When the 2012 Farm Bill (which should really be called the Food Bill) died in the Republican-controlled House of Representatives last year, so did any hope for meaningful reform to the many programs it covers. The best that Congress could do was to extend the 2008 bill through October of this year. While it is easy to despair that nothing will ever get done at the national level, there is more cause for optimism regionally. We live in a region with extraordinary agricultural riches, and there are some talented people working hard to leverage those assets into a viable long-term economic force.
Glynwood is a nonprofit dedicated to promoting sustainable agriculture in the Hudson Valley. Founded 17 years ago on 225 rolling acres in Putnam County, it is an innovative and resourceful force for change as well as a working livestock and vegetable farm with a CSA and retail meat sales. The Perkins family, which first bought the land in 1929, funded an endowment that provides about one third of Glynwood's $3 million annual budget. The endowment funds are earmarked for property maintenance and farming; all other programs must be paid for with funds raised from organizations and individuals. Members of the Perkins family are still on the board, and actively involved with funding and steering the organization. Most of the original Perkins property is now Fahnestock State Park, and the Glynwood campus is owned by the Open Space Institute, which works actively throughout the Eastern US to purchase and protect land from development.
Last summer, Glynwood hired Kathleen Frith as President. Previously the managing director of the Center for Health and the Global Environment at the Harvard Medical School, Frith brings a passion for sustainable local agriculture informed by her years of experience addressing our complex relationship with the planet on land and sea. She speaks enthusiastically about her new job. "Glynwood is uniquely positioned to help build a regional food system. We believe in an agriculture-based economy in the Hudson Valley, and there's a lot of work to do to make those efforts viable." In addition to expanding existing programs and launching new ones, she is also hiring five new employees—including communications and events directors—to form a more cohesive group that works together full time rather than using consultants as in the past.
Frith intends to build on that focused collaborative environment by making Glynwood available to other organizations to hold meetings and retreats, citing the Aspen Institute as a model. "We'll have convenings and lectures, produce white papers, and foster conversation on a wide variety of subjects," she explains, "and we'll be hosting many more public events. We're part of a large movement, but we're working locally, so it's important for people to know what we do." Frith and four other senior staff live at Glynwood. Besides the numerous farm buildings, the campus is dotted with houses, including a large main house for guests and meetings, and another for the offices. The overall impression of the place is a balance between rugged and refined: steep, rocky land and well-kept buildings. The dramatic topography makes for constantly shifting views, and the interior spaces are large and comfortable.
Ken Kleinpeter is vice president of operations, meaning he manages the farm. The CSA has about 120 members, and during the weekly pickups the farm also sells meat and other local products to members and the general public. With seven acres of vegetables, the flat land is mostly used up, so his main focus is on the animals: cows, sheep, goats, chickens, and pigs. Glynwood practices rotational grazing, where different animals move through the pastures in sequence to eat all the various plants and bugs and enrich the soil with their different manure. Goats can graze on marginal land, relishing tough shrubs that other ruminants avoid. Because of this, Glynwood is formulating strategies to promote the raising and consumption of goats in the region, much of which is too steep and rocky for crops. "Goats love multiflora roses [thorny, invasive brambles that cover much of our region] and will stand in clover to eat them, while the sheep and cows don't like them much." A few years of grazing goats on brushy land can turn it into pasture suited for other animals, and they provide excellent milk and meat. Look for goats to become a thing in the near future. Kleinpeter believes that meat farming is absolutely sustainable, given the right method: "People talk about how it takes seven pounds of grain to produce one pound of beef, but our cows don't see a bit of grain in their whole lives. And this land can't grow anything else, so it's better to raise animals on it and keep it in use."
The paucity of humane slaughterhouses in the region represents a major sticking point for small-scale meat farmers, many of whom have to reserve time months in advance. In response, Glynwood developed the Modular Harvest System: a mobile, USDA-approved slaughterhouse consisting of four trailers intended to be moved between different docking sites throughout the region. The MHS is run by LILA (Local Infrastructure for Local Agriculture), a Glynwood offshoot, though it is not currently processing animals. The biggest obstacle to its operation appears to be the many requirements and regulations governing prospective docking sites, ranging from power and water to waste disposal and Animal Welfare Approved housing for animals. Contrary to what many people believe, the MHS does not drive from farm to farm; it is mobile, but can only operate at an approved site.
