WALLKILL—If you ask a farmer what they wish for, it would be good soil, good weather, and a helping hand to work the land.
Bradley Stroll, co-owner of the organic Fresh Meadow Farm in Wallkill has most of that, as well as an old-fashioned work ethic and boundless optimism.
“I love doing it. I want to build this farm into the biggest and best organic farm in Orange County—that’s my goal,” Stroll said.
He always loved the countryside and growing things, and plans to live at the farm all year round, eventually using the produce that he grows.
Stroll is a graduate of The Culinary Institute of America and has spent over 30 years in the bakery business, having also worked at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in New York. Currently, Stroll and his family—his wife Catherine, and two daughters, divide their time between their New York city bakery called “Food Gems,” and the farm in Wallkill, which they bought eight years ago.
He relishes the change of scenery and explained that he never gets tired of observing how a handful of seeds turns into such bounty.
“When the envelope comes, it’s this tiny packet of seeds, and by the time you’re done, you’re filling trucks full of lettuce from that little envelope—it’s a good feeling. All the energy is in that little seed,” Stroll said with a sense of wonder.
No Roundup In Sight
The fields and the greenhouses on his 56-acre farm have started to sprout with vibrant green shoots rising out of the famous Orange County black dirt that an ancient glacier left behind. And although there’s not much to harvest yet, the weeds love the soil just as much as the vegetables, so before planting the tiny vegetable seedlings they use a special rototiller attached to a tractor that turns the soil and the weeds, so that they become compost.
Non-organic farms use Roundup to eradicate weeds, followed by artificial fertilizer to help the crop along. Companies who sell the stuff will have us believe that despite dowsing plants with glyphosate (the active chemical in Roundup that kills weeds) somehow we don’t end up ingesting the stuff. Yet some simple research paints a different picture.
Organic farming is more labor-intensive, but it preserves the soil’s bio-dynamic qualities. Stroll also uses a special cocktail of organic fertilizer with fishmeal, kelp and seaweed—”only good stuff,” he said.
He explained that the black dirt, also called muck soil, produces higher quality vegetables with more nutrients that usually look a little shinier than non-organic produce grown elsewhere.
According to Maire Ullrich, Agriculture Program Leader at Cornell Cooperative Extension in Orange County, muck soils are special in that they have high organic matter content–over 30 percent, compared to 0-10 percent of upland soils; that makes the soil fertile and helps retain moisture.
“These characteristics allow it to feed core nutrients (especially nitrogen) through the season while reducing the need for irrigation,” Ulrich said. “It is very much like growing in a bowl of compost.”
Stroll grows several varieties of potatoes, five types of onions, garlic, carrots, corn, cabbage, broccoli, bok choi, lettuce, and tomatoes.
He also plans to make the farm productive all year around and has been experimenting with a system that heats the root zone of the plants, with propane gas-heated hot air instead of hot water, which is more economical because he doesn’t need to heat the whole building.
There’s no doubt that Stroll has sought to put in place all the best systems to achieve his goal and make the the farm one of the most successful organic farms in Orange County. But there is one factor that he didn’t count on.
Much to Stroll’s surprise, there is a great lack of people willing to work on a farm. Young people who come seeking employment all but interview him, and leave when they find out that the work is outdoors and requires physical exertion.
Organic Means Non-GMO
Although Stroll sells the farm produce at the stand during the summer months, the bulk of his crop goes to the United States’ leading frozen organic food company, Amy’s Kitchen, which plans to invest $95 million to establish a 369,000 square foot manufacturing facility in Goshen.
All his produce is certified organic, which also means that they are not genetically modified organisms (GMO), since certified organic produce is not allowed to be GMO.
New Yorkers appreciate his produce and he has a lot of wholesale accounts in New York hotels and restaurants. But many of the locals of Orange County still remain to be convinced about the benefits of eating and farming organic.
He recounts many stories of people who stop at the farm stand to haggle over his produce.
“You’ll get people who say, ‘Well it’s an organic farm—you don’t have to spend any money on chemicals so why do you charge more for the vegetables?'” said Stroll. Half the people he meets don’t know what organic means, or why they would benefit from eating it, so they try to drive a hard bargain to buy a couple of tomatoes, he said.
According to Stroll, food in the United States is too cheap.
“If you were to work on an organic farm for a day or two, you would realize that that tomato was the biggest bargain in the world, because you don’t see all the ugly ones, the ones that are un-sellable.” Implied in this is the fact that the not-so-good-looking produce are just as good to eat, yet impossible to sell.
Despite the hardships, Stroll seems to be powering on and catering to those who still appreciate fresh vegetables that have been grown with a lot of love.
Stroll himself didn’t grow up eating organic food but has learned to appreciate it, although he still enjoys a good burger now and then. It was his mother who instilled in him a special appreciation for fresh fruits and vegetables.
“Years ago, when I was a little kid, when people would peel back the corn in the supermarket and throw it down if it had a worm in it, my mother would say, ‘That one has less chemicals on it; that’s a good one, I’ll take it.’ But most people don’t think that way.”
He laments the fact that Americans are conditioned to buy cheap, perfect-looking, shiny fruits and vegetables that are devoid of flavor, and are irradiated and waxed to extend their shelf-life. Given the ready availability of fast food, after a while, people’s taste buds seek out the addictive artificial flavors designed by fast food companies to the exclusion of naturally grown whole foods.
Luckily, there are people who appreciate organic foods, and there are enough of them to keep Stroll doing what he loves most.
“It’s like this: on my pancakes I like maple syrup. There’s a whole lot of people who are happy to have sugar water with artificial flavor in it. You can’t make everybody happy,” he said.
On June 22, the location of Fresh Meadow farm was corrected. Epoch Times regrets the error.