Oral Histories with Apple Growers

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Talea and Doug Taylor of Montgomery Place Orchards, Red Hook, NY

Interview with AJ Tripathi '18 on January 18, 2018

Talea and Doug Taylor are the current managers of Montgomery Place Orchards in Red Hook, NY. They have been working the land there for about thirty-seven years. The interview with them was conducted in the farm’s kitchen. Talea and Doug discuss how they came to Montgomery Place: their time in college, how they met, and the jobs they worked until they made their way to Montgomery Place. They speak of what it is like to rent land as a farmer and how that has changed throughout the years. They address what goes into running a small farm and the challenges that come with it as well as the reason they keep doing the work that they do.

Interview with Talea and Doug Taylor by AJ Tripathi

Clip 1

Doug talks about what attracted him to the Hudson Valley and a bit about his past. He explains how he found out about Montgomery place orchards and how he and Talea got involved with it. They talk about moving around the county.

Clip 2

Doug and Talea talk about the community that has been built in the Hudson Valley with other farms and families. They speak of the support they provide to each other, how they work together, and how this relationship was cultivated and is maintained. They also talk about other support systems that developed with time such as a young farmers coalition, a CSA, and farm shares.

Clip 3

Doug and Talea talk about the reputation of the farmstand and how it allows them to connect to the community and, in doing so, they are able to advertise the farm. They mention Chuck Mead and the community. They also speak about how family is incorporated into the way they farm and reflect on where they feel they stand with the farm now, at “a happy place”.

Clip 4

Doug and Talea talk about apples and the stories they have to tell. They mention cider varieties, choosing which ones to plant, and how the popularity of apples changed over time.

Clip 5

Talea reflects on how her role on the farm has changed and her desire to return to her roots and farm a little more. They also speak of the lives of farmers and simple hopes they have. They mention how the farm always comes first and the amount of care it requires to maintain. Doug describes the farm as a "living thing" and the "main character."

Clip 6

Talea talks about women in farming and how that has changed over time. She discusses women-owned CSA’s and her thoughts on what women can contribute to a farm as well as the scale of farms and the difficulties of purchasing land. The young farmers coalition is also mentioned.

Clip 7

Doug and Talea talk about soil and the significance it has to them. They bring up the idea that the soil is what is going to remain a 100 years from now and that the soil must be taken care of for those who take over care for the farm then, referring to them as “the next Doug and Talea”.

We’ve heard tales of Doug’s apple scab tattoo. An apple scab is a disease of apple trees that cause scabs on the fruit of the apple. You can imagine that this wouldn’t look much like anything in the form of an arm tattoo. And yet, after meeting Doug, we saw how much it fit his quirky personality and love of apples.

We met with Doug in the Montgomery Place Orchard (MPO) jam room, where all the delicious MPO jams and pestos are made. On the table sat boxes from a hive that hadn’t survived the winter, but was still filled with honey. The hive filled the air in the small room with a faint sweet, flowery smell. Doug encouraged us to poke our fingers into the honey and it tasted amazing! The room was being heated by three burners on the gas stove. We sat around this room for a while and talked about Doug and Talea’s history on the farm.

Doug said his desire to become an apple farmer began on his grandparents farm across the river in the Catskills. He said they had just a few old, gnarly trees there that he loved. He also told us about all the wild apple trees growing up in the hills in the Catskills.

Doug and Talea met at agricultural school in Doylestown, Pennsylvania. After graduating, and moving around to a few jobs in the eastern United States, Doug saw an add in a fruit catalog for a position managing the farm at Montgomery Place. Doug and Talea were hired by Historic Hudson Valley in 1987 to work the farm at Montgomery Place. For two years they were hired work for Historic Hudson Valley. During that time important things like their cold storage was built. After two years, Historic Hudson Valley was running out of money and the first thing they were going to do was cut the farm. Doug and Talea had just had their second child and were really determined to stay on at MPO. That was when they proposed that they could run MPO and take full responsibility of orchard operations. Since then, they have been tenant farmers and never quite sure how long they were going to stay. In 2016, Montgomery Place changed hands from Historic Hudson Valley to Bard College. Now that Bard has taken over, it gives them more stability.

