LIVING TODAY: Get your FarmOn!

Posted: Sunday, August 23, 2015 12:00 am
By Katie Kocijanski
Columbia-Greene Media


COPAKE — If you ate today, thank a farmer.


The spirit of food entrepreneurship and the revitalization of family farms is very much alive and well across the Hudson Valley, particularly in Columbia County.


With agriculture playing a major role in the region’s economy and way of life, the FarmOn! Foundation has made its mark in the county and across the region.


Celebrating its fifth anniversary, the foundation has helped educate the local community and youth about the importance of farming and local food being available from neighborhood farms.


Founded by Finger Lakes native Tessa Edick in 2011, she grew up in a rural community, where farming was important to the town’s local economy.


“We had our first Friends of the Farmer hootenanny in the summer of 2011 at the Copake Country Club,” Edick said. “The idea was to show off local food and vendors in the farm-to-table movement.”


All of the food at each hootenanny is from surrounding farms within 5 miles of the foundation’s home at Empire Farm in Copake. Each year, farmers and their families who contribute food to the dinner are invited free of charge.


The farm fresh fundraiser has been a big hit with patrons and has been hosted by a celebrity chef each year.


In July, Jonathan Wright, executive chef for the iconic Rainbow Room in New York City, cooked a farm-to-table dinner for 500 attendees.


“This year was special for us because it was the first time the benefit dinner was held on Empire Farm,” Edick said. “We bought the farm in 2014; it was once owned by Henry Astor, then Ben Ackley.”


The farm was probably built in the 1830s, she said. Astor came from a wealthy local family in Rhinebeck and gave up his family fortune to marry a local farmer’s daughter.


The couple created a community garden and there is also a racetrack on the grounds. The original owner of the farm was John Benedict Ackley, who bought it in the 1920s.


Right up until Empire Farm moved into its new place last August, the Ackley family lived there. The foundation is only the third occupier of the property on Empire Road.


Famed chef and restaurant owner Alice Waters was on hand to help officially cut the ribbon at the farm last September.


Currently, the 220-acre historic farm serves as an agricultural academy, community center and working farm. It is the home base for the foundation and its events.


Using her unique position as a woman in the agribusiness, Edick wanted to educate the next generation on making good food choices and to inspire them to venture into their own agriculture careers.


This is done by educating youth across the Hudson Valley on the art of sustainable farming and the business behind food.


One of the first programs started was a partnership with Hudson Valley Fresh to provide local school districts, such as the Taconic Hills Central School District in Craryvillle, with farm fresh milk from local dairy farms.


The milk money program has expanded into several neighboring school districts, such as Ichabod Crane and Hudson City. Edick hopes to further expand it into other districts in the county as the year goes on.


“I was inspired to get involved with local economic development. We need to educate kids about the livelihood of farming and its importance in the local community,” she said. “The idea is to keep kids engaged and learning.”


Edick is also the founder of the Culinary Partnership, where she contributes her expertise to help celebrity chefs and entrepreneurs launch their recipes into the retail world. She is able to run her business from her home in Copake Lake, while working on foundation work.


This summer, the foundation launched its first agriculture academy. Six interns from colleges and neighboring school districts lived on the farm for the summer while learning about the business of farming and getting hands-on experience.


Construction is underway for the foundation’s community center. Crews have been hard at work since the winter renovating a building on the property to house future guests. A prep kitchen, donated by Mazzone Hospitality, is also being constructed.


At this year’s hootenanny, Edick and State University of New York Chancellor Nancy L. Zimpher announced a new partnership with the foundation.


“This is such a great opportunity for the foundation and college students to get hands-on experience while completing their education,” Edick said.


SUNY students have been given the opportunity to participate in a program that “bridges the gap between agriculture and entrepreneurship,” she said.


Initially, students from SUNY Cobleskill, Cornell University College of Agriculture and Life Sciences and Morrisville State College come to live at Empire Farm for three to nine months.


Topics to be discussed include crop production planning, how to grow food profitability and learning how to make projections to plant seeds. Harvesting, distributing, budgeting, networking, marketing and scaling for production are also covered.


Camp FarmOn! is another educational effort of the foundation to foster the entrepreneurial spirit among youth in the Hudson Valley. Students visit local farms and food businesses to learn about the food business and the basics of farming.


This year, the foundation’s annual harvest festival will be held on Halloween. Waters will be back at the farm for the festival.


Families are invited to the farm from noon to 5 p.m. on Oct. 31 to sample local food and to participate in activities like a costume contest.


“We are constantly striving to lift up the food economy and to continue to advocate for the local farmer,” Edick said. “We’ve raised $3 million over the last five years to do our part.”


For more information on the FarmOn! Foundation, visit


To reach reporter Katie Kocijanski, call 518-828-1616, ext. 2495 or email


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