More help needed Williman devoted to harvesting for the hungry

More help needed
Williman devoted to harvesting for the hungry

KNOX — Pauline Williman surveys her field, kneels to the ground, and examines the condition of her beets. She says they are coming along well. Williman walks on to the next row and looks at each plant carefully; she takes her time, inspects each plant scrupulously, and makes mental notes of the various plants.

The field, which holds a large variety of produce, will be used for one purpose — to feed the hungry.
"No one ever left my parents’ home hungry," she says.

Williman was born on her family’s Ketchum Road farm 80 years ago, and has worked and maintained the farmland for the past 65 years. In 1997, she put the land into a trust and named it the Patroon Land Foundation (The farmland was once part of the original Van Rensselaer patroonship under Dutch Colonial rule).

In 1988, Williman’s mother died, and the estate was settled in 1991. Following her mother’s death, Williman, through observing what others had done to protect their land and use their resources, discovered what she wanted to do.
"I went to Ireland, and was there 10 days," she said. "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.’"

In the mid-1990’s, Williman, while perusing through her church’s bulletin, also discovered that a church in Michigan leased its land and raised $10,000 each year for its congregation.

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

When she approached the Regional Food Bank of Northeastern New York with the idea of using her farmland as a source for their mission, Executive Director, Mark Quandt, was responsive.
"What do you do when someone who’s brash enough walks into the food bank, and says, ‘I want to grow corn and squash for you"’" Williman said. "Most people would have thrown me out on my ear, but Mark didn’t, and it’s a good thing."

After the Patroon Land Foundation was formed in 2001, Williman, with the help of volunteers — students, at-risk groups, parents, and residents of the surrounding area — planted and harvested the field to supply the regional food bank.

The bank, which serves over 1,000 charitable agencies in 23 counties, distributed over 19.2 million pounds of food in 2005.

This spring, Williman and the food bank re-evaluated its commitment to the project and made some changes in order to carry out their mission.

Revisions to a commitment
"This is the first year we concentrated on having a larger variety," Quandt said of the produce. "We wanted it managed so that [the foundation] will have a future and will continue to be a growing source for the people we serve." He added, "We could have continued as we were, but we had to look at what we really wanted to accomplish."

In 2005, Williman’s efforts yielded 10,000 pounds of produce; corn, squash, and pumpkins were the main crops.

This spring, Williman, who had provided the funding for the plants in past years, was provided with 5,000 plants from the food bank.
"We planted broccoli, peppers, cabbage, tomatoes, eggplant, melons, beans, carrots, and beets," Williman said. She added, "Everything was planted at different times"There is a steady harvest to be picked up three times a week."
"When we started out, we only did corn and squash," Williman said.

In addition to planting additional crops, an expert was hired by the food bank to oversee the harvesting, packing, and loading of crops, and for general upkeep of the farmland.
"What we wanted to do, was hire a farmer to oversee the project on a daily basis," Tracey Martin, associate director of the food bank, said.

In May, the food bank hired Mark Weinheimer to oversee the project.

Weinheimer, who began farming as a young man, has farmed throughout his life. He lives in Brahmans Corners (Schenectady County), spends a considerable amount of time in the field, 50 to 55 hours each week, and makes the commute nearly every day.
"He took the weekend off," Williman said. "That shocked me."

As well as providing the project with a large assortment of crops and the services of a professional to oversee the farmland, the Regional Food Bank also purchased an electric car to transport harvested crops from the field to the food bank’s vans, which carry the produce to its headquarters in Latham.
"It’s been a great help," Williman said of the electric car.

Martin and Quandt both see the Patroon Land Foundation as an outstanding source of food for the agencies they supply. The quality of the crops harvested from Williman’s farm, they said, is superior to many other contributions they receive.
"A lot of other farms donate what they deem not acceptable," Martin said. She added, "A lot of the produce we get is flawed in some way. It’s not inedible. It’s perfectly good. It just doesn’t look beautiful on the shelf in a store. Some might have been damaged by hail or have a blemish or two, but it’s perfectly good for eating."
Quandt said of the Patroon Land Foundation, "The beauty of it is that within a day it’s gone," and sent to the many agencies it provides food for. Quandt also stated, "It’s nutritious, very high-quality, and there’s a good variety of it. We don’t often get a good variety."

The crops which were planted this spring, Martin said, will provide the food bank with a continuous flow of food.
"Corn has a short life," Martin said. "It must be eaten about two to three days after it’s picked."

Volunteers, funding needed

Though many have volunteered to help with the harvesting, planting, and general upkeep of the farmland, Mark Quandt said more are needed.
"We need people to help with the general upkeep of the farm," Quandt said. He added, "We need to keep the farm in the condition it needs to be in. There are many jobs."

On June 6, National Hunger Awareness Day, students from Berne-Knox-Westerlo came to the farm, and, Williman said, did an exemplary job.
"They knew what they were doing," she said. "They did a good job."

The students, Williman said, were from the country and had farming experience.

Martin said anyone is welcome to volunteer. Crews from The Albany Youth Build, a community development program, and the Department of Correctional Services, she said, have volunteered their services.
Volunteers work for many reasons, she said. "We had one woman who came to the farm with her kids," said Martin, "because she wanted to show them where food came from."

This past summer, Williman said, presented many challenges. Once early rains subsided, Williman had to replant the nine-acre field, three times.
"Two-thirds of early planting was washed out," she said.
"The rain made it tough," Quandt agreed.
"I applied for two grants," Williman said. "Both were turned down." She added, "Usually to get a grant, you have to be doing something new, something experimental"I want to get in with the Gates Foundation."
The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is an organization that "favors preventative approaches and collaborative endeavors with government, philanthropic, private sector, and not-for-profit partners."
Williman also said she has done quite a bit of research on the W.K. Kellogg Foundation. Its mission is "to help people help themselves through the practical application of knowledge and resources to improve their quality of life and that of future generations"; it ranks among the world’s largest private foundations.
"Any help we could get would be greatly appreciated," Quandt said.

More Hilltowns News

The Altamont Enterprise is focused on hyper-local, high-quality journalism. We produce free election guides, curate readers' opinion pieces, and engage with important local issues. Subscriptions open full access to our work and make it possible.