Written by: Ellie Wilson, MS RDN Senior Nutritionist
On a beautiful day last Monday, my son and I drove out to Shaul Farms to meet with Dave Shaul. Shaul Farms encompasses 1500 acres, employs about 40 locals and teens in the summer busy season, and grows a huge list of vegetables. When I got to their large, open air farm market building, I was delighted by what we saw – fresh herbs, straw bales, tomatoes, piles of garlic, cucumbers, a range of sweet and hot peppers, onions, broccoli, summer and winter squash, and the ubiquitous sweet corn – all fresh and on beautiful broad table/bins. Like the vegetables, the display fixtures are also ‘home grown”, and the tall, wide planting boxes full of a great and colorful display of plants and flowers (which they also grow themselves) act as decoration and half-wall, surrounding the entire building. It was a dietitian’s dream! You will find Dave’s corn, broccoli, plum tomatoes and peppers in your local Price Chopper.
Dave, one of 10 siblings and the only one left farming from his family, is a busy, generous man who works hard to balance the needs of the farm with that of his growing family. He and his wife Becky have adopted 3 children and hope to add a new baby, visiting the same day of my visit, to their family. Dave’s family has farmed this land since 1701, and their older children are starting to take on some small chores. Despite the long family farming history, Dave’s father did the lion’s share of building the business up. At one point, they were shipping 4,000 tons of carrots to Beechnut and Birdseye, but as transportation costs escalated, they started to look out for other partners, and started delivery directly to the Cobleskill Price Chopper in 1986.
Shaul Farms is, like all of the farms Price Chopper works with, GAP certified. Food safety is of paramount importance to Dave, and to Price Chopper. He offers that national food safety issues, like the incident in Colorado, where melons processed on unsanitary machinery caused illness and some deaths, has impacted retailer demand for those items – he had so few orders, he decided not to grown them this year. To clarify, the melons were fine, the machinery was the problem, but for now, buyers are shy.
Deciding what to grow and choosing different varieties of the same types of crops is part of the winter planning Dave does, after family vacations. He described working closely with the seed salesperson, and trying new varieties in part to ensure he has a strong crop – if one type of seed doesn’t produce well, he has several others to fall back on and protect his overall harvest.
Technology plays its role on the Shaul farm, and he cites the use of GPS and satellite tracking for planting and harvesting as a game changer.
The challenge for farmers is to balance the cost of technology with the return on investment – even used machines like combines (that harvest corn) can cost well over $200,000.
As Dave helped my son learn more about the varieties of peppers – Don was thinking he wanted to make something for a family event later in the week, we got to speak about his favorites. He gave full credit to his wife for being a wonderful cook , and really struggled for a minute or two when I asked him what his favorite item was that he grew. He finally settled on “winter squash, with brown sugar and butter”. He also likes being his own boss, and that the farm and the area is a good place to raise a family. As I have of the other farmers I have met with so far, I asked what he thought was driving the growing interest in local foods and farming. He contemplated that for a few moments, and returned the thought that carbon footprint was definitely part of the equation. That, and connecting with farmers who are growing their food, which he thought was a really good trend.
Dave Shaul clearly likes his work, and I hope he gets his wish that one of his children is interested in maintaining the family tradition. He left us to get back to urgent chores, and we walked around the main farm area – one trailer being repaired, equipment and vehicles loosely organized around the well kept buildings, trucks of different sizes coming and going and a pallet mover whizzing around, preparing for picking and shipping tomorrow, green fields stretching away behind the buildings. “It’s beautiful out here, Mom. Did you see there is an ice cream stand across the street? ” We loaded our purchases into our truck, and headed over to enjoy the full bounty of the day. Please enjoy the local bounty of Dave’s produce in your local Price Chopper!