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Back To Basics — Home, Garden and Car Care Special Section

Knox farmer riots for austerity
The Astyks cut energy use to 10 percent of American average

By Tyler Schuling

KNOX — No one has ever rioted for austerity. Until now.

Sharon Astyk, a 35-year-old mother of four and environmentalist, is scaling her household’s energy use down to just 10-percent of the average American’s.

"A lot of the things are really very ordinary, simple things — putting the laundry on the clothesline, or not taking the extra trip in the car to pick one thing up, or getting less supermarket meat and buying local produce," said Astyk.

Shortly after starting the project in April, Astyk and Miranda Edel, her "partner-in-ecology" in Minnesota, both mentioned the project on their blogs. It caught on.

"All of the sudden, there were 300 people doing it with us," Astyk said.

Now, nearly 1,000 people in 14 countries have joined in the Riot For Austerity.

Astyk is the head farmer and gardener of Gleanings Farm, a 27-acre Jewish community-supported-agriculture farm in Knox that delivers produce, home-baked challah, fresh flowers, and free-range eggs. Much of the Astyks’ land is wooded. About an acre-and-a-half is a mixed garden.

"It is harvest time now. We are filling the grain bins and enjoying the lush period of the autumn," Astyk wrote last week in her blog — Casaubon’s Book (http://casaubonsbook.blogspot.com).

Casaubon is a character in George Eliot’s Victorian novel, Middlemarch. A lapsed Ph.D. student in English literature, Sharon Astyk is an aspiring writer. She contributes to Groovy Green, an on-line magazine that interviewed her when she spoke at a conference for The Community Solution, a community-based energy resource program.

Astyk, her husband, and their four young boys live in a large two-story farmhouse with six bedrooms "which is just crazy for six people," she said.

"In some ways, it’s good because most people aren’t going to build an environmentally-friendly home," Astyk said. "They’re going to adapt wherever they are."


To conserve energy, Astyk and those in the project are making cuts in seven areas — electricity, gasoline, heating fuel, food energy, water, consumer purchases, and garbage production. They save on energy through combustion and by using renewable resources or nothing at all.

"It’s hard," Astyk said. "We’re not really near much so that is a real challenge, and gas is probably the hardest category for us.

"You can do this a whole lot of ways," said Astyk, adding that some have bought more efficient refrigerators or installed solar panels on their roof.

"We don’t have the money for that," she said. "As sort of a modeling project, our goal was to do this on a comparatively low budget even if we had the money"Most people are going to have to figure out how to reduce their energy consumption with the things they’ve already got.

"We’ve emphasized turning it off, turning it down, [and] using it less more than buying new things as much as possible," Astyk said.

Before starting the project, the Astyks bought a more efficient wood stove. They didn’t buy a different car.

"We are using our existing vehicles, and we’re just trying to really use them less," she said.

An astonishing amount of energy savings, Astyk said, comes from "old, sort of boring 1970’s" thinking, and, while saving on energy, they also save money.

Energy-saving measures include: turning off the computer at night, using fans instead of air-conditioning, installing an attic fan, buying used products, putting on a sweater and turning the thermostat down, and turning lights off when leaving a room.

"We made about 60- or 70-percent of our electric reduction just by turning things off," Astyk said.

To save water, they place a bucket in their shower as the water warms up; they then use the water for their garden. They also turn the shower off when soaping up, turning it back on when rinsing.

They have turned their refrigerator off and use a freezer and two coolers.

"We take ice packs out of the freezer and put them in the cooler to keep the food cool, and we just buy fewer things that need to be refrigerated and cook a little differently," she said.

They are looking to replace one or both of their cars with three-wheeled Dutch bikes called bakfiets (backfeets), which have a plastic or wooden box for carrying children in front of their handlebars. The Dutch bikes could be used for most of the family’s local traveling, Astyk said.

The Astyks plan ahead so they don’t run out of things and buy in bulk. If something breaks, they wait until they are near a hardware store rather than making a special trip. They consolidate.

"When my husband goes into work, he stops at the store on the way home. He gets gas on the way home. We’re lucky that my husband only commutes three days a week, and I work from home"We wouldn’t be able to make the 90 percent if we didn’t have that arrangement," Astyk said.

