Ripening peaches in June
Migliorelli Farm is perhaps the single largest and most diverse contributor of locally produced vegetables and fruits to the New York City region. The breadth and scope of their output is almost astounding. The Migliorellis themselves are not sure how many varieties of fruits and vegetables they grow (more than 175 at last count) because they are continually, almost impulsively, adding to their inventory of crops. It is apparent from conversing with Carly Migliorelli, representing the third generation of the family farming what is now 1000 acres in Tivoli, NY, that the impetus to plant new varieties of beets or kale does not come strictly from a dollars and cents calculation of profit. Some of these new crops are quite unfamiliar to the Greenmarket public that buy the largest portion of the Migliorelli’s produce, and some of them do not sell well. But the Migliorellis seem to want to develop every interesting possibility for its own sake; they hope the customers will come to share their enthusiasm for Japanese turnips eventually.
Migliorelli Farm is unique in the NYC foodshed in its balanced production of fruits and vegetables; generally, orchard operations in the region do not grow vegetables and the row crop farmers do not tend fruit trees. Each requires its own separate list of skills, knowledge and systems. When the opportunity to add an adjoining fruit orchard to the Farm emerged fifteen years ago, Rocco Migliorelli acted on a long standing desire to expand the capability of his operation to include tree fruits; more evidence that the Migliorellis are primarily motivated by a love of farming itself. Today the Migliorellis bring many varieties of apples, pears, peaches, nectarines, plums, and a range of cider products, including cider doughnuts, to market throughout the year.
Six hundred acres of the farm are under production in any given year as several hundred acres are rested and replenished by cover crops of grasses and vetch. Fifteen acres alone are dedicated to the growing of tomatoes. When a tomato, or any other item, is taken to market on a given day and is not sold, that tomato is not brought to market again. All produce is sold within 24 hours of being harvested. This self-imposed, draconian policy against re-stocking is the highest commitment to freshness that a farmer can make, and it must be difficult to adhere to from time to time. One way the Migliorellis utilize returning items is to make them into value added products like tomato juice and strawberry puree.
Migliorelli Farm seems in every respect a model for adapting the family farm to the existing possibilities for sustaining it. Migliorelli brings its products to over 30 farm markets throughout the Hudson Valley, in addition to its own stands near its Rhinebeck base. Its involvement in the greenmarket movement of NYC may be greater than any other participant. In season, the Migliorellis bring 70 bushels of snap peas to the Union Square market each market day. It is possible that the comfortable relationship the Migliorellis have with the City and their ability to adapt to its market comes from their roots in The Bronx. Angelo Migliorelli actually began the family’s farm in The Bronx itself, in 1933, only moving upstate when the construction of Co-op City claimed its fields in the 60’s.
Migliorelli Farm is not an organic farm, but they have transitioned to new European agricultural protocols designed to minimize the use of pesticides through an integrated program of pest management. In addition, the Migliorellis have sold all of the development right to their land to a trust, guaranteeing it as an open space in perpetuity.
Bubby’s takes full advantage of the Migliorelli’s energy and enterprise, using their apples for pies throughout the year, their tomato juice in Bloody Marys and dozens of other varieties of fruits and vegetables from their vast seasonal inventory. Migliorelli is one of a group of interesting and important farms that have used the greenmarket system to establish a new model of commercial agriculture based on selling directly to the consumer. Another farm in this category that Bubby’s works with extensively is Phillips Farm of Milford, NJ. Both share several characteristics that in combination set them apart from family farms of previous eras. The first is participation in farmers markets as well as their own independent retail operations. The second is the marketing of value added products such as jams, baked goods, cider and condiments. The third is a deep and steadily expanding diversity of crops for a diverse population of customers, the antithesis of industrial monoculture farming. The fourth is, in context, a serious volume of production unlike that we typically associate with the stereotype of a “back to the land”, organic greenmarket farmer. Migliorelli and Phillips both embrace progressive farming practices designed to minimize the use of chemicals but neither are purists about organic certification or heirloom genetics. Bubby’s believes that it is this sort of farm that can have a real impact on what Americans eat and points a way to the achievable, genuine reform of American agriculture that we critically need.