By Sue Henninger
A wide range of Tompkins County farmers will be opening their farms up to visitors this weekend, helping educate people about what the local agriculture scene has to offer. Hint: It’s a lot!
“Open Farm Days provides folks with the opportunity to visit farms in their community, farms that aren’t usually open to the public,” explained Debbie Teeter, community agriculture awareness educator at Cornell Cooperative Extension Tompkins County. “The overreaching goal is to educate the public about agriculture and the diversity of farms.”
She added that farms will run the gamut from larger to smaller operations and that seeing the different innovative ways people choose to work the land is another opportunity not to be missed. Many stops will also offer tours and demonstrations. Visitors will be able to see lots of animals, plus some “really nice produce” grown on a large scale, rather than in a standard home garden.
In past years, Teeter noted, CCE has hosted events like the popular Farm City Day and a Farm Trail. Open Farm Days is a step up from these as it occurs over two days. Local farm markets will also be on the itinerary.
“It’s a new idea and we’re going to give it a try,” she said. “You won’t be able to visit every farm on the list – that’s geographically impossible! You can pick the ones that are the closest to each other or the ones that seem most interesting to you and go there.”
Teeter anticipates that some people will be surprised at the range of farms on the list.
“The New York State Agricultural Districts Law defines agriculture so enterprises you may not think of as farms like flowers, horses, and maple and honey products are included,” she said.
Open Farm Days will provide a fascinating look behind the scenes at who is growing the food we eat and how they are doing this. Teeter advises kids, as well as adults of all ages, to ask questions everywhere they go as the knowledgeable and enthusiastic farmers are looking forward to answering them.
“These farmers are all people realizing their dream,” she noted.
Ed and Eileen Scheffler are two dairy farmers who are doing just that. The couple, who took over the Cobb Street farm in Groton from Ed’s parents, have been farming for several decades now. A total of 300 acres of land, owned and leased, provides most of the feed for their cows (dairy and replacement heifers) and grass-fed beef steers. The Scheffler’s have transitioned to 100 percent organic farming and are Northeast Organic Farming Association certified. Though there is a lot of documentation and an annual inspection involved in this process, the couple doesn’t mind.
“We didn’t like the idea of spraying and we felt better raising our family on an organic farm,” Eileen noted. “And the financial reward was great!”
For Ed, the appeal is the third-party verification that NOFA supplies.
“Many people don’t understand organic practices,” he explained. “Organic is not the same as ‘natural’ which is just a label with nothing behind it. NOFA has rules that we have to follow.”
Land stewardship is something else they believe in and adhere to. Ed, who is a both a grandparent and chair of the Ag and Farmland Protection Committee, explained why they feel this is so crucial.
“We borrow the land from the previous generation and we own it until the next generation comes along,” he said.
Eileen added that having healthy land and soil, along with raising happy animals are the key tenets behind a number of their farming practices.
Scheffler Farm will be part of Open Farm Days on Saturday and the couple encourages anyone who has an interest in organic farming to visit them.
“We get 50-100 people driving by us every day,” Ed said. “Maybe they’ll stop by and see what we do!”
They believe that anyone who wants to get a firsthand look at working farms and a wide range of production practices will enjoy taking part in the event.
“It will help people realize what goes into food production and what goes into getting food from a farm to their table,” Ed said.
Both Ed and Eileen feel it’s important for farmers to communicate with, and educate, consumers about the food they eat.
“If you buy a steak at the grocery store, you don’t know where that meat is from,” Ed said. “When you buy our meat we can trace the steak to the exact numbered cow it came from!”
Sometimes the price differential between larger grocery stores and a farm is prohibitive to buyers. The two have an answer for this as well. Eating less meat and paying more for a higher quality product will lead to a healthier lifestyle, they contend. Since the farm is their full-time business – as well as their passion – the Scheffler’s operate a small store that will be open during Farm Days. Burgers, sausage, steaks, and roasts will be available, along with raw milk cheese in several flavors including bacon-cheddar, hot pepper, and garlic.
Both Ed and Eileen agree that farming is not something you just jump into. It takes commitment and dedication. However they say they have no regrets and love what they do!
Open Farm Days will take place from noon to 4 p.m. Saturday, August 12, and Sunday, August 13. Saturday will showcase farms on the east side of Cayuga Lake and Sunday will feature farms on the west side. According to Teeter, participating farms can be identified by a sign in their yard.
Visit CCETompkins.org/events/2017/08/12/2017-open-farm-days for a schedule. More articles about Tompkins County agriculture and farms can be found at TompkinsWeekly.com/news/category/agriculture.