"If we both had to work full-time, then we might be shooting for a 40-percent or 50-percent cut," she said. Not everyone is going to achieve 90 percent in every area, she said.

Their home is about three miles from Duanesburg, five miles from the hamlet of Knox, and 19 miles from her husband’s job.

"This is a big learning project, but Miranda and I had both been living a comparatively low-energy lifestyle for awhile. We didn’t start from where most people start," Astyk said. Some "started from zero," she said, and she thinks that is incredibly admirable and much more difficult.

Monbiot’s book

The inspiration for Riot For Austerity came from the British journalist George Monbiot, who says in his non-fiction book, Heat: How to Stop the Planet from Burning, "Nobody has ever rioted for austerity."

"I was rather taken with the phrase because I liked it, and we decided, ‘Well, somebody should. It might as well be us,’" Astyk said.

She had read the British version of the book, which, as well as including British emissions, has some American figures. While she agreed with some of the Monbiot’s ideas, she didn’t agree with others.

"It’s a difficult book to read, and the information it has about what can happen if we don’t do this is also quite disturbing," Astyk said.

Monbiot, she said, figured out the highest amount of carbon you can have in the atmosphere while avoiding the 2-degree tipping point, where the climate could accelerate in ways we cannot stop.

"And, believe it or not, nobody actually did that before," Astyk said.

"Two degrees is the figure scientists agree"we really don’t want to hit. Right now, we’re at one," she said.

"I don’t want to imply that [Monbiot’s] is the be-all and end-all of all the books on climate change," Astyk said.

Monbiot also makes an argument about fair-share.

People in India are producing a lot of carbon because there are a lot of people there, but the average Indian is producing one-tenth the carbon an average American produces, she said.

"The issue for me, and the issue that Monbiot articulates, is that it’s not really reasonable to say, ‘OK, let’s everybody make the same cuts across the board,’"That’s not an equal way to do that," she said.

Astyk agrees with Monbiot and thinks it’s fair for people who use more to cut more.

"He does this very common-sense thing that says, ‘We really can’t ask poor people in poor countries to make the same compromises that we can ask rich people to do,’ and figures out what rich people have to do," Astyk said.

There is some controversy about Monbiot’s figures and some minor disagreements but scientists and analysts, in a large part, agree with the idea that we need to have a balanced and proportional response, she said.

Monbiot is skeptical about what people can do on their own, and says we can’t ask individuals alone to make sacrifices but that we have to make systematic changes, Astyk said.

One change he proposes, which she doesn’t agree with, is for people to order their products from Wal-Mart and have them delivered to their home so that everyone doesn’t drive their car to the grocery store.

"I actually think that’s wrong, and Monbiot isn’t a big fan of this either," she said.

Political statement

"What we needed was a visible political image," said Astyk. In his book, Monbiot estimates a 90-percent cut across the board in the rich nations would be necessary to avoid the tipping point, she said. And the writer points out that even the most radical leaders do not propose something like this, because it would be political suicide.

When people say, "Oh, nobody would ever do that," Astyk said, she will be able to say, "Look, over here" and, "Here are hundreds of people who have done this."

"As long as the argument is: No, this isn’t politically feasible, then we’ve got to represent the fact that there are people voluntarily doing it the hard way," she said.

"And wouldn’t it be easier if somebody helped" Wouldn’t it be easier if we started to get public political support for this"

"And, of course, we would love to have done this in a political context," she said. "The entire country is never going to be able to achieve the necessary cuts without public transportation, and without political support, and without tax rebates for energy efficiency."

While Riot For Austerity is "sort of radical-seeming" and "is designed to be a political stunt," and draw people’s attention, Astyk said, it is also about how we want to live our lives.


The project is not just a year-long experiment for the Astyks and their four young boys but a lifestyle they hope to sustain.

The Astyks’ eldest son, Eli, attends a school for children with autism. Simon, their only other school-age child, is being home-schooled.

"We do a mix," said Astyk. "We also do swimming lessons and athletic things, too"We don’t keep them in a cave or anything."

She pointed to other families that share the responsibility of taking their children to and from practices and events.

