Meet the Farmers and Vendors: Fresh Take Farm
This is the first in a series of articles to introduce the farmers and vendors who come to the Glens Falls Farmers Market and offer us the healthy harvest of their hard work. As a community we can advance connections when we know a little more about these individuals and their farms and businesses. This interview with Skyler Liebig of Fresh Take Farm occurred on May 1st, 2018.
Fresh Take Farm: A Story of Generations
With DNA testing becoming more popular, many people feel drawn to explore their family genealogy. For Skyler Liebig, his family heritage surrounds him in the land he works and in the dreams he holds. He is the sole farmer of Fresh Take Farms in Granville, NY, following in footsteps back to his great-grandparents. His family has farmed vegetables, horses and still today works an organic dairy farm on this land. Skyler’s deep roots in farming perhaps contribute to his humility as he follows in his family’s tradition of caring for both their land and local community. With an infant son who will be growing up on this homestead, Skyler has the traditions of the past and the hopes and expectations of the future to inform every decision he makes.
Skyler began his farming career by working for the Kilpatrick organic farm and learning important agriculture and business skills. When the Kilpatricks disbanded three years later, Skyler and a co-worker leased six acres and equipment from them to continue the operation. Though this endeavor was successful, the fast pace of this growth created a lot of pressure which Skyler realized was unwanted stress. “To thine own self be true,” as Shakespeare advised. The partnership dissolved at the end of the 2016 season and Skyler returned to his family’s land to cultivate about half an acre and five large hoop houses. His research of small scale farming models aligned with his values of frugality and creating little waste yet potentially finding more success and satisfaction as a solo farmer. Skyler expressed appreciation for local farmers, like the Arnolds, for always being willing to discuss a young farmer’s questions and offer the wisdom of their experience. Skyler also learned from writings by Eliot Coleman, a pioneer of the organic, small farm, locally sourced food movement. He even named his son Eliot which is perhaps an invitation for farming to continue for another generation in his family.
Skyler has made a commitment to farm organically and is open to answering anyone’s questions about his practices. He uses a no-till method of soil preparation and a simple scuffing of the top two inches allows him to work in compost and organic fertilizer between plantings. Weeds are kept at bay by laying a black tarp along the planted rows and pests are reduced by crop rotation and intercropping strategies. With his attention to building up healthy soil and rotating crops, pests don’t become infestations and Skyler is able to maintain his commitment to being organic. As the business grows he plans to apply to be a certified organic farm.
One challenge that Skyler spoke of was deciding what to grow that his customers want to buy. He can grow some crops almost year round in the hoop houses, such as lettuce greens, spinach, Swiss chard and kale. He is known for his sweet spinach in the winter. He also uses the hoop houses in the summer for cold sensitive vegetables like tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers and eggplants. Skyler grows heirloom tomatoes that are grafted onto cherry tomato stems and produce two leaders instead of one which greatly increases the harvest. What a perfect weaving of a traditional heirloom with a modern grafting application. And his customers love them!
Skyler can be found at the Glens Falls Farmers’ Market every Saturday throughout the year. He values the community of the market while acknowledging that “farmer fatigue” can sometimes affect that positive energy. But customer interest is always an energizer! Skyler also has his finger in many other avenues of sales. He currently has contracts with three restaurants and provides his produce to a wholesale food coop in Niskayuna. But Skyler’s eyes really lit up when he described the strong relationship he has with the annual Woodstock Fruit Festival at Camp Bolton. Skyler can plan for this event because he knows what they want and they always want a lot! He clearly has his hands in a lot of pots which is the financial insurance a small farmer needs when purchasers’ orders fluctuate. This is called working hard and smart farming.
And last but not least, Skyler offers a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) which currently has about 20 members. A member pays a total price up front in the spring to receive a number of products each week during the harvesting season. Spring is an expensive time when crops are going in the ground but cash flow can be tight. The membership dollars help to spread income more evenly across the year for the grower. Members also share in the risk of a poor harvest due to weather or other uncontrollable issues. Skyler’s repeat plantings and variety of crops means that he always has enough for members to choose from.
It is striking how efficient and frugal Skyler tries to be. “We are a very low waste farm. Everything we produce gets eaten, or sold at least, or it goes to the chickens if it’s not saleable or salvageable. We also give food regularly to the community lunch in Granville on Fridays and they really appreciate that.” Community is important to Skyler and he works hard to create these mutually beneficial relationships.
Early in our conversation Skyler reflected that “the struggle is the fun part” of farming. As he enters his second solo summer season he is aware of balancing the farm’s needs and home life with a new baby and relationships. But he views building his farm as a “work in progress” and anticipates making improvements every year. “If something isn’t working I get rid of it with no attachment to a certain thing. I am confident that the outlook is good and I make that commitment to my family and community. The rolling hills and green pastures are nostalgic for me because I grew up here. That I’m farming the same land as my great-grandfather is pretty cool and I want to be a good steward of the land and leave it better than I got it. I just have to keep building and rebuilding because there’s a lot of maintenance in country living. I’m very lucky to have this.”
~ by Valerie Brown, a Friend of the Glens Falls Farmers’ Market