Revisiting Sir William Farm
Posted: Friday, April 10, 2015 11:00 am | Updated: 11:02 am, Fri Apr 10, 2015.
By Tessa Edick
For Columbia-Greene Media
I wrote my first Meet Your Farmer column in 2012 and serve it back to you to enjoy again — just like I enjoy visiting Farmer Bruce at Sir William Farm 52 times a year!
It all started with an honor box — just down the road on a family farm — Farmer Bruce and his son, Justin Conover, at the Rasweiller Farm off Route 23 at the edge of Hillsdale near Copake Lake in the agricultural community of Columbia County New York I call home.
The Conover men were always outdoors — rain, shine, Sahara or sub zero — keeping our farm friends, and their herd, comfortable, clean, happy and working hard to feed us well.
In 2002, I started shopping at the Sir William Farm like it was my local market dropping cash into a box to pay. Coolers packed with fresh meat from their farm, produce, local dairy and old-fashioned jars of specialty products aimed to please. My friends would visit from the city for the weekend and we would cook a feast — oohing and ahhing about the blank Angus cattle dotting the rolling hills and our love for the farmer.
This is responsible eating! This is local food! I was in heaven! Farm on indeed!
But the feeling wasn’t mutual. Bruce had no interest in me nor my red-bottomed heels, not my curious questioning, not even my compliments or suggestions pro bono as a food entrepreneur for ideas to grow his business.
Bruce always waved or gave a nod as obligatory customer service. I respected him and his hard work. He barely noticed me. Over time we began a dialogue and the conversation led to loyalty, as well as new customers. I told everyone about the gorgeous Bolognese pasta sauce I always made using his free-range pastured ground beef from healthy cows that grazed his fields! And where else do you buy a $20 Filet Mignon or Ribeye — know the source — and it tastes better than any steak on any menu hands down?
At 4 p.m. one cold winter’s night in February 2011, I visited Bruce and it was already getting dark. I asked him if he would participate in an event I was putting together to celebrate the farmer. He said no. I pleaded. He said no, “Who would mind the farm?” I asked every time I saw him every week for months to follow as I continued to shop at his farm stand, which by then accepted credit cards too. (Bruce was becoming savvy to the fact that New Yorkers never have cash in hand but will spend triple on a card!)
The week before the inaugural Friends of the Farmer Festival I asked him if he would at least sell his amazing sausages wholesale to our “Five Mile Grill” to raise money for the FarmOn! Foundation Scholarship Fund. Shockingly, Bruce agreed and I began to learn more: You are what you — and they (the animals) — eat.
All this talk of Haylage, Bailage and Silage makes a girl’s head spin! But that is what the Black Angus cattle eat at Sir William Farm in the winter when the grass loses its nutrition and pasture is left only for roaming. The Conovers told me this in a lengthy conversation about their feed of choice before a cow becomes our carefully cared for, nutrient rich, grass fed food.
Having been born farming the land, Bruce moved from Iowa to Hillsdale in 1970. The father and son team have been renting land at the Rasweiller Farm for over a decade and earn a living by selling meat to local businesses, New York City restaurants and running their own farm stand under the Sir William Farm name.
Justin started the business with 125 mother cows 13 years ago and when cash flow got tight he planted a pumpkin patch, which was a huge success.
Bruce Conover adds, “We had no idea that marketing it at this location was going to work.”
Since then they have expanded their mainstay offer of Black Angus beef to include Berkshire Hogs (you can buy a whole pig like we did for the FarmOn! Hootenanny!), a variety of lamb and locally made products.
Since that exchange I have learned so much about my food from agriculture and meeting my farmer on his land in the Hudson Valley. Bruce always shares insight, support and solutions. He sticks up for me when people inquire about the “red head who cares about helping the farmers” and after 13 years he knows I’m reliable, an honest customer and has made time to become my friend.
I’m the luckiest girl in Columbia County to have so many farmers I call friends whom I invite to my table and serve them the food they make for us all to eat — never mind the chef role.
Meet your farmer. Know your food. Buy local and get involved. If every day you choose just one local ingredient to consume, what happens? Collectively we would change local economies — and personally. You feel healthy and happy, you have energy and enthusiasm, you contribute to your community and bring farmers like the Conovers commerce for them to make a fair living wage in agriculture.
Only then can we begin to look for succession through generations and educate our youth who heed the calling to the farm. Only once we all choose local food each and every day can we imagine the impact our food choices actually make to rebuild local economies and feed the world.
Make yours. Stop by. Meet Justin and Bruce Conover and be sure to say hello. Bruce has gotten friendlier in the last decade and the Sir William Farm Stand? Well, it has re-opened after a long cold winter to again sell you fresh meat, local eggs, artisanal cheese, Hudson Valley fruit, vegetables and homemade pies that are to die for delicious. It’s a word of mouth success story. So tell Bruce I sent you and then tell a friend. But don’t forget to pay! It’s an honor system you know. FarmOn!
Contact Tessa Edick at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her on Twitter: @FarmOnFarmOn or Instagram: FriendsOfTheFarmer.
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