The Astyks, "at the moment at least," draw limits, Astyk said. "If everybody can go to Tae Kwon Do on Tuesdays, we’ll do Tae Kwon Do, but we’re not going to do three nights a week," she said. "As they get older, that’s going to be more challenging in some ways.

"A lot of that actually at this stage doesn’t have so much to do with wanting to restrict trips. It actually has a lot to do with wanting to have a real family life, and wanting our family to sit down to dinner regularly, and wanting our kids not to be running around all the time," she said.

The Astyks do a reasonable number of activities by their standards, and also try to prioritize things, such as baseball games with the neighborhood kids.

"We probably do fewer activities than most people we know," Astyk said.

She hopes that, as the boys grow older, they will ride their bikes to their activities. Either she or her husband could make the "pretty doable" five- or six-mile bike ride to the community center or the library, she said.

Through the years, they might have to change how they allocate their gas.

"Right now, it’s synagogue," Astyk said. "That’s what we reserve it for, synagogue and Hebrew school for the kids."

Later on, she said, they might need to prioritize it for baseball games.

"That’s fine. We just can’t do everything. It does restrict what we can do. It doesn’t mean we can’t do anything," she said.

"So far, we’re pretty content with that, but I’m sure there will come a day when the kids are chomping at the bit to do something, and we’re saying, ‘No, let’s not.’ And I’m not sure what we’re going to do at that point," Astyk said.

Long-distance travel

"There are some things that are real hard for people," said Astyk. "Flying is really tough.

"Everybody has family far away, and everybody has good reasons to go and people have jobs that require travel," she said. "Flying has been one of those real roadblocks for some people. I’ve been lucky because I work from home, and I have a certain amount of flexibility."

Long-distance traveling has not been eliminated from the Astyks’ lives. Her father lives across the country, her mother lives in Boston, and her mother-in-law lives in Manhattan.

The Astyks take a train from either Albany or Troy to Grand Central Station in New York City and travel by bus from Albany to Boston.

"In both places, we can pretty much get around by public transportation once we’re there," she said.

While public transportation does limit their travels, Astyk said, she is surprised by the number of places she is able to go. She has Amish friends in Palatine Bridge (Montgomery County) who go all over by train.

"Obviously, within our gas and energy parameters, there’s only so many of those trips, but travel on public transportation is just so much more efficient than travel in a car. It stretches the miles a lot further," she said.

Transforming a suburban yard into a wildlife habitat

By Ellen Zunon

GUILDERLAND — I have tooth marks on my sedum. But not to worry — it’s a garden plant, not a body part. Sedum is a succulent perennial with moist green leaves, perfect for a salad, or so must the deer think that make nightly visits to my domain, dining on rhododendron and snacking on sedum. In any case, it is not a plant meant for human consumption.

Ours is a corner lot, where we have our own forest in miniature, with white pine, Norway maple, hemlock, oak, and mulberry. We don’t have much of a lawn because it is difficult to maintain a green lawn in the area where I live with the sandy soil of the Pine Bush underfoot.

So I have compromised by reducing the size of my lawn and allowing some wildflowers to move in alongside the perennials, trees, and shrubs. Including the trees, flowers, shrubs (and weeds!), I’ve counted a total of 85 different plant species on our property.

In fact, we have so many kinds of plants that our yard has recently been designated a Certified Wildlife Habitat site by the National Wildlife Federation. This is a program that encourages homeowners to create biodiverse havens for wildlife, using native plants and reducing the use of chemical pesticides and fertilizers.

The program was started in 1973 when National Wildlife magazine published an article encouraging people to garden in a more natural way, with wildlife in mind. There was such an overwhelming response to the article, that the National Wildlife Federation began the backyard habitat program to promote the approach described in the article, and to educate the public about the benefits of creating and restoring natural landscapes.

Preserving the gene pool of native species

In order to qualify for the program, your backyard habitat must contain four elements:

— 1) Food sources for wildlife, such as native plants, seeds, berries, nectar;

— 2) A source of water, such as a birdbath or pond;

— 3) Places for cover: a thicket, rockpile or birdhouse; and

— 4) Places for wildlife to raise their young, such as dense shrubs, vegetation, or a nesting box.

You should also be able to cite what sustainable gardening practices you use to help conserve natural resources. These might be as complex as creating a vegetative buffer zone around your pond or as simple as mulching around your shrubs. And, of course, you must reduce the use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides.

