Thursday, 14 September 2017 15:32

Malta Farmer Battles Weather and CSA Members

MALTA — In his 37 years of farming at Malta Ridge Orchard and Gardens, Dave Bowman says the worst he lost to inclement weather were one or two crops—never an entire season’s worth of fruit from his apple trees.    

This year, something unusual transpired at the Malta Avenue farm that, in turn, has caused a number of people to sour on the idea of supporting Bowman as a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) supplier. 

Bowman, one of the original founders of the popular Saratoga Springs Farmers’ Market on High Rock Avenue, claims that a brief but destructive hail storm on Aug. 12 ruined virtually all of his apples and seriously damaged numerous vegetable crops.

“I’m losing $10,000 a weekend” without the apple harvest, Bowman said earlier this week, after he had shut off and jumped down from his tractor to discuss the matter.

Four CSA members, who signed a Malta Ridge Orchard contract for the 2017 growing season, have contacted Saratoga TODAY to dispute the farmer’s account. They argue that Bowman is not honoring his part of the CSA obligation, nor being transparent.  

“Just be honest with people,” says CSA member Kristy O’Donnell, who moved to the area with her family late last year from Long Island. “I’m not looking for my 15 minutes of fame. I just want answers.”   

Phyllis Underwood, president of the Saratoga Farmers’ Market Association, reported that she is not aware of any other local farmers who experienced such extensive crop damage due to August storms.   

“While I certainly understand farmers can’t always stay ahead of Mother Nature, in this case I don’t believe that’s what happened,” wrote CSA member Catherine Morton in an email. “A short hail storm would not likely wipe out entire crops, especially root crops, and the greenhouses are still standing.”   

“I understand that when we sign up for the CSA we are taking a risk on the crop, but I didn’t expect to be taking a risk on the farm management,” wrote CSA members Pam and Greg Cooper in another email. “So we have lost out on more than half of our CSA for the season.”

The Coopers said they had paid Bowman about $400 in the spring. “We were not contacted with any offers for a refund or a way to recoup our losses,” they added, noting how they “even offered to help salvage some crops.”  

During a brief tour of the farm, which is located at 107 Van Aernem Road, Bowman insisted that he is doing everything in his power to honor the CSA contracts. There are more than 30 in total.

In the weeks after the Aug. 12 storm, Bowman enlisted the help of his son to post pictures of the spoiled fruits and vegetables on social media. As a seasoned farmer who spends more time in the field than behind a computer, Bowman admitted that he has difficulty even sending emails to people. 

He displayed two large wooden bins on wheels that he places in front of his shop every Saturday and Sunday for CSA members to take whatever fruits and vegetables he is able to harvest—and he performs practically all of the labor himself, with no staff to help.

Also, he said, Malta Ridge Orchard and Gardens is not protected by crop insurance.  

“You’ve got to paw through the rotten tomatoes to get to the good ones,” Bowman explained. “I put out what we can pick and it’s there.” Each fruit or vegetable type is considered an “item” by CSA rules, and members are currently limited to six items instead of eight as originally planned.

Bowman produced a sheet signed on the weekend of Sept. 9 by 26 CSA members, who had taken freshly picked tomatoes, eggplant and other items from the bins.

“We still have the CSA here. Whatever I can provide,” he said.  

Bowman further indicated that he is in discussions with the group Saratoga Preserving Land and Nature (PLAN) regarding a “purchase development rights,” or PDR, agreement for his property. He hopes a PDR would alleviate some of his financial burdens, while protecting the land from future development.   

“We have been working with him for a couple of years,” offered Saratoga PLAN Executive Director Maria Trabka. She said Bowman’s farm has “really good soil” and “a lot of good things going for it.”

According to Trabka, grants have been secured for the Malta Ridge Orchard PDR agreement through the town of Malta, Saratoga County and New York State. “We’ve done most of our due diligence,” she said.

Trabka added that “a fairly substantial report” for Malta Ridge Orchard and Gardens should be compiled and finalized by the end of the year.

That, Trabka said, may just be what Bowman needs to plant some new apple trees. She called the pending PDR agreement “a four-way financial deal to permanently secure this farm.”  

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