Preserving a Signature Crop
The Apple Project, covered here in November, may be the program that Glynwood is best known for. The multifaceted effort began with the mission of preserving the apple as a signature crop in the Hudson Valley, and developed strategies for promoting value-added products—specifically hard cider and spirits—to make apple farming more viable as a business. The Apple Exchange brought French farmers from Normandy to the Hudson Valley and then took a group of our cider and liquor makers over to France; both groups spoke enthusiastically about the knowledge they gained from experiencing both the creation and marketing of the others' products. Cider Week, the public education portion of the program, has grown into a significant institution in just the two years since it began; attendance and media attention at last year's events were significantly higher than the first year. And the beverage makers have been meeting regularly, with Glynwood's help, to build a trade association to promote their products and lobby for regulatory reforms and enlist state aid with promotion and marketing. "It's a sign of the maturity of that project that the industry is beginning to flourish," says Sara Grady, vice president of programming, who oversaw the Apple Project from its inception.
Keep Farming is a Glynwood program that helps towns retain and expand their agricultural base. Virginia Kasinski, director of community-based programs, explains the idea: "We offer guidance and technical assistance, but it has to be tailored to each community based on their needs and the type of agriculture they have." In Chatham, once the town realized that farmers spent $1.25 million a year on local goods and services and that 60 percent of the farmland was rented, they created a new committee, which included farmers, to formulate strategies for land use and preservation. The committee is now a permanent part of the town government. Durham, a town in Greene County where second home development was putting pressure on open spaces, used Keep Farming to reinvent land use for the current economy. Formerly, the area mostly produced dairy, but the town's new plan is based on developing a combination of forestry, maple syrup, grass-fed beef, and agritourism.
Youth Lead the Way
While Glynwood hosts interns every season who live on campus and help either with the vegetable or meat sides of the farm, educating aspiring farmers will become Glynwood's biggest focus. Beginning this year, in collaboration with the Open Space Institute, Glynwood will start its Farm Incubator program on 400 acres near New Paltz owned by OSI. The program will solicit proposals from young farmers with some experience and clear plans for their businesses and give them land and guidance to get up and running. After three years, they will be placed on other OSI-owned land in the region to continue farming.
Dave Llewellyn, director of farmer training, heads the program. "The plan is to begin with livestock; the soil needs to be restored, so we'll be setting up a composting operation and focusing on animals. Over time, though, there will be room for all sorts of possibilities, and we'll choose plans that complement each other." Three farmers will be added each year, up to a total of nine, at which point the first three will move on and three new ones will enter the program. It's a good example of the way in which Glynwood designs its programs to tie together: Towns participating in Keep Farming will need good farmers to keep their open spaces healthy and productive, and the incubator will be a source for seasoned talent looking for a permanent home.
Glynwood's first new hire was Jason Wood, former executive chef at Tavern in Garrison. As he upgrades the kitchen, he is also working with Frith and Grady to develop a plan for using it to further all of the organization's goals. He will cook farm-to-table dinners every month, with different themes and intended audiences, and he will teach classes to the CSA members about how to use whole animals and other products, and instruct chefs interested in working more closely with farms. In keeping with Glynwood's holistic approach, he plans to promote goat meat to chefs and home cooks alike. He's also developing a line of value-added foods, like stock and garlic powder, that make full use of surplus ingredients and can be sold at the weekly CSA pickup. "Restaurant chefs have to figure out how to make money off of everything, says Wood, "but here I can use everything, not waste anything, and if it doesn't sell I can use it in the kitchen."
Pushback Against Big Ag
Frith sums up Glynwood's purpose this way: "We craft programs and use philanthropic money to build infrastructure and give them the organizational character that they need so that they can be not only self-sufficient, but actually attracting investment." She speaks about regional replicability as the new business model, a counterweight to growth for its own sake. It's a compelling form of pushback against Big Ag: not Luddite, but one which includes all the costs and benefits of sustainable food in its calculus. Appropriately enough, a key to the success of this vision is in keeping the endeavors local, creating markets that keep dollars in their communities where they can do the most good. Talking about the realities of industrial agriculture and the many ways in which the system is heavily tilted against small farms, Kleinpeter, bumping along the road in a golf cart with his big dog Dudley sitting on my feet, says, "Realistically, this kind of food is never going to be for everyone, I don't think. But it can be for a lot more people, and maybe that will be enough."
For more information, visit Glynwood.org.