Now, Doug and Talea Taylor have been working Montgomery Place Orchards for 29 years following a long line of tenants dating back to the 1700s. Since Doug and Talea receive little financial help because they do not own the land, Doug thought Montgomery Place Orchards was a good case study for determining how a small-scale farm like their can work under current agricultural systems. Doug and Talea have had to do what they can with their own money. Consequently, the are a small, diversified, retail farm. In the past they have tried things like pick your own. Doug said he hated it. It felt invasive and was very wasteful. Because all the pick your own people just pick a scant number of all the good fruit and the rest rots on the bush/tree. With such a small operation, they really cannot afford any waste. They have never tried wholesale, because they would never succeed in such a market where you have to be a huge operation. Doug and Talea have found their niche providing the local area with a diversified product that is uniquely entrenched in the ideas of regional and seasonal flavors. Their farmstand is located on Route 9G at the intersection of Route 199.

When asked about cider, he then ushered us into his cider room, his newest and dearest experiment, to let us taste some of the hard cider he’s been concocting. In his famous Annandale Atomic Hard Cider glasses he poured out for us a Newtown Pippin cider with some tart cherry juice and pitched champagne yeast.

Stepping away from making hard cider for some years, he’s making it again. Hard cider, actually used to be easier to do than sweet cider. For a long time, he said, the cost of pasteurization made sweet cider far too cost prohibitive, but finally after a good year they bought the UV pasteurization equipment they needed to start providing their customers with their delicious sweet cider.

Now hard cider has had its own problems. To do hard cider, Doug told us you needed a strong interest in bio, chem, and law, definitely law. He himself has an attorney he consults on all legal matters having to do with hard cider. For a long time cider has been in a legal grey area, because it doesn’t fit the classification of wine or beer. It is produced more like wine, but has an alcohol content closer to beer.

Doug himself is experimenting with wild yeasts and champagne yeast. He also only does single variety batches. As of now, he does forced carbonation in kegs, but has plans to experiment with bottle conditioning as well.

Now, starting next year, Doug has plans to sell his hard cider at the farm stand again! He has plans to buy a donut maker and have growlers of cider and donuts available!

Students Interviewing Doug Taylor during the 2017 Winter Session

Ken Migliorelli of Migliorelli Farms, Tivoli, NY

Interview with Nick Fiorellini '20 on January 17, 2018

The oral history was conducted with Ken Migliorelli, a local apple farmer in Tivoli, New York. Ken discussed his family history with farming, how he got into apple farming, issues surrounding apple growing, government intervention, the nexus between farming and technology (and its future), and why he does what he does. Anyone seeking information on modern-day farming and how the agriculture industry works will find this information useful. Since he was 15, Ken has been involved with farming; his interest began when he grew beans and was able to feed his family in the Bronx. In 2002, he began to grow apples in the Hudson Valley.

Nick Fiorellini interviewing Ken Migliorelli

Clip 1

Ken discusses apple farming today, including how many varieties of apples he grows and the measures he takes to protect the apple crop in cold weather.

Clip 2

Ken discusses his family history and moving to Red Hook from the Bronx in 1970. He talks about his family’s experience with farming and their financial struggles as well as their subsequent successes.

Clip 3

Ken discusses how technological innovation, specifically robotics, has influenced modern apple farming.

Clip 4

Ken discusses selling apples and the differences between wholesale, the farm stand, and pick your own.

Clip 5

Ken discusses how he switched from vegetable farming to fruit farming in 2002 and the differences between the two.

Clip 6

Ken answers the question: How did you get into farming at such a young age?

Clip 7

Ken talks about what he loves about farming.

Chuck Mead of Mead Orchards, Tivoli, NY

Interview with Sahal Hussain '19 on January 22, 2018

Chuck Mead is the owner of Mead farms in Tivoli, Dutchess County, New York. The farm was first purchased by his grandfather in 1916. It was then passed down through generations to Chuck. He describes in detail various technologies that he uses and the changes he has seen in these technologies throughout his years in farming. He recollects anecdotes about his father and grandfather. He shares how he feels about some of the changes in farming that he has seen. He reminisces about his experiences in college and contemplates the future of farming technology. He also talks about some of the differences in farming in the U.S. and in Europe.

