Little Local Farm with a Following Flourishes
Brian Jay uses only half an acre on his Greenville farm to provide his family and his Port Jervis Farmers Market customers, June through October, with assorted salad greens and tomatoes. Along with cherry and heirloom tomatoes, he grows arugula, baby spinach, mustard, kale, bok choy and tatsoi, an Asian vegetable from the mustard family.
“I’m a one-man farmer,” he said. “I only use hand tools, no till, no tractors, no infrastructure. I may expand, but not with tractors or large machines.”
He interrupted his day spent “insulating” fig trees and strawberries for the winter to explain how and why he farms, including how he insulates.
“With baby greens, you can cut and come again, or let them grow to full maturity, with big outer leaves,” he said, sounding like an old hand at farming, which he isn’t. Although Jay is now manager of the Port Jervis Farmers Market, until 2019, he lived in New York City for 12 years. managing restaurants or waiting on tables. This year was only his third growing season.
“If I recorded the number of hours I put into farming, I’d be upset about the profit, but I’m still learning,” he said. “After the restaurant experience, being a stay at home dad puts more on my plate. It’s worth it.”
The shift was seeded in Italy. Jay and his wife Leslie took a break from New York to spend four months in Italy. When they returned to the city, Jay worked as a server, but with a new direction.
“I love Italian food and their slower lifestyle,” he said. “ I liked the idea of being self-sustaining, growing our own food. It tastes better. There are no chemicals, no carbon footprint.”
In 2019, the Jays moved to Greenville a few months before their daughter Tegan was born and set up a new division of labor. Leslie was licensed as a mental health counselor and works at home, while Brian tends Tegan and the crops. Leslie helps prepare for market days, and the couple runs their vegetable stand together.
Jay now plans to start a small community supported agriculture (CSA) group who would invest in the farm before the season begins and then receive fresh food weekly for 22 weeks. Emails would notifying members about discounted produce, whatever Jay has that amounts to too much or too little to sell at the farmers’ market. He begins his planting indoors with grow lights to maximize the growing season.
CSA members would get such vegetables as greens, squash, tomatoes, beans, carrots, kale and herbs.
“That would be exciting for me and other folks,” said Jay.
Other techniques would allow him to continue growing greens until a “hard frost,” but he lacks a market to continue selling.
“More established farms have a CSA and farm store,” he said.
He is one of only three farmers who sell vegetables at the Port Jervis Farmers Market among 10 to 16 vendors weekly. They all follow organic practices but are not organic certified.
“I’m not big enough scale to make it worth the cost, time and money to be certified organic. Using organic practices along with regenerative agriculture practices is enough for my customer base,” said Jay.
Next year he hopes for both more vendors and more customers as well as other kinds of participation, such as live music, book talks, cooking or other demonstrations.
“The high school has a music program, but I had no luck getting them to respond,” he said.
Meanwhile, he “insulates” his fields for winter, pruning fig trees, tying branches together, covering them with burlap and then surrounding each tree with a cage to be filled in with pine needles and leaves. He spreads manure on strawberry beds to nourish the soil with organic matter. Adding pea and oat plants will also add valuable nitrogen to the soil, he says.
“The peas won’t survive, but the oats will,” said Jay. “I’ll trim them down to soil level in spring to nourish the soil.”
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