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New Scotland Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, June 5, 2008

Apple trees and hope in bloom at Indian Ladder Farms

By David S. Lewis

NEW SCOTLAND – “Just a pound or so there, just to knock off a few lead fruits…” The sun was brightly shining, no clouds visible anywhere; May seemed finally ready to take itself seriously, its atmosphere fragrant and full of the pungent green potential of spring, as Peter Ten Eyck II shouted instructions to his farm workers.  

The farm was bustling, preparing to open to the public for the season.  The farm, primarily an apple and pear orchard, also grows berries and cherries, keeps a complement of farmyard animals, and offers a café and gift shop; one of the new breeds of farms that combine their agricultural production with tourist appeal and educational programs.

Its future was uncertain last year, when Ten Eyck’s daughter, Laura, left her job as manager.  She told The Enterprise in January that her departure was due to the farm’s financial difficulties, and last week that her personal desire to switch careers was also a factor. Currently working as an independent contractor for the American Farmland Trust, she said she is happy that Indian Ladder’s shop and café will open again.

“I’m thrilled,” she said in a phone interview.  “I think it’s great; my son is going to be able to get the cider donuts.”

Last week, Ten Eyck, referred often to Mother Nature, both as a force of uncertainty in his business and also as a subject of much-needed education.

“It looks like we’re going to have strawberries by then, but again, it is up to Mother Nature,” he said.  “They are growing; chances are it will just be a pick-your-own kind of thing.”

Then, of the baby-animals petting zoo, another of the farm’s popular attractions, “We have them so kids can get in with them and see what makes Mother Nature tick,” said Ten Eyck.

His pride in his farm and his work was apparent as he discussed plans and possibilities for the season.  He pointed out some of the kitchen’s various accoutrements with a running patter, like a magician.

“That doughnut machine, there: If Saddam Hussein had had one of those, he might’ve won the war,” said Ten Eyck in reference to the machine that produces the legendary cider donuts at Indian Ladder Farms.

Perhaps Ten Eyck is a bit of a magician; the farm is preparing to open its doors to the public today, June 4, including the café and gift shop, when only last year the farm’s financial future seemed uncertain.

The bulk of the 300-acre farm is under an agricultural easement held by the Mohawk-Hudson Land Conservancy.  The development rights, three-quarters of which were funded by the state and the rest from local sources, were purchased for $844,000 so the land will always remain agricultural.

Peter Ten Eyck acknowledged that things would be a little bit different this year.

“My daughter has stepped back from the business; she is no longer going to be leading our retail effort,” he said.  “Four of the ladies who have worked here doing various kinds of things are kind of running it as a group.”  He said that, although the businesses would remain essentially the same, some aspects might feel a little different.

“I think it is a matter of different personalities, really,” said the new manager, Cecelia Soloviev, on the changes.  “Things should be pretty much the same, though; the same kind of food will be on the menu, the same kinds of merchandise will be for sale.”

Soloviev, formerly the farm’s education coordinator, is one of the four women who have taken the reins of the farm’s business; she will be the general manager, while Laura Farrar, Lauren Welton, and Donna Merrill will each manage other areas of the retail store and the café.

Peter Ten Eyck was enthusiastic.

“This is a really exciting thing, when your employees come to you and say, ‘Just because your daughter’s stepping down doesn’t mean you can close this thing,’” he said.

Ten Eyck said the four women had approached him with a formal proposal last year after his daughter Laura had announced that, after 12 years as the farm’s manager, she would no longer be running the business. 

Laura Ten Eyck said of the four women taking over, “I’ve worked with them all for many years, and we’re all friends.”

Have the financial issues that faced the farm been alleviated?  Laura Ten Eyck said she didn’t think so.

“No, I think those concerns are ongoing, the economy, fuel and electricity – I think the farm is facing a lot of the same challenges that a lot of other businesses are facing, as well as agricultural challenges,” she said.

“I’m not sure what’s going to happen, but I am sure it will work out for the best,” she concluded.

More than apples

A major focus of the farm is educating visitors about farm life. Indian Ladder Farms uses a donkey, a potbellied pig, a handful of goats and chickens; and Rosie, a shaggy, red highland cow, to teach children about life on the farm. Soloviev said she is often surprised at the difficulty many people have conceptualizing the relationship between what they are eating, and where that food has been.

“I once had a child from Albany who didn’t know the difference between a rooster and a goat,” said Soloviev, in quiet awe.  “Kids don’t know animals anymore.

“These are kids that don’t live that far from farms,” she said.  “They aren’t from New York City, or anything.

Bridging the gap between food source and food tabled is a priority for Indian Ladder, she said.

This summer, the education component of the farm, The Barn School, will offer programs on topics such as primitive survival skills, archaic 1800s farm activities, rabbit-breeding and general farm-animal care.  Both Ten Eyck and Soloviev repeatedly expressed how important the farm’s educational component is to them.

“We’re really committed to that,” said Cecilia.  “It’s a way for children who don’t live on a farm to get a chance to experience something most children don’t get to.”

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