by Barbara Hughey
| credit Jan HughesIn 1942 a legend was born when Bob and Marion Greig purchased and began working their farm, on Pitcher Lane in Red Hook. They chose the location carefully. The land had deep fertile soils. No doubt the wonderful views of the Catskills were appealing too. The farm they started became, over the years, the gold standard of New York State agricultural excellence. As the Greigs expanded and adjusted the character of the farming operation, it also grew to become the state’s biggest and finest pick-your-own farm, and the centerpiece of the Hudson Valley’s "green tourism" business.
In those early days at the Greig Farm there was the dairy and the orchard. Then small fruit crops were added, beginning with strawberries. The pick-your-own business began with the strawberry crop. The Greigs started to invite the public on to the farm to pick strawberries in the 1950s, well before PYO was a common business model. From the mid-seventies on, under Bob and Marion’s son Norman’s management, the list expanded to include crops that could be picked from May through October, starting with asparagus and ending with pumpkins. The tradition continues even now. The list of PYO crops has changed, though: strawberries, for example, the crop for which Greig Farm was historically known, require so much labor input that in the 1990s the strawberry patch was eliminated.
The dairy at Greig Farm also ran until the mid-1990s. For many years the barn housed the highest producing dairy herd in New York State. It was a thing of beauty under the steady hand of Paul Pauquette, who managed it for decades. This world-class operation was finally sold to a dairyman in Amish country: how lucky the herd could be kept together!
I first learned of the Greig Farm in 1974 when I was a college student at Cornell’s School of Agriculture and Life Sciences. A number of years later I had the opportunity to work there myself, as manager for the farm’s Nursery and Garden Shop (the business is now known as Grandiflora, and is independently run by Katie Perry and Carol Horning). In those days we grew lots of flowers and herbs; all of the nursery’s flowers were also sold as pick-your-own. My own landscape design business grew directly out of the exposure and experience I gained while at the nursery. I also learned about the community’s needs, and its character, and what plants prospered in the seasonal climate here.
During my time working with the Greigs I could see how much the experience of coming to the farm meant to people, A visit there was much more than a weekend excursion: it was a rich and transformational experience for people of all ages, giving them a much needed experience of where food came from. They could feel the wind and the sun and taste the fruit: a satisfaction many of them could not experience anywhere else. So many of us have lost contact with this knowledge about our food. Families, school groups, and professional farmers, some from the four corners of the world, made their way to the Greig Farm to see for themselves how food was produced in this beautiful place. I recall meeting groups whose visits had been arranged through the United Nations; they came to see how things were done here in Red Hook.
The popularity of the farm as a weekend destination declined during the 1990s as the economy evolved and became stronger. There was also a shift in how the public spent its leisure time. Those who had once found a day trip to the farm for picking or festivals changed their vacation patterns. Many went to more expensive, and often faraway places. Once traditional activities like canning and preserving became even more faint memories for most of the maturing baby boomer generation. I recall how in the 1970s and 1980s lots of people would come to Red Hook to pick loads of fruit to turn into jams and pie fillings. Now nearly everyone seems to go to the store for the fruit they need, and given current trends in family size and the trend towards eating out, they don’t need a great deal for home use.
The Greig Farm is still a Greig family operation, but many of the activities taking place there are run as independently owned businesses that lease land and buildings from the family. Marion Greig is well into her 8os. I still see her taking her daily walks on Pitcher Lane. She is an amazing woman who ran the farm by her husband’s side; her son Norman is still actively involved. The historic old dairy barn at the farm is now home to Alison Winery and the new Gigi Market. This year-round, indoor market brings the farm market concept into the 21st Century with style. The businesses in the barn bear little resemblance to the days of the dairy, but the commitment to excellence is still in place. The new upscale market, with its list of prepared foods, gourmet bakery and catering service, is a far cry from the old style farm markets, but so is our community’s character.