Last year, to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the National Wildlife Federation, the foundation’s goal was to achieve a total of 70,000 certified habitats. They must have succeeded, because my certificate is number 73333. In fact, they are now aiming for 100,000 habitat sites.

The program is promoted on inserts in National Wildlife, the NWF’s monthly magazine, and on its interactive website, www.nfw.org. You can also find gardening tips on the website, view photographs of other homeowners’ habitats, search a database of native plants and apply to the habitat program online. There is a $15 application fee, which includes a subscription to National Wildlife magazine.

Janet Marinelli, director of publishing at the Brooklyn Botanical Garden, and fellow habitat owner, emphasizes the importance of backyard habitats in an article in the May 2006 issue of National Wildlife magazine. According to Marinelli, as wilderness areas shrink and backyard acreage increases, home landscapers play an increasingly important ecological role.

Natural areas become more isolated from each other, causing inbreeding, which threatens genetic diversity. Backyard habitats such as mine help to preserve the gene pool of native species.

Habitat owners are asked to reduce the use of herbicides because these chemicals not only destroy native plant species in backyards, but also move up the food chain as songbirds eat insects that have been contaminated. Overuse of garden pesticides has been cited as a factor in the dwindling population of North American songbirds.

Home to birds and butterflies

Our habitat is only about a third of an acre, but it provides food, water, and shelter for a variety of songbirds, small mammals and butterflies.

I have a birdbath, but don’t need a birdfeeder to attract cardinals, chickadees, bluejays, hummingbirds, and robins; the flowers and trees do the job. One summer a family of baby rabbits grew up sheltered by the large leaves of our hosta, and now a brown toad has taken up residence near their spot. As I weed the euonymus, a red-tailed hawk calls out overhead.

We also have a number of nocturnal visitors, such as fox, deer, and opossum, and we often awaken at night wondering which one of them has set off the motion-sensitive lights this time. One night, it was an owl hooting in the pine trees. Most often, it is the deer.

I have mixed feelings about the deer, since the ticks they may carry transmit Lyme disease. I have learned to protect myself by wearing long sleeves and pants while gardening, and to check myself for ticks at the end of the day.

I can’t take all the credit for the diversity of my garden, since a great many of the plants that flourish in my habitat were planted by the previous owners of my property. In fact, it was the garden that sold me on the property, as much as the house.

Over the last few years, some of the original plants have died out, so I have added a few new ones — my herb garden, for example, from which I can pluck fresh rosemary, basil, thyme, and mint to flavor my sauces and salads. And, since I have cut back on the use of herbicides, the number of native species in the yard has also grown spontaneously.

By late September, most of the perennials have finished blooming and have begun to die down, and the grass is no longer as green as it was earlier in the season. I observe that the rhododendron has crowded out the butterfly weed, and the daylilies have obliterated the bee balm and the evening primrose.

A little judicious wielding of the clippers here and there on the overgrown rhododendron branches will allow more breathing space for the butterfly weed to flourish next summer. Incidentally, butterfly weed, as its name suggests, is one of those plants that started out as a wildflower, but that people now cultivate in their perennial gardens. Not all "weeds" have been that lucky. Its bright orange blossoms are not my favorite color, but it attracts butterflies and hummingbirds, so who am I to say it’s not pretty"

Winter on the way

In a couple of months, the garden will lie dormant under a blanket of snow, but I will be waiting all winter to see what new surprise will emerge from the ground next spring. Each year, I seem to make a new discovery. One year it was a Japanese maple near the fence; another a scrawny lilac that produced one fragrant bloom; another, a rare feverfew; and this year, a crop of Indian pipe emerging from a blanket of decaying leaves under the canopy of the woods.

Later, watching from my kitchen window, I observe that I have not been the only one getting ready for winter. In early fall, small creatures are on the move in the garden.

The chipmunks are gathering provisions for the winter. We see them scurry across the patio - from the woods to the flowerbeds, their cheeks bulging with seeds or nuts. Squirrels, too, eat themselves silly and bury plenty of acorns.