Sahal Hussain interviewing Chuck Mead

Clip 1

Chuck describes the origins of Mead farm and how his grandfather came about owning the farm.

Clip 2

Chuck talks about how his dad disagreed with him about the optimal length at which to plant trees when he first started out farming.

Clip 3

"My father instilled in me the importance of learning.”

Clip 4

Chuck recalls a funny anecdote about how his father blew up stumps.

Clip 5

Chuck discusses his conversion to a believer of the theories about the optimal health of trees.

Clip 6

Chuck contemplates on all the new directions farming technology might or will take.

Mead Orchard has been part of the Hudson Valley for three generations now. The Mead family has been involved in farming since G. Gordon Mead, who previously worked at Wall Street, drove down in his beloved Ford Model T from upstate New York and bought the land in 1916. He transformed the farm into an exclusively supplier of fresh produce to wholesale markets, specializing in apples. He also changed the name of the farm from "White Clay Creek Orchards" (White Clay Creek runs through the property). It is now mostly a local retailer of fresh produce but also sells some of its produce to the wholesale market.

Despite some of the rocky weather has over the past couple of years apples are still the farm's most consistent and resilient crop. Since Chuck Mead took over from his father Sidney Mead in the 80s he has grown at least 50 different varieties of apples. Chuck has overseen the transition of Mead Orchards from the wholesale market to more local retail market due to the recent rise in the popularity of local farmer's markets such as Pleasantville Farmer's Market. It is also a beloved pick-your-own fruit destination.

The architecture of the farm is as old as the farm itself. The strikingly huge red banked barn has been there even before Chuck's grandfather bought the property. It has the initials from a member of the Coon family from 1908 on the wall of the second floor of the barn . It still has some of the original wood that the barn was built from. The barn was built in such a way that tractors can be driven to its third floor. Chuck's mother's house, just few feet away from the barn, still has some of the original roofing which by now is more than 100 years old. Just across from Chuck's mother's house is the Cider Room, it houses the huge cider making machine which presses deliciously sweet cider and apple cider vinegar. Unfortunately they are currently restricted to only his farm stand.

We were really interested in knowing how farming technology has changed over the years and both Dave Farleigh, who was coincidentally Chuck's roommate when they both studied at Cornell, and Doug Taylor raved about the technical advancement of Mead Orchards. According to Chuck the farm has actually gone through very little change in technology change since he took over from his father. Since then pesticides have become more environmentally friendly and irrigation techniques have improved. Apple trees have shrunk in size to increase the yield per acre. Farming is still grueling work and not many people are up to it. Chuck has guest workers living at the farm and he regards them not only an integral part of the farm but as a part of his family as well. He sold the developmental rights of the farm to Scenic Hudson Valley in 2001 to ensure that his property is not used for anything else but for farming purposes. This will preserve the rich local farming traditions of this historic property for generations to come.

Students interviewing Chuck Mead during the 2017 Winter Session

Holly and Bruce Brittain of Rose Hill Farm, Red Hook, NY

Interview with Emma Washburn '19 on January 24, 2018

In this oral history, Holly and Bruce Brittain of Rose Hill Farm in Red Hook, New York, describe their experiences since purchasing the farm in 2015. They discuss how they met, their previous careers as an architect and in finance, and how they decided to purchase the property and become farmers. They discuss how they plan on changing and diversifying the farm and what their various short term goals for the farm are, including making the farm organic, building trails, rebuilding the old barn, and brewing apple cider. They discuss what they think of farming technology and how they utilize it on their farm, as well as how they use social media to attract visitors, as their farm is exclusively a pick-your-own farm. They also discuss how their thoughts on farming have changed since buying the farm, as they did not have much prior farming experience, and how their lives have changed because of it. They discuss Dave Fraleigh, the previous owner of the farm and their relationship with him and his continuing involvement with the farm. They talk about their long term goals for the farm, as well as reveal why they do what they do.

Emma Washburn interviewing Bruce and Holly Brittain

Clip 1

Bruce discusses how small agriculture is in danger because of developing technology and why farms need to adapt to survive.

Clip 2

Bruce and Holly discuss the need for small farms to adapt and the advantages of apple farming in Red Hook, New York. They also discuss taking Rose Hill Organic and raising livestock.

