Sep 12, 2016Indian Ladder Farms learns value of an apple a day
Indian Ladder Farms in the Albany, New York, suburb of Altamont-Voorheesville is celebrating its 100th anniversary in 2016, and owner Peter Ten Eyck is proud to say it’s been in his family the entire century.
“It was started by my grandfather of the same name, and I’m starting to back off a little bit now and my son with the same name is going to be the fourth generation of Ten Eycks running the place,” he said. “If anything else, it shows a lack of imagination on our part.”
Ten Eyck’s joking, of course, as his imagination and innovation have helped the 100-acre apple orchard and working farm stay successful year after year.
The farm was originally a dairy farm with just a small semblance of fruit trees, but a fire in the dairy barn circa 1949 changed its direction forever. With the barn gone, Ten Eyck’s grandfather made the decision to sell all of his Guernsey cows at the Altamont Fair and use the money earned to concentrate his efforts on the fruit part of the business, and raising cattle.
When the apple and fruit trees started to reach maturity in 1963, the cattle were shipped off and the farm became an apple farm.
“I went to the Cornell ag school and did a lot of things in my life, but the number one principal thing is growing apples,” he said. “My spiel in life is this: ‘Those of us who live in the U.S. have to stop sliding down the slippery slope of feeding ourselves by waving money in the air and hoping someone will come from the four corners of the world to give us something to eat. We have to be a populace of growing some of our own food in the fabric of our own communities.’”
“We started the pick-your-own and letting people pick apples, and that’s a big mainstay in the business now,” he said. “It was a decision that probably helped us stay up all these years.”
At the time, there were 52 fruit farms in the area, but that number has dwindled to two. It’s a situation that worries Ten Eyck.
“We need people who live in the capital of New York to have some fruit farms.”
Force in the industry
Earlier this year, the New York State Agricultural Society gave Ten Eyck a service citation; his lifetime of stewardship also earned him an Excellence in IPM award from the New York State Integrated Pest Management Program.
Ten Eyck’s influence is “legendary,” said Dan Donahue, an Extension educator in eastern New York. “I always have found Peter to be at least a step or two ahead of practically anyone connected to the fruit industry in New York.”
Donahue said Ten Eyck is engaged at all levels of New York agriculture – as a member of the Advisory Board of the New York Center for Agricultural Health and Medicine, a delegate to the Council of Agricultural Organizations, a trustee of the New York State Farm Bureau Foundation, and a trustee emeritus of Cornell University. He also serves on the New York State Agriculture and Markets Apple Research and Development Board, which supervises hundreds of thousands of dollars to support research projects, many with an IPM focus.
On the farm, Ten Eyck has used IPM protocols for decades. He also was an early adopter of Skybit Services’ reports, which gave him a heads-up on weather that could favor apple diseases and insect pests.
“Peter’s innovative approaches challenge the farmers’ status quo in apple production and pest management,” said Juliet Carroll, NYS IPM’s coordinator for fruit research and outreach. “He’s always pushing us to look deeper and take risks for the sake of protecting the environment from unnecessary pesticides.”
The apple doesn’t fall far …
It wasn’t too long ago when Ten Eyck went to his two children and asked if they wanted to keep the farm running and keep it in the family. The answer to both questions was an emphatic “yes.” Son Peter is gradually taking over farm management, and daughter Lori works in the ag industry transitioning farms from one generation to the next. Their father couldn’t be prouder.
“Eleven years ago we retired the development rights to the property, so no one can do anything except farm – it’s in the deed,” Ten Eyck said. “It was a big thing. The governor came out, and for me it was the right thing to do.”
Today, Indian Ladder Farms grows numerous crops including berries, tomatoes, apples and pumpkins – most available fresh through the farm’s pick-your-own program. Crops are also available through the country store, cafe and bakery.
Apples comprise about 65 percent of the farm’s product, and that number is expected to grow in the coming years.
“In the next couple of months, we will be planting about 6,000 more trees,” Ten Eyck said. “We’re getting into the new high-density orchards because the old-fashioned way of growing apples is just not competitive anymore. You have the same overhead and maybe a third of the yield.”
This allows Indian Ladder Farms to start growing more modern apple varieties, including SnapDragon.
Looking back at his career, Ten Eyck is happy he could so something with his life that was meaningful.
“For me, growing food is worthwhile,” he said. “I don’t do a lot of wholesaling, so my business will not be any larger than what my friends and neighbors want to do. They come out to the orchard, pick an apple off the tree that you grow – it just doesn’t get any better than that.”
— Keith Loria, FGN correspondent