Laura Pensiero is the owner of both Gigi Market and Gigi’s Trattoria in Rhinebeck. She opened the Farm Market in the late summer of 2006, to create an opportunity for her and her highly trained staff to fulfill their goal of working with numerous local growers. Many of the food purveyors are local. They include: Creed Farm (Rhinebeck), Coach Farm (Ancram), the Currant Company (Clinton), Boice Dairy (Kingston), Grandiflora, Greig Farm, Grey Mouse Farm (Saugerties); Hearty Roots (Tivoli), Migliorelli Farm, Mead Orchard, Meredith’s Bread (Kingston), Montgomery Place Orchard, Mink Farm (Germantown), North Wind Farm (Tivoli), Old Chatham Sheepherding, Ronnybrook Farm (Ancramdale), Sprout Creek Farm (Poughkeepsie), Sky Farm (Millerton) and Wiltbank Farm (Saugerties).
When you enter the produce room at Gigi Market, every item is clearly labeled as to its origin. The growers are credited with their effort and their expertise. One among this distinguished list of local growers is Hearty Roots Farm, from Tivoli. Miriam Latzer, and Benjamin Shute run Hearty Roots. In the 2007 season they will be leasing 20 acres from the Greig Farm, where they will be producing a bounty of wonderful organic vegetables. Ten of the 20 acres will be provided to them by Gigi Market.
We are two generations away from the days when most of the local population had direct experience of growing food for their families or for market, and a full generation away from the "back-to-the-land" movement that, for a time, re-popularized the old traditions of canning and freezing and putting food by. Many of us feel a loyalty, even a protective nostalgia for the old tried and true way of buying and selling produce. Today the familiar on-site, open air farm stands of our childhoods have been all but replaced by larger farmer’s markets. It would be an absurd understatement to say "well, times change". We can all begin to feel positively battered by the changing times. But since change we must, the latest development at the Greig Farm is the right kind of change to have.
I, for one, will continue to visit the pick-your-own patch. I’ll grow my own garden at home too, but I know that there will be days when the luxury and convenience of a gourmet deli will be just the thing. Gigi Market has broad appeal as a destination for healthy, fresh, food. Gigi Market is also part of a larger pattern emerging around the country today in which restaurateurs are playing a significant role in creating a new, economically viable, pattern in agriculture. The new wave involves the establishment and support of small, artisanal farms. These smaller farm operations have the advantage of selling close to home and being better able to adjust to their customers’ needs. This means better return for the growers and higher quality food for the consumer. The environmental benefits of eliminating long distance shipping are obvious. Everyone wins.
The Greig land that until now has been protected and preserved by the effort, investment, and ingenuity of one family is an irreplaceable resource. Our enjoying a wonderful fresh, healthy meal is tied to this resource. Some of our area’s conservation organizations, especially Scenic Hudson, have done amazing work to help keep agricultural land open and in cultivation. And there is so much more to do. Buying local and staying alert to support the area businesses is essential if we are going to protect the rest. The best agricultural land is highly prized for real estate development. We have all experienced the pangs of regret when we see a favorite field or hillside gobbled up for more houses. A sense of place is lost forever when that happens.
So we learn. Agriculture is one of the few viable ways to maintain the region’s remaining open spaces. The farmers have always known this, and the rest of us—well; we’re a little slow. Or perhaps we are all so busy that we fail to appreciate the resources we have had. We care about what we know. And perhaps getting to know where the good food we enjoy here in the Hudson Valley comes from will give today’s "niche" farmers a chance to really thrive. That is my hope for them and for the rest of us in this community.
In summer 2007 the Greig Farm will be open for picking. The selection will include blueberries, blackberries, raspberries, apples and pumpkins. There also will be festivals to celebrate the regions wine producers, and other events to keep on eye out for as well. To keep abreast of what is happening at Greig Farm, call their information line at (845) 758-1234. You can watch for what’s happening at Gigi Market by checking online in the coming season. The website is being constructed now. See www.gigimarket.com.The market phone: (845) 758-1999.
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