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September 19, 2018

A Farmer’s Wonderland Occurs in December


By Qian Chen, Erika Mahoney, David Suntup

The scene at the first ever Holiday Farmers Market in Mexico.

The scene at the first ever Holiday Farmers Market in Mexico.

Levi Rudd, 25, stands next to his mom behind a table full of Rudd’s Maple Syrup. The cartons come in all different sizes and shapes, from winter cabins to honey bears containers. “The Christmas Song” from A Charlie Brown Christmas plays in the background as he does what he loves – selling his own, pure New York maple syrup fresh off his Heritage Hill Farm.

“Today is a real eye-opener for me, ” said Levi’s mother, Cynthia Rudd. “To come and have people ask about our chickens, our maple syrup, and our wood products. I get very excited about what we have to offer.”

In just the first two hours, the Rudd family sold over 13 dozen fresh eggs from its farm.

Levi and Cynthia Rudd are selling their homegrown products at the first annual Holiday Farmer’s Market in Mexico, New York. The Cornell Cooperative Extension of Oswego County hosted the December 5th in-door event from 10 a.m. until 2 p.m. in the hall of the Veterans of Foreign Wars Building, where a Christmas tree decorated in red and gold stood right beside the farmers' stalls.

Levi and Cynthia Rudd are selling their homegrown products at the first annual Holiday Farmer’s Market in Mexico, New York. The Cornell Cooperative Extension of Oswego County hosted the December 5th in-door event from 10 a.m. until 2 p.m. in the hall of the Veterans of Foreign Wars Building, where a Christmas tree decorated in red and gold stood right beside the farmers' stalls.

Levi Rudd is a fourth generation dairy farmer for Heritage Hill Farm. Rudd’s great-grandfather started the farm in 1939.

It now has 70 cows, and the Rudd family sells eggs, meats and cheeses.

“It is primarily dairy, and we make maple syrup in the spring, “said Levi Rudd, eating a local apple from the nearby farm of Fruit Valley Orchards. Since recent economic downfall, events such as these help farmers keep their businesses up and running.

“We are doing okay, but we just can’t go ahead and make any improvements at this point,” said Cynthia Rudd, who married into the Rudd family 30 years ago. “So, we are trying to diversify by selling the maple syrup, selling the farm eggs.”

The main person behind the Holiday Farmer’s Market and the local food movement in Oswego County is recent Cornell University graduate Valerie Walthert. She is now the Agriculture Economic Development specialist and says buying local products is very important to the local economy.

“People can feel good when they know that their money is staying right in the community and they are supporting their neighbors,” said Walthert. “And a lot of times, the prices are pretty competitive with the stores.”

Jim and Bernice Rappleye, who came to Oswego County from Washington State four years ago, attended the Saturday event to get some holiday shopping done. They also wanted to buy some fresh produce and support the local farmers in their community.

“We like to buy local when we can, because it’s fresher produce, supports the local industries and supports the local farmers,” said Jim Rappleye. “The money goes directly to the farmers.”

Jim Rappleye grew up on a dairy farm in Scriba, N.Y. He knows the hard work it takes to maintain a quality farm, especially during the winter season.

Buying locally also benefits from a nutrition perspective, according to College of Environment Science & Forestry (SUNY-ESF) Associate Professor Brian Underwood. He has been running his own family farm since 2000.

“In any food item, freshness makes all the difference in the world, not only in the taste, but also in the nutritional quality,” said Underwood.

But sometimes, figuring out whether a product is actually from a nearby farm can be difficult, according to Underwood. Some farmers are turning to The Pride of New York marketing campaign to solve the issue.

“It is a little green sticker, which is put on the package. ” said Underwood. “You know at least, it’s grown in New York State.”

The Snow Valley Honey Farm products of farmer Alan Dixon.

The Snow Valley Honey Farm products of farmer Alan Dixon.

Alan Dixon, who has run Snow Valley Honey Farm for over 40 years, also had a stand at the Holiday Farmer’s Market. All of his products were represented with the bright, green logo with the Statue of Liberty and a farmhouse across the front.

“[The logo ‘Pride of New York’] definitely helps, ” smiled Dixon, who sold over 60 pounds of honey during the market. “People know it’s local honey. It’s collected by bees from the local plants.”

Hoping to encourage more people to buy local, Walthert has started a branding program for the local food of Oswego County, which has over 100,195 acres of farmland.

“It has a long way to go, but once the logo gets out of the community, with time, people will realize it is from this area,” said Walthert.

Walthert just finished working on her “Oswego County Harvest Guide.” The guide, which is accessible at public libraries and other public venues, details the 56 agricultural points of interest in Oswego County. This includes all farms, orchards, and farm stands in the region.

Her goal is to design a clear logo for her branding project. The logo will allow all the Oswego farmers included in the guide to label their products and show consumers where their food is coming from.

“I think it’s really important that people who aren’t in touch with agriculture everyday remember [their food] did come from somewhere, it didn’t grow up on the shelf,” she said.  “I hear every day that children don’t know where their vegetables come from and that’s a really important piece. The generation that’s coming up now is less in touch.”

But Dylan Sorbello with the logo of the New York Bold onion.

But Dylan Sorbello with the logo of the New York Bold onion.

But Dylan Sorbello, 21, is an exception. He grew up on a vegetable farm and still works there today. He is excited about the branding program.

“It’s a good thing to get advertised because a lot of kids and many young consumers like myself need to be aware of locally grown produce,” he said.

Sorbello is also a fourth generation farmer. His grandfather started the farm in 1926 after immigrating to New York from Italy. He sold large bags of onions and potatoes to his costumers in a green John Deere T-shirt, with a poster on the wall behind him that read, “Oswego Onion ranks 1st in New York State”.  His company New York Bold sells “Onions with Attitude”, and its products are available in bags of two pounds or in amounts up to as much as 50 pounds.

He said he always knew he wanted to be a farmer.

“Amazing,” Sorbello said when he described his childhood and growing up on a farm.  “This is what I want to do for a living, and this is what I want to do for the rest of my life.”

As Walthert said goodbye to the farmers who were packing up their apples, cheeses and onions for the day, she said she was optimistic the event would take place next year. The excitement she saw on the farmers’ faces like Sorbello’s proved the day was a success.

“In the last couple of years, food has really come to the forefront, and it really hasn’t been that way in a long, long time,” she said. “I think they can feel more confident when they are buying something locally.”

The consumers benefit when they are able to buy their food from the hands of the farmer who grew it, according to Walthert. And so do the farmers when they know their quality products are being put to good use.
When asked what his favorite part of the day was, Levi Rudd quickly replied, “meeting my customers.”

“They see I have a quality product,” Levi Rudd said. “They see my cows out in pasture and they see that they are happy. I take care of my animals.”

“I get very excited about people getting excited about buying locally,” Cynthia Rudd added.

Jack Torrice, a fruit grower in the region for 23 years, still remembered the first time when a customer asked for locally grown food while he was selling his products in New York City.

“One of the question used to be is if it is organic,” Torrice memorized. “ But two years ago, [the customers] started to ask a different question — ‘is it local?’ So I think it’s getting more and more important.”

Torrice was pleased with today’s event, and he said he expected to do it again next year.

“I have been to several other farmer’s markets, but they were not well-attended as this one,” said Torrice. “I would certainly help her [Walthert] to do it next season.”

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