"There's nothing more satisfying than producing something. In my case, it's a truckful of delicious food."
Last week we began talking about the farmers that mean so much to serious eaters everywhere. Starting this week, we'll get an up-close and personal look at some of the individual farmers that grow and raise truly delicious stuff. Today we want to introduce you to Rick Bishop of Mountain Sweet Berry Farm in Roscoe, New York. Tomorrow we're going to post a really cool documentary we made about Rick and his family and their twice weekly visits to the Union Square Greenmarket in New York. In the meantime, let's get to know him.
Name: Rick Bishop
Farm: Mountain Sweet Berry Farm; Roscoe, New York
How many acres? 32 under cultivation
Your crew: Six members of the Perez family from a farming region in Guatemala, my wife Nicole, and two daughters Micaela and Allie.
Hours: April through December, six days a week, 12 to 16 hours a day (more on market days). We try to carve out Sundays for family time. In the winter my motto is: You plant the seed, you watch it grow, after harvest surf the snow. I love to snowboard.
What you grow: Day-neutral tristar strawberries, peas, potatoes, lettuces, camomile, wild arugula, and heirloom tomatoes.
Your customers: Serious eaters who get to the Union Square Greenmarket on Wednesdays or Saturdays early (before 11 a.m.) along with some of the best chefs and restaurants in the world: Michael Anthony of Gramercy Tavern, Dan Barber of Blue Hill, Alex Guarnaschelli of Butter, Mark Ladner of Del Posto, and David Chang of Momofuku.
How you got into farming: I grew up in Poughkeepsie, New York. My dad was a truck driver. I just always loved growing stuff. When I was in high school we moved to Sullivan County and even then I had an acre-and-a-half of a profitable garden.
Where did you learn to farm? I went to the Cornell University School of Agriculture, but I've learned just as much from the Rodale Institute, other farmers, and just good old trial and error. In farming you end up learning by doing.
Your farming philosophy: My mentor Dr. Carey Reams, who first got me thinking about mineralizing the soil to give food more flavor, once said: "A farmer that grows food to sell and not to eat is a thief." That is the truth. I grow food that is going to be safe, nutritious, and delicious.
Why do you farm? There's nothing more satisfying than producing something. In my case, it's a truckful of delicious food.
The best thing about farming? A satisfied and enthusiastic customer who could be a regular person who loves to cook what I grow, or a famous chef. And when one of my customers comes up to me and tells me how great my peas or potatoes are—that means the world to me.
The worst thing? The forces of nature that you can't control. She giveth and she taketh away. And when she takes, she can really take.
Most important lesson you've ever learned? Humility. You have to adapt and overcome or else you have to get out. The best improvisers I know are farmers.
What's the most important piece of advice you'd bestow on a young would-be farmer? Maintain your optimism from year to year. If you stay positive, you can withstand anything. You can make money but it is not going to be easy. You must find a way to persevere. And don't go into farming for the money. As a business, small-scale farming is too small and tenuous to make sense financially. The risks outweigh the purely financial reward. You need the support of your customers to keep you sane and what you do rewarding.
The future for good food? A return to small-scale alternative agriculture is the key to the future of seriously delicious food. Heirloom varieties of livestock and vegetables are not just fancypants in nature. They really taste better and they replenish the land they come from.