Clip 3

Bruce and Holly discuss Dave Fraleigh, the previous owner of Rose Hill farm, how much he knows about farming and how they perceive his expertise.

Clip 4

Bruce discusses how his vision of Rose Hill having an educational component in the future and the importance of academic institutions in the world of farming.

Clip 5

Bruce and Holly recall advice from Dave Fraleigh on how to answer the recurring question of visitors at a pick-your-own orchard: what is your favorite apple?

Clip 6

Bruce and Holly discuss how their nature as developers influences their approach toward farming.

Dave Fraleigh (former owner of Rose Hill Farm), Red Hook, NY

Interview with Winter Session 2017

During Winter Session 2017, the project team met with three apple growers of northern Dutchess County during the project period, each of whom had very different operations and provided insights into the economic and technological changes they have noticed during their experiences as farmers. Their discussion with Dave Fraleigh, who was a descendant of the first Fraleigh to own the farm, Peter P. Fraleigh. Dave spoke with the students via video chat from his home in North Carolina, where moved after selling the farm to Bruce and Holly Brittain and their partner, Chris Belardi.

In 1798 Peter Fraleigh purchased land that, in 1812, came to be known as Rose Hill Farm. For six generations the Fraleigh's were the occupants and keepers of the farm. Of New York State's Bicentennial Family Farms, Rose Hill Farm was esteemed to be the only fruit orchard by The New York State Agricultural Society in 2001.

David Fraleigh (Dave) is the sixth generation of Fraleigh's to be working and preserving the land before it was sold. He grew up there working alongside his father who ran it, and in 1979 took over just as his father had in 1944 when his grandfather died. Dave Fraleigh and Karen Fraleigh recently moved to North Carolina and sold Rose Hill Farm to Holly and Bruce Brittain in November of 2015, a little over a year ago.

We talked to Dave hoping he would be able to tell us more about this historic treasure of the Hudson Valley. Lucky for us, Dave loves telling stories and joined us on Facetime from North Carolina and shared a part of his life with us. While eating lunch and letting his dogs out to roam around the property, Dave set up a tripod and told us stories of his adventures trying to make cider, taking over the farm, and growing with the farm.

The Rose Hill Farm is a part of history and has seen a lot of changes come with the seasons of its life. It’s housed the Fraleigh family, apples, sheep, chickens, pumpkins, etc. There was a time when the farm had cows which they would breed to sell to dairy farmers in order to replace their cows as needed.

With new generations came new practices and other changes along the farm. When Dave took over he decided there would be no more sheep, just as he’d told his father when he went to Cornell, “It’s me or the sheep!” He kept the chickens. He also made changes to the irrigation system, pest control, etc.

The changes in the farm came with new generations and changes in the wholesale market, the farm changed as it had to in order to survive the climate it exists in. Once a wholesale-oriented apple orchard, the Rose Hill Farm became a “pick-your-own” farm focused on the family experience in 1995, partially due to the changes within the wholesale market.

Dave wasn’t always open to the idea of changing his farming practices, a part of him felt forced to change the way he ran things. He felt it an invasion of his privacy when his farm was open for anyone to come and take from it. But, that changed with the financial changes of the time and the demand of his customers, “It’s all supply and demand,” stated Dave. So, Dave and Karen planted pumpkins, peaches, tart cherries, apricots, nectarines, blueberries, and raspberries. At some point they began to participate in the H-2A program which allows farmers to get temporary seasonal extra help on the farm. The program is still active and used in the Hudson Valley.

The farm is between Route 9 and 199 so not always obvious to the passerby. Dave tells a story of a man who walked in and said he barely saw the sign for the farm, to which Dave replied, “It got you here, didn’t it?” Not everything about the farm changed.

Dave’s kids didn’t want to take over the farm; they had other interests. So Dave decided to pass the farm onto others who would maintain the property as farm land. In addition, the Scenic Hudson Land Trust brought the development rights of the farm from the Fraleigh's in 1998. Its objective is to protect the farmlands around Hudson and preserve the beauty of the area that this farm exists in. Rose Hill Farm will continue to exist for a long time and the legacy of the Fraleigh's with it.

Since moving to North Carolina Dave notes that there isn’t much farming he can do anymore but says the people are nicer. When asked about the apples, he replied, “Terrible Apples.”