By the birdbath, jays shriek and doves coo, seeming to egg on their furry neighbors. I picture the chipmunk burrows as those of Badger and Mole in The Wind in The Willows. I can clearly see a front and back door a few feet apart along the edge of the perennial bed, and wonder how deep the tunnels go under the lawn and woods. A mole has made a burrow under the daylilies, so now I know firsthand what a molehill looks like, more of a mound than a hill. Even after I have thinned them out, the lilies are so profuse that the mole can’t do them much harm.

Over all, a warm orange globe hangs low in the sky. Soon the little creatures will overwinter in their burrows, waking now and then to snack on their provisions, and a cleansing frost will freeze the deer ticks, rendering them harmless until a potential new crop arrives with the deer next spring.

Car salesmen say
Hybrids save their owners money over the long haul

By Jo E. Prout

If you’re looking for a hybrid SUV, you might have to wait, according to local car salesmen.

2007 Toyota Highlanders sold out at Northway Motor Car Corp. in Latham by July this past summer, said Daniel Traub, Northway’s Scion manager and sales consultant. The Highlanders were redesigned for this fall’s release of new vehicles. 2008 hybrid models will arrive at Toyota dealers later this month, Traub said.

"They sell very well," he said. "There are a lot of people looking for a larger hybrid vehicle. It gets better gas mileage." Traub said that SUV purchasers want vehicles large enough to move furniture or take kids and equipment to soccer practices. "For some, it’s the perfect vehicle," he said.

Ordering a Ford Escape hybrid could take up to eight weeks, if one could be found, according to salesman Lee Newcomb of Orange Motor Co. Inc. in Albany.

"They’re very, very limited. Customers are grabbing them all up," Newcomb said. "If another dealer would give us one, we could do a trade. The dealer would have to be out of his mind," he laughed. "Everybody wants one."

Ford Escape hybrids sell so well that consumers come in to the showroom needing little information.

"They already know all about the car," Newcomb said. "People go crazy over these vehicles." He said that a 2008 hybrid Escape recently came off the delivery truck, but was sold two days before it was unloaded. The 2007 models have been sold for six months, he said.

Hybrids defined

The hybrid motors in Toyota vehicles use electricity generated by the car itself and gas equally, Traub said.

"You’re not required to plug it in at all. That’s why it’s a hybrid, not an electric. You drive it like you normally would," he said.

Hybrid vehicles are generally priced around $4,000 more than gas-only models, Newcomb said, but he said that those who purchase hybrid vehicles can receive about $2,000 back from the federal government at tax time.

Asked if hybrid vehicles, with their higher prices, would save consumers money, Traub said, "Absolutely! You get an electronic power steering system that is much easier to repair, less costly." Traub said that maintenance costs are less than for gas-only vehicles because things are less likely to break with electronic features.

"It’s going to save you money on gas. It’s going to save you money on maintenance. The cost of ownership is less than for a gas vehicle. You’ll definitely get it back in the end," Traub said.

Gas mileage per gallon for hybrid Highlanders is in the upper 20s, which is five to 10 miles per gallon more than gas-only standard sized SUVs, Traub said.

Toyota sells two other hybrid vehicles — a Camry hybrid, and the original hybrid Prius.

"The Camry looks like your neighbor’s car," Traub said. "It is a traditional sedan in a hybrid." The Camry hybrid sells for between $27,000 and $32,000, he said.

The Prius is "unique — similar to no other car out there," he said. "The Prius is the most fuel-efficient vehicle we have here."

Designed to be aerodynamic, the Prius averages gas mileage per gallon in the mid-40s, he said. Costs range between $23,000 and $28,000 for a Prius, he said.

Other options

"The hybrid is built for people who don’t want to give up their SUVs," Newcomb said, "or people who don’t want to contribute to problems [of global warming]. There are a lot of vehicles that will give you the same gas mileage."

He said that gas mileage for the efficient Ford Fusion can be compared with other models as Fusionchallenge.com. He said that the Fusion rated within a couple of miles per hour as Camry and Honda Accord hybrids.

The smaller, less-expensive, standard gas-only Toyota models Corrolla and Yarus offer similar mileage ratings in the mid-30s, Traub said.

