By Tina Wright
For Cayuga Pure Organics, an important local supplier of organic dried beans and grains to GreenStar, there is good news and bad news right now. Erick Smith, owner-operator of the Brooktondale farm, is grateful for the great response to their fund-raising campaign following the accidental fire that destroyed their beanery building last spring. They raised over $80,000 on a crowd-sourcing site and other community members, fans, and local foodies chipped in another $50,000. Smith said, "It was short of our goal but we are amazed at what people are helping us with."
In the past six years, GreenStar has carried CPO's pinto, Red Merlot, navy, kidney, Jacob's Cattle, and cranberry beans; on the grain side, live oats, freekeh, hard red winter wheat; and seasonally, farro, rye, barley, sunflower seeds, popcorn, spring wheat, soft wheat, and spelt.
The other good news is that a brand-new beanery and grain mill has risen from the ashes. Using a unique building method to achieve net-zero energy costs, with no heating or cooling needed, the new building will be super-insulated on top and three feet into the ground, which will keep the indoor temperature a good 40-50 degrees even in winter because of heat stored in the ground. Sustainable Tompkins has just announced a modest award to the farm for their contribution to climate health. CPO wants the building someday to be a showcase and model for others.
Snug Planet, the local energy contractor for the building, got the idea that fossil fuel heat might not be necessary if the farm could qualify for a grant through Sustainable Tompkins's Finger Lakes Climate Fund to pay for the extra insulation. In early February, Cayuga Pure Organics was awarded $2,500 to complete the insulating effort, which will prevent 150 tons of carbon dioxide emissions over the next 30 years.
The bad news? Cayuga Pure Organics is broke. Smith said, "The hard thing now is our farm income is zilch." They planned to get the construction going last fall and make progress during the winter, something possible in recent mild winters, but not this one. The shell of the building went up quickly in the brief January thaw but that's just the start; they had hoped to be running the new facility by now. Instead, winter's cold hammer this year has left CPO's 2013 crop of beans and grain languishing in bins and wagons waiting to be cleaned and processed. The farm has no income until the building can be completed and equipment installed. It's too cold to even pour concrete.
It's time for one final push of fund-raising and crowd sourcing — it's crucial to the farm's survival to raise another $42,000 in the next few weeks. "We're just ready to kick off this new fund-raising effort," said Smith, and this time they will be assisted by Cooperative Extension's Peaks Over Poverty site.
Being a glass-half-full kind of guy, Erick looks ahead. "We are really excited about the building, better equipment, better cleaning, but our real big excitement is rolled oats, what we call freshly rolled oats, natural rolled oats," he said. "They taste so much better than conventional oats." Standard rolled oats are steamed for shelf life, but this process takes out nutrients and flavor.
Smith said, "We will be the first place in the Northeast to do organic rolled oats. We will be working with other local farms." He figures that the mill will need about 200 acres of oats a year to be a viable enterprise and that Cayuga Pure Organics will grow about 70 acres a year. Oats are a natural fit for upstate New York. To have this enterprise in Ithaca is good for the local economy and local food sourcing.
And the local farmers are tapping into the Upstate small-scale distillery boom that provides a market for organic rye and, now, white corn. White corn for distilling is probably only possible because of global warming, Smith explained, not joking about the prospects of long-season corn grown here now. CPO grew two acres last year and will grow more in 2014.
On 320 acres of mostly leased farmland in the Brooktondale area, the farm has a rotation of grains, beans, clover, and corn. Employees at CPO include Ann Riordan, field manager; Amy Martin, sales and marketing; Dana Gray, warehouse manager; Harlan Miceck, chief mechanic; and local farmer Harry Brown has just been hired to run the new grain and bean mill.
May it be up and running soon! Look for details on the new fund-raising effort coming soon on the Cayuga Pure Organics website, www.cporganics.com.