wholesale Revolution: Preparing Small and Mid-Size Farmers to Enter Larger Markets
We are excited to announce the launch of a new 3 year training program to help prepare small and mid-size farmers to sell to distributors. The project, which will launch in October, includes trainings to educators and farmers to assess changes needed in production, storage, packaging and handling to satisfy larger markets.  To learn more about the history and work plan for this project, visit This work is made possible by Northeast SARE.

Online Courses for Aspiring, New & Experienced Farmers
Registration for the 2014-2015 season is now open! The Cornell Small Farms Program offers a catalogue of 12 online classes to help you improve your farm production skills, marketing, record keeping and business management.  These interactive 5-7-week courses are led by experienced educators and farmers.  Visit the course calendar or course descriptions to see the offerings of all our courses organized by season.  We’ve created a FAQ page to help answer any additional questions you might have.  Visit for info.

Small Farms Program Releases First Orchard Management Video

Ian Merwin demonstrating apple tree pruning.

Ian Merwin demonstrating apple tree pruning.

Our videographer, Peter Carroll, has completed editing of our first orchard management video, featuring Cornell emeritus professor Ian Merwin demonstrating apple tree pruning and training at his farm, Black Diamond. You can view the video at This video was funded partially with contributions to our Indiegogo campaign at the end of 2013.

Steve Gabriel Joins Cornell Small Farms Program
We are pleased to welcome Steve Gabriel as the newest member of staff at the Cornell Small Farms Program. Steve specializes in agroforestry and permaculture and has co-authored the book Farming the Woods with Cornell professor Ken Mudge, as well as a number of other publications and fact sheets related to forest farming. We’re excited to work with Steve to integrate mushroom production and agroforestry into our programs and resources.

It’s fall, and while human children pick out their new notebooks, folders, and backpacks, I pick out my top does and bucks.

By Stephanie Fisher

The days grow shorter, and the temperature cools each day. Milk production has dipped and will continue to dip until the goats produce next to to nothing come their dry-off in mid-December. But for now it’s breeding season, a time of infinite possibility. I start thinking about breeding in the spring. The goats are first fresh, every one of them producing close to their peak. I watch their kids, and take note of which breeding pairs I liked best, which kids are the most thrifty, the perfect birth weight, and of course, the most interesting colors. I continue to file these mental notes away as the kids get older and does progress through their lactation throughout the summer. I look for patterns – all of the doelings with precocious udders were sired by Pierre; Annika has a tendency toward hoof rot and a runny nose, and her daughter seems to be on the poorer side of thrifty.

The does vie for the buck's attention at the height of breeding season. Photo by Stephanie Fisher

The does vie for the buck’s attention at the height of breeding season. Photo by Stephanie Fisher

Then comes the fall, or specifically pre-fall, in August, when we begin our pre-breeding preparation. While human children pick out their new notebooks, folders, and backpacks, I pick out my top does and bucks. I look through our Dairy Herd Improvement Registry (DHIR) records from the year’s tests. DHIR records are invaluable, and we base most of our breeding decisions on the test results. We test our herd monthly: we get immediate production results per doe, but also receive a more detailed breakdown of each doe’s butterfat, protein, somatic cell count (SCC), milk urea nitrogen (MUN), and days in milk (DIM). The information is provided for the most recent test, the previous test, and a projection for their 305-lactation. Not all of the information is relevant to us, and depending on your herd’s situation, may not be relevant to you either. But it’s nice to have it all in the event any future buyer is interested.

I highlight our top fifteen percent and bottom ten percent in production, then I look at their butterfat, protein, and SCC. I consider SCC in our breeding because SCC is an inheritable trait. I tend to look at it positively, meaning I utilize a low SCC as a pro in breeding decisions. I also look at a doe’s thriftiness, confirmation, and overall condition. How was her freshening? Was her coat shiny and smooth throughout the summer? Does she carry a healthy weight? Were her FAMACHA scores consistently low? How are her hooves? Has she had any serious sicknesses this season? How is her udder? Answering these questions provides a hollistic picture of an individual doe.