"Ford has been making ethanol vehicles since 2000," Newcomb said. Converting from gasoline to ethanol use requires few mechanical changes, rather than an entirely different hybrid system, he said. Newcomb said that ethanol-driven vehicles will get less gas mileage than hybrid vehicles, but that they "burn a lot cleaner" and that ethanol is "made in this country."

A hybrid for whom"

Asked who hybrid customers are, Traub said, "Everyone." Retired grandparents have bought them, as have 20-year-old veterans returned from Iraq.

A quick search at the Kelley Blue Book’s online site kbb.com shows an overview of more than 10 hybrid vehicles on the market from makers like Saturn, Honda, Mercury, and Lexus, as well as Ford and Toyota. Some, like the Honda, have "hybrid-assist" motors, which are primarily gas-driven, Traub said. The Toyota hybrid vehicles have electric and gas motors that work in conjunction at the same time, Traub said. "One is not more dominant than the other," he said.

Traub said that Ford uses Toyota hybrid technology. He said that consumers new to hybrid vehicles should not worry about new technology that may break down.

"Toyota hybrids have been out there seven, eight years. It’s proven. It’s not new anymore," Traub said. He predicted that, within 10 or 15 years, more and more vehicles would have hybrid motors. "There really is a market out there for it," he said.

Stealing hearts in New York, alpacas link owners to the land

By Saranac Hale Spencer

Thousands of miles from their native Andes, alpacas have made a new home in the Helderbergs.

Hearty by nature, alpacas are relatively low-maintenance barnyard animals, say local breeders, and the fleece they grow is comparable to cashmere.

"If this Bronx boy can do it, anybody can," Jerry Weisgrau of Staghorn Valley Alpacas tells people who are interested in raising their own.

He and his companion moved from Albany to a house out in the country, he said, and they bought the alpacas before they purchased the farm.

In 1999, the couple started with seven alpacas, which they boarded until they had their own land. As soon as they saw the furry creatures, "We were hooked," Weisgrau said.

Brenda Truss, another local alpaca farmer, had a similar experience, but she already had the land.

"We had the land and wanted to farm something," she said, and, eight years ago, her husband saw a show about alpacas on the Discovery Channel.

Truss soon quit her office job and started farming alpacas full-time; after four years of breeding alpacas, she was making $78,000, she said. Truss keeps her herd around 20 and sells her show-quality alpacas.

In order to enter most shows, alpacas must be registered with Alpaca Registry, Inc., which both Weisgrau and Truss likened to the American Kennel Club. Since the registry closed to newly imported alpacas in 1998, the ones that have been bred in the United States have been providing finer fleece, Truss said.

"You always want to breed up," she said of why the quality of alpaca wool has gone up. Breeders mate their females with the best quality males that they can, she said, so the wool that comes from the offspring gets better and better.

"The national herd now grows through breeding," Weisgrau said, adding that a good, pregnant female can fetch $15,000 to $30,000 and a high-quality stud can sell for $300,000. Fees for mating a female with a good stud are usually about $5,000, Truss said.

Demand for alpacas’ fleece grows every year, Weisgrau said. It’s considered a luxury fiber, he said; in fact, Sherman Adams, who served as former President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s chief of staff, had to resign after it was discovered that he accepted a coat made of alpaca wool since it was so valuable, Weisgrau said. Now, alpaca wool usually sells for $7 an ounce and $3 an ounce for fleece, he said.

The fleece comes in varying shades of brown, white, gray, and black, and, on both farms, each alpaca has a name.

Truss uses the names of deceased family members, "Like my mom," she said, adding, "I sold."

At Staghorn Valley, the names "kind of just come to us," said Judy Phaff. With a Bailey’s Irish Cream, Cognac, and Brandy — who was recently sold — running around the farm, Weisgrau laughed as he said, "You know what our pastimes are around here."

Picking apples down on the farm
Indian Ladder gets its customers interested in nature

By Rachel Dutil

NEW SCOTLAND – One of the goals at Indian Ladder Farms is to get people out into the orchard, away from cars, and interested in agriculture, says the farm’s owner, Peter Ten Eyck.

"We try to get customers interested in nature," he said.

Ten Eyck operates the farm, which has been in his family for more than 100 years, with his daughter, Laurie Ten Eyck.

