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After Fire, New York Bean Farm Needs Support

There’s nothing like serious catastrophe to really bring into stark relief how close members of a small organic farm are. When the fire started that decimated the processing and packaging barn of our small organic farm in less than 20 minutes, I was four miles away. It was a typical day. I’d been trying unsuccessfully to hook up an implement to my big trusty tractor for about 30 minutes, and I was so mad I was about to chew nails. I hate to admit defeat, but I just tossed my grease gun down and texted my boss to come get me. The message I received back from Erick said “barn on fire come home.”  

Erick Smith has a quirky sense of humor. But I knew it wasn’t a joke when I looked up and saw that giant black cloud of smoke. You can bet I jumped onto that tractor and hauled as fast as I could—a whopping ten miles an hour—out of that field. The tractor died half-way home and I had to jump off and run the rest of the way. I arrived when our “Beanery”—our cleaning and processing facility—was half gone and the fire was still raging like a madman.

As you can imagine, we were devastated. But there wasn’t a hint of defeat after that first initial shock. In fact, the rebuilding discussion commenced over dinner that night, home-cooked by my boss’s wife and complemented by two bottles of local wine from Six Mile Creek Winery down the road. We ran the spectrum of emotions—shattering devastation, to boundless optimism of the possibilities that could emerge. The reinforcement of our team spirit was incredible!

We are Cayuga Pure Organics—a small organic farm about four miles east of Ithaca, New York. We farm roughly 350 acres of heirloom grains and dry beans, corn and oats, our fields scattered through seven miles of surrounding towns. We are a small group of dedicated employees-turned-family; Harlan is our chief wrench, with a miraculous knack for bringing dead machines back to life, Amy runs our office, Steven will manage our new and improved Beanery, Erick is the big boss, Dara fixes up our small bag inventory and internet sale demands, and I work the fields for the group.

It’s an incredible life, this managing of 350 acres of needy, boundless tiny baby plants. Frustrating and beautiful at the same time. Learning to pick my battles and forge my days of efficiency and hard work. I wouldn’t change where I’ve ended up for any other job in the world, even on those days when I’ve been stuck in a ditch for hours, or I’ve walked the seven miles back to the farm because my phone had died and my tractor ruptured a fuel line, or the day I was 15 minutes from finishing plowing my last field when I punctured a big back tire. And then there are those days like yesterday, when I ordered the right part, I received the right part, I took the correct tools out to the field and nothing went wrong. You win some, you lose some. I think my endless optimism and joy in getting out of bed in the morning is such a blessing and I know my fellow co-workers feel the same.

You might wonder—What is the drive to continue the farm? My answer is that farms like Cayuga Pure Organics (CPO) are a necessary part of our foodshed and food security.

“Food Security” is defined as when all people at all times have physical, social and economical access to sufficient, safe and nutritious foods which meets the dietary requirements for a healthy and active life. Under increasingly active scrutiny, centralized agri-businesses have shown to be dependent upon chemicals, fossil fuels and manufacturing food which must withstand long distance travel and handling from farm to table. Thus, there is a burgeoning movement that centers around the safety and sustainability of our food supply.

This is leading towards a resurgence of small family farms, which are starting the develop both common and unique products to fulfill the needs of the community—like eggs, produce, dairy, honey, beef and poultry. However, before CPO entered the marketplace, beans and grains were rarely available as a local product.

Beans and whole grains provide a combination of fiber and protein that is unsurpassed in any other food group. They are an essential source of minerals, fiber, and energy with a low glycemic index. CPO’s mission is to make these super foods available, so that consumers can choose healthy, sustainable products over the highly processed, nutrient-deficient products that dominate so much of our food supply.  Consequently, CPO plays a key role in the region’s ability to maintain a level of sustainable and secure local food production. The absence of our farm would create a significant hole. Imagine a life without beans and grains!!

There is much that these foods need in terms of production, processing, and packaging, and the equipment needed is specialized and expensive. In addition, beans are a risky crop due to their inability to compete with weeds and their needs for very ideal weather conditions (and New York hasn’t been showing well in consistent weather patterns this year…or any year). CPO invested heavily in the machinery and training, and therefore has been successful at bringing these much-needed staples to the community in a way that is economical.

So, how can you help? We are running an extensive campaign to raise funds for our (new and improved!) cleaning facility. In order to rebuild, we have to raise $238,000. (This is roughly $105,000 for the building, and the rest towards cleaning, processing, and packing equipment). We are running a fundraising campaign through Indiegogo to raise the money, and we need your help! As of July 8th, we have over 650 donors and just over $59,000, nearly a quarter of the total needed.  This is an incredible outpouring of support and the community desire to keep us going is heartening and beautiful. There are many who have offered fundraisers, two up-coming in the NYC area and two upcoming near the Ithaca area and for more details on those, please check out our Web site.

Photo: Anne, Erick and Shane harvesting in the field.

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