What about those pesky bottom ten percent? In short, we cull. We work to sell the does and then utilize that money to purchase kids in the spring. We give buyers the option of having the does bred before they leave the farm, or they can chose to bring the does back free of charge when they are in heat.

We start the pre-breeding process by “flushing” about a month before our first scheduled breeding. Flushing is the act of increasing nutrition for a short period of time. You can flush by bumping up the herd’s grain consumption (slowly) or feeding out exceptionally high quality hay or putting them onto a rich pasture. We flush the herd primarily to increase their body condition before heading into the stressful breeding period. Flushing also encourages estrus and higher rates of ovulation in does with a lower body condition, which are typically our heaviest producers. We also flush our bucks to ensure they are especially bulky.

Then come the vaccinations. Our pre-breeding immunizations are CD & T, Rabies, and BoSe. This gives us a chance to bring each doe onto the stand to trim her hooves and record her FAMACHA and body condition scores. We like FAMACHA scores in the 1-3 range and body condition scores in the 3-3.5 range, which is a little higher than our usual 2.5-3. We expect each doe to lose weight during the breeding period and drop back down to a healthy 2.5-3 as she goes into her gestation. This is also a good time to do annual blood testing for CAE, CL, and Johnes. This way you’ll know if any of your does is a carrier, and you can adjust your culls and breeding plan accordingly.

We make all of our breeding decisions before we introduce our bucks to the herd. We typically keep 3-4 bucks for our herd of 50 does. We keep a buck for each breed that we prefer, in our case two Alpines (one pure French, one American), a Saanen, and a Kiko. Our breeding strategy has three distinct components: 1) replacements for our herd, 2) sale stock, and 3) meat kids. All does producing over the herd average are bred to our dairy bucks, with a preference for purebred stock. We try to breed these does first so that their doelings will have plenty of time to grow to the ideal 70 lb weight range for first year breeding. From that pool of kids, we try to sell and keep as many doelings as possible, vetting each one for the strong dairy qualities I mentioned above. Bucklings are tricky. Ideally you would only keep a buckling from a proven sire and dam, meaning both the dam and sire have high producing daughters in the milking line with good udder confirmation, condition, and thriftiness. Any does that we choose not to keep are then delineated for sale stock. We like to sell as many kids as we can, and we utilize a sliding pay scale based on the kids’ age at the time of the sale. The rest of the herd is bred to our Kiko buck, and all of his kids are raised for meat.

We aim to begin breeding in the first week of October so that our first freshening will occur at the beginning of March. We bring our bucks to their fall home about one to two weeks ahead of our targeted first breeding date – the bucks live in a barn that shares a fence line with our milking lane so the does are forced to walk past them twice a day. As the does walk by for milking, we know right away who is in heat. Aside from the usual tail wagging, unwarranted yelling, and fresh behavior, the doe will also linger at the fence line. Then we pull out the doe and put her in with the designated buck. You’ll know she is in the necessary standing heat if she “stands” for the buck, otherwise you will be watching an endless game of cat and mouse as the doe runs the buck in circles around the breeding pen. We then calculate when the doe’s next heat will be (18 to 21 days later) so we can rebreed her in the event she didn’t take the first time. It’s possible for a doe to have a “false” second heat if she’s already been bred, or to have an irregular cycle, so we rebreed at any sign of estrus.

There are a thousand ways to go about breeding a dairy goat herd, and some of the things mentioned above may not apply to a smaller scale herd. In general, a breeding strategy should always aim to improve the genetics of the herd as a whole, whether your focus is showing or production, or better yet, both. Don’t be disappointed if you find yourself with a doe or buck who doesn’t quite live up to their breeding pedigree. Breeding is a gamble, and despite all of your carefully laid plans and best intentions, sometimes the genes just don’t fit. For further reading on genetics, try tatiana Stanton’s paper “Who’s Your Daddy – Selective Breeding in Goats” which you can download for free on the Cornell Extension Goat site at

Stephanie Fisher is a dairy goat farmer in Au Sable Forks, NY. She writes about her life as a young farmer at and may be contacted at

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