A TAUNY Grow and Tell Project Production
A patch of mint or basil, an acre of varied crops, a thousand sprouts of beauty and sustenance growing stronger on a greenhouse floor… There are so many ways that people throughout northern New York take part in the vital process of growing the food that sustains themselves, their communities, and the food traditions that are essential to their sense of who they are.
In 2021, TAUNY (Traditional Arts in Upstate New York) in Canton, NY launched the Folk to Table Project, an initiative to research and document these and other ways people carry on food culture and traditions throughout the North Country, and to share them through things such as projects and presentations featuring community members; cooking demonstrations and workshops in The TAUNY Center’s demonstration kitchen; garden tours around the North Country; videos and other social media features; and more.
Folk to Table’s first big focus is the Grow and Tell Project, for which we’re partnering with littleGrasse Community Farm (Canton, NY) and others to find and share stories of how people grow food or get food locally that reflects and helps sustain their food traditions. Initial support for Grow and Tell was provided by Cloudsplitter Foundation. As the project gets rolling, we’ve loved having the chance to see early crops sprouting, hearing about which vegetables and herbs people look forward to using in favorite family recipes. And getting to take walks through a few home gardens just starting to burst into the bright growth of the new season, hearing the stories that go along with what’s growing, and documenting important parts of North Country food culture, including key links in the local food system.
Working on this project is how we met Megan and Raymond Bowdish, the owners of Never Tire Farm (Lisbon, NY). As the only wholesale greenhouse operator in St. Lawrence County, they are an important source for many small retailers in the area that supply plant starts directly to customers in the community.
In early April, while it was still a bit cold and gray, Never Tire Farm was already into their seed planting stage. The busy season starts in February and goes all the way to the middle of June. Limited help determined that they need to start early. At Never Tire Farm, Megan and Ray are committed to not using pesticides on their plants. Instead, they use biological pest control which involves introducing the pests’ natural predators before they have a chance to harm the plants.
This also means that they commonly have wild animals come into the greenhouse, such as snakes, toads, and birds, which also aid in the management of pests in the greenhouses. One year they even found they were about to send out a plant that had a bird nest in it. Using this method ensures that potential pests will be naturally controlled and that harmful chemicals can be removed from the growing process.
Wind is a critical part of growing plants. The right amount of air flow hardens the plants and makes them stronger. Therefore, in addition to utilizing natural ventilation, Never Tire Farm uses brush bars that move along the tops of the plants. When the bars move, they simulate wind and touch the plants, thus keeping them short and compact. This results in a plant that is sturdier and with more branches, which leads to a greater number of buds.
However, too strong of a wind can also cause a lot of problems for the greenhouses. Because of climate change and extreme weather conditions, Never Tire Farm almost lost two greenhouses in one year. There were some close calls, including a huge windstorm that happened on May 4th, 2018, that blew half of a greenhouse open.
There are some other challenges along the way, such as managing electricity, plumbing, and extreme temperature changes. And the fact that there is no affordable crop insurance in New York State means they could lose everything due to a glitch. But there are also many happy sides of running a greenhouse business. As Megan says, “It’s nice to grow something. It’s nice when the people from outside come in, and look and become excited to see what’s blooming. The miracle of starting a seed is just pretty cool: that you have this inert thing, put it into the growing media, a little water, a little heat, and then you get a plant. It’s just hope in a box; that’s what we call it when the seeds come in.”
Megan also sheds light on the importance of their work to local and regional traditions of people growing their own food, adding, “And it's also interesting, when you look at a tray of seeded peppers, or a tray of seeded tomatoes. So you have your thousand plants and we transplant them...and send them out, and then thinking, how many people those are going to feed. That's pretty cool.”
Megan and Ray took over the greenhouse operation business from Ray’s parents and have been running it themselves since 1997. While they have the will to manage it as long as they can, they still wish for someone younger to take up their work when they’re ready to retire, and there is a need for greenhouses in St. Lawrence County.
We took a few trips to Megan and Ray’s greenhouses in the process of making a 30-minute long documentary. From the beginning of April to the first day of May, there were already a lot of changes happening at Never Tire Farm: plants grew bigger, more colors emerged, the delivery service was getting started, and a few new retailers came in to see the plants they wanted. There were both happy and tired expressions on Megan’s face.
TAUNY has worked with many in the community who own or work on farms, including for the “Every Single Day: Life on North Country Dairy Farms” exhibition in 2014, the result of a two-year long research project. We understand the importance of sharing these people’s voices, as they are a crucial part of the land we are living in and the food system we depend on for our wellbeing. And we look forward to continuing through the Grow and Tell Project to learn and share more about the many ways people throughout the North Country help sustain themselves, their loved ones, and their communities, through the food they grow and the ways they feed themselves and others with it, body and soul.
Keep an eye on TAUNY’s Youtube channel, Facebook and Instagram (@thetaunycenter), and website to see future videos in the “Grow and Tell Series,” which will be released in the coming months.
If you would like to share your own story of growing food that connects to your own traditions, or otherwise taking part in or helping support the local food system, we’d love to hear from you! Visit tauny.org to learn more about this project and how to get involved.
By Camilla Ammirati and Xiuke Wei, TAUNY: Traditional Arts in Upstate New York
Camilla Ammirati joined TAUNY in early 2014, where she worked as the Director of Research and Programs for several years before shifting focus to develop TAUNY's "Folk to Table" traditional foodways program in 2021. She earned her PhD in English from the University of Virginia and her B.A. in English from Carleton College. She has also taught literature and communication at UVA and St. Lawrence University, and has been an active musician in Boston, Virginia, and North Country old-time music communities.
Xiuke Wei started working at TAUNY in 2020 as the Communications Director. Xiuke was born and raised in China, and moved to Canton, NY in 2018. She studied Film Production and has an M.A. in Chinese Minority Art. Her passion for learning different cultures and their own narratives through the arts compels her to explore and experience endlessly.
Posted in: Volume 16, Issue 6, June 2021, Nature
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