Growing Pauline Williman’s vision for the Patroon Land Farm 

 Patroon Land Farm in Knox, New York

The Enterprise — Michael Koff 
Producing produce: Patroon Land Farm in Knox can grow anywhere between 100,000 and 150,000 pounds of vegetables per year.

KNOX — Pauline Williman surveyed her field. 

It was September 2006, and, during this particular week, between an inch and an inch-and-a-half of rain had fallen on Albany County. 

Williman, 80 years old at the time, knelt to the ground and examined the condition of her beets; they were coming along well, she said. She walked onto the next row and looked at each plant carefully, inspected each one scrupulously, and made mental notes of the various plants.

The field had a single purpose: To feed the hungry.

Williman died late last month. She was 93 (see related editorial). 

“I think that she was just an inspirational woman,” said Robert Baker, manager of farm projects for the Regional Food Bank of Northeastern New York. “She wasn’t necessarily a woman of many words but she lived out her life through her actions.”

“No one ever left my parents’ home hungry,” Williman said that day in September 2006. The previous year, in 2005, Patroon Land Farm yielded 10,000 pounds of produce to feed the hungry. 

In 2006, that yield tripled, and, in 2007, it tripled again, to over 96,000 pounds of produce. To date, over a million pounds of produce has been grown on the Ketchum Road farm; two-thirds of which has gone directly to feed the hungry. 

Currently in the middle of the harvest season, Baker said that the farm grows lettuce, tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, onions, cabbage, cucumbers, zucchini, cauliflower, spinach, beets, and beans.

 

Lucky number 13

Williman’s mother died in 1988; it would take another three years to settle her estate. 

With her mother’s estate settled, Williman, through observing what others had done to protect their land and use their resources, discovered what she wanted to do with her family’s farm.

“I went to Ireland, and was there 10 days,” she told The Enterprise in 2006. “In the paper, the Irish Times, there was a job description of an educational farm trust. A short time after that, I cut clippings from the paper, sent them to my attorney, and said, ‘Go to work.’”

It took 13 years of procedures to form her not-for-profit organization, but, 1997, Williman prevailed.

From 2001 to 2005, Williman and her brother, William Salisbury, operated the farm and harvested produce for the hungry. Then, in 2006, the Regional Food Bank of Northeastern New York took over management of Patroon Land Farm. 

 

Yesterday and today 

The first year that Williman had taken on a large-scale planting meant for donation was 2001; the produce went to the Regional Food Bank of Northeastern New York. That year, Williman had to pay $4,000 to $5,000 out of her own pocket for seeds and planting.

Her red convertible, a Chrysler Sebring, doubled as her farm vehicle. “I need little pieces of equipment, here and there,” she told The Enterprise in 2001. 

When the property was placed into an agricultural trust, Baker said, one of the decisions made by the Patroon Land Foundation was that the land would not be poisoned by using chemicals. And, while the farm is not certified organic, a five-step process that requires approval from a certifying agent accredited by the United States Department of Agriculture, Baker said that all of Patroon’s farming practices are organic.

In 2005, Williman’s efforts yielded 10,000 pounds of produce; corn, squash, and pumpkins were the main crops. In 2006, the Regional Food Bank of Northeastern New York took over management of Patroon Farm, and, in 2017, according to most up-to-date information, 124,374 pounds of produce were harvested from 26 acres; 2,384 different volunteers gave 11,204 hours of time; and 433 members joined the CSA (community-supported agriculture) program.

Patroon Farm and the Regional Food Bank of Northeastern New York launched the community-supported agriculture program in 2008, allowing members who support the farm to buy shares, and pick up produce each week. 

The purpose of the CSA was to sell enough memberships so that the farm could pay for its own operations. It has yet to achieve that goal, Baker said. This season, the farm has 523 CSA members; to sustain the farm, he estimates, it would take about 700. 

Although the farm still operates in the red, it no longer needs Williman’s red convertible for its farming operations. Baker said that Patroon Farm now has two work trucks and four tractors. The farm also has four full-time employees and 15 to 20 regular volunteers, while, over the course of a year, it may see as many as 2,500 volunteers, Baker said. 

The property is well over 150 acres in size. However, just 30 acres are tillable farmland, Baker said; to make the rest of the farm productive would “just be tremendous cost.”

Patroon Farm can grow anywhere between 100,000 and 150,000 pounds of produce per year, Baker said, and two-thirds of that finds its way to the food bank. The other third goes toward the CSA vegetable-share program, he said, “which is how we pay for the farm.”

More Regional News

  • The spike of COVID-19 cases at UAlbany can be traced back to athletes and to off-campus housing in the Pine Hills neighborhood of Albany, said Albany County Executive Daniel McCoy.

  • Of the 24 new positive COVID-19 cases reported Sunday morning in Albany County, 16 are connected to the University at Albany. 

  • “The focal issue for the legislature is we don’t want to become the dumping ground for New York State or for the Northeast,” says William Reinhardt, who chairs the county legislature’s Conservation, Sustainability and Green Initiatives Committee and who sponsored the Clean air Act.

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