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Family plants new roots in Upstate New York as organic farmers

Eric Landowne, co-owner of Blue Heron Farms, talks about his first year in Lodi, New York.
By: Sandra Aguirre and Angela Poffenbaugh

A greenhouse where the Landowne family plants their vegetables.
A greenhouse where the Landowne family plants their vegetables.

Eric and Birgit Landowne have seen it all from radishes to basil to strawberries as local organic farmers. However, this was their first year coming to farm in Lodi, New York. After farming for 15 years in Pennsylvania they took over for Blue Heron Farm this year, one of the 200+ Community Supported Agriculture farms in Upstate New York.

Co-owner Birgit Landowne says she was ready for a change of locations but was still looking for a way to serve organic vegetables to as many people as possible.

“We were just ready for the next step of coming to a larger plot of land where we have more possibilities,” Landowne said. “We definitely want to stay local, we don’t want to be a huge operation.”

After their years of experience in Pennsylvania, the family says they felt relatively prepared  making the transition to upstate New York.

Eric Landowne, husband and co-owner of Blue Heron Farms, says that when deciding to move to Lodi, he realized he wanted larger plots of land to farm on and provide more vegetables.

“The goal is just to keep providing fresh vegetables to a local community and financially make ends meet,” Landowne said. “We’re just getting our seedlings started for this coming year and we’ve had some greens we’ve been overwintering.”

They currently use their organic vegetables to supply the Ithaca Farmers Market, Green Star Market and their local CSA program.

Not only has the Landowne family not only has worked on CSA farms for years but are also becoming a part of a rising trend throughout the nation.

CSA programs grow in popularity nationwide

Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) was a concept designed to build relationships between consumers and growers through the growth of organic vegetables. The programs were established for people to become knowledgeable about how their food is grown and make healthier choices. The idea of CSA was brought to North America in the mid-1980s and completed their first year of operation in 1986.

The Landowne family preparing for the Spring season.
The Landowne family preparing for the Spring season.

According to a study by Cornell University, there are over two hundred CSA farms within a 140 mile radius of Utica, New York, located close to Ithaca. A majority of CSA farms are located in the Northeast, with New York ranked as second for having the most CSA farms.

Consumers who support CSA farmers pay a share of the the farm’s production prior to the growing season. This arrangement allows farmers to buy seeds, transplants, other items needed for growing season and to pay for labor without waiting until the harvest to generate revenue.

With a lot of added benefits, CSA farms encourage consumers to purchase their produce locally. A majority of farmers plant accordingly to what the local community wants to eat.  

CSAs prioritize health and the ecology when it comes to planting and selling vegetables. When planting food, CSA farmers don’t use herbicides, pesticides or artificial fertilizers that could  reduce groundwater pollution and toxic residues on food are avoided.

Ithaca College junior Emily Grossi said she chose using a CSA program because the idea of eating local, healthy vegetables appealed to her.

“I was probably eating those for at least three meals a week, at the very least.” Grossi said. “Being vegetarian it was very important to me trying to be healthier in general.”

Grossi says that she enjoyed eating locally grown vegetables and is planning on doing it again next year with her housemate.

“It was a really good bonding experience because there were vegetables that we didn’t know how to use so we had to google and figure out what they were,” Grossi said.  “We’d try to use them in new recipes and we got to cook together with those vegetables.”

According to the USDA, in 2012, nearly 50,000 farms also sold some or all their products directly to retail outlets like restaurants, grocery stores, schools, hospitals or other business.  About 2.3% of farms sold their products directly to retailers and the number of farms in the state of New York to sell directly to retailers is 7%.  

Green Star produce manager Harold Brown says they sell a lot of their produce from local farms.

“There’s quite a few,” Brown said. “They range from large organic farms like Remembrance or Blue Heron Farm to smaller farms and sometimes the Amish too.”

According to Harold, their sales of produce from local farms are low because of the winter season. When it is harvest season, he estimates that about 50% of the produce they sell is locally grown.

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