Indian Ladder Farms is one of around 700 apple orchards in New York State. The orchards range in size from very small to very large, said Ten Eyck, adding that numerous operations in New York are 10 times as large as Indian Ladder Farms.

Indian Ladder is among a group of 11 growers in the Northeast and New York State that are "trying to be more responsible," Ten Eyck told The Enterprise. The group is called Eco Apple.

"Eco Apple is a pretty special group of growers," Ten Eyck said. The group tries "to push the envelope" by educating themselves and being "thoughtful" about the products used on their crops, he said.

The Eco Apple growers draft an agenda about the way they plan to grow their apples, Ten Eyck explained. The group works with Integrated Pest Management Institute of North America, an independent non-profit organization, which conducts inspections to ensure the growers are following the protocol.

Integrated pest management is an approach to farming where pesticides and fungicides are not used unless there is evidence that it is needed, said Ten Eyck. The motto of Eco Apple is, "Don’t use them if you don’t have to," he said. "We’re trying to say that we’re responsible about working these things out, and we’re knowledgeable," said Ten Eyck.

Because Ten Eyck has practiced IPM, rather than the normal use of pesticides, "I’ve had some diseases which have gained the upper hand," he said.

Apple scab is a disease in apples that causes blemishes on the surface skin of the fruit. Fungicides are used to combat it, said Ten Eyck. Apple scab "is literally skin deep," he said.

Indian Ladder Farms, and other Eco Apple growers are trying to find ways to use fewer fungicides and, if it is necessary to use them, to use them early in the growing season, said Ten Eyck. "Our agenda is to grow apples that don’t have pesticide residue on them," he said.

Apples galore

Indian Ladder grows over 40 varieties of apples.

The farm grows antique apples, such as the Spitzenburg, which was developed by Thomas Jefferson; traditional apples such as the McIntosh and the Cortland: new varieties like the Pristine and the Honeycrisp; and a number of varieties which are part of future apple varieties, said Ten Eyck. Those future varieties, about a dozen at Indian Ladder, have only numbers; they are not yet named, he said.

That crop is in a trial phase, he said. You can’t really sell an apple without a name, he said. "Have you had your number 3558, today"" he joked.

Apple breeders don’t name a variety if it doesn’t have appeal, said Ten Eyck. "It’s kind of the chicken-and-the-egg thing," he said.

Dr. Susan Brown heads the apple research group in Geneva, N.Y., which has thousands of seedlings.

The seedlings are subjected to the diseases that traditionally affect apples, and the majority of them die, he said. This process determines if the apple would be reasonably resistant to common diseases, he explained.

The trees are then studied for various issues, he said. Is it a light bearer" Does it have a tendency to only produce every other year" How long does it take for the tree to bear fruit" What is the tree’s susceptibility to frost and to winter injury"

The trial apples are also grown in various areas to determine how they grow in differing climates and soils, said Ten Eyck.

Some of the trial phase apple trees at Indian Ladder Farms have their first apples on them, and others won’t have apples until next year, he said.

Healthy economic situation

Several years ago, Indian Ladder Farms sold its development rights, and though it may not always be an orchard, it will forever be used for agriculture.

"I think if I was able to get all the residents of New York State together, and talk to them" I think I could get them to believe they could grow their own food," Ten Eyck said.

It’s alright to have a T-shirt that was made halfway around the world, he said. Food is different.

"We’re feeding ourselves by waving money in the air, and someone comes from the four corners of the world to give us something to eat," he said.

When a consumer buys an apple from Chile or Argentina, the money goes back to those countries. When you buy from your neighbor, he said, you are supporting someone who will shop in local stores, who may employ your child with a summer job, and, who may be "silly enough" to serve on the local school board. "It’s a very healthy situation economically," he said.

It costs a lot of money and produces a lot of carbon dioxide to transport food from the west coast to the east coast, said Ten Eyck.

Running a farm requires a great deal of electricity and fuel. "Apple trees live on carbon dioxide; they need it to grow," Ten Eyck said.

"We use a lot more carbon dioxide than we create," he said of Indian Ladder Farms. "We are a net user of carbon dioxide, not a net generator," Ten Eyck said.

"People like ourselves," Ten Eyck said of himself and his daughter, "We try to be informed of all the good things and the bad things, and we try to do something about it."

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