August 29, 2017
The Berry Patch
15589 NY-22, Stephentown, NY
If you’re unsure whether your berry crops have been affected by SWD, or even if you just want to learn more about growing happy, healthy berries, join us for this exclusive workshop, sponsored by Cornell University and Cornell Cooperative Extension. Bring your own fruit, and test for SWD right here!
Then hear experts from Cornell University and Cornell CCE, New York State IPM, the NYS Berry Growers Association, and more on:
- Blueberry growing under netting
- Attract-and-kill baited spheres
- High-tunnel raspberries grown in excluded tunne
- Fall raspberries under netting
Weather Station Networks
- What is NEWA?
- How farmers can get their own RainWise weather station
- How applications that are part of weather data can assist farmers
- MesoNet, and how it works with NEWA
Climate Change and Protected Culture
- CICSS as a resource, and helpful tools for berry growers
- Soil health project, including how growers can get involved
Low-Tunnel Strawberry Production
- Overview of day-neutral production system
- Use of low tunnels on a diversified, direct-market farm
Wrap-Up and Q&A
This workshop is FREE to all berry growers, regardless of region or level of experience, so spread the word to your colleagues!
Blueberries Offer a Host of Health Benefits
It’s no secret that a colorful fruits, especially blueberries, offer a variety of health benefits. From reduced risk of debilitating diseases to improved complexion and hair, blueberries are a nutritional powerhouse that have significant positive effects on human health. And new studies are showing that blueberries can even enhance cognitive function. With summer—and fresh berries—due to arrive in farmers’ markets and on farm stand shelves in a little more than a month, there’s never been a better time to incorporate fresh, local blueberries into your diet.
Blueberries are chock-full of many health-promoting vitamins and compounds, including anthocyanins, a flavonoid that has been linked to protection against free radical damage and a decreased risk of cancer, obesity, and diabetes. The blueberry is also known to support heart health, with high levels of fiber, potassium, folate, vitamin C, and vitamin B6. Likewise, this humble fruit’s high levels of potassium, calcium, and magnesium all help to decrease blood pressure. Blueberries are also high in vitamin K, which improves calcium absorption—a low intake of which has been linked to an increased risk of bone fracture. Some studies even suggest that regular eating of blueberries can promote healthy skin and hair, increase energy, and contribute to weight loss.
Recent studies have demonstrated the blueberry’s positive effect on cognitive function. A pair of 2014 studies found that consumption of blueberries can improve short-term memory loss and motor coordination, and in patients with the neurodegenerative disorder Parkinson’s disease, consumption of blueberries has been linked to a reduced risk of cognitive decline. Another study found that blueberries (in a freeze-dried powder form) may also have an effect on the onset of the symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease. “The blueberry group demonstrated improved memory and improved access to words and concepts,” concluded lead author Robert Krikorian.
The latest study, published in March 2017 in the European Journal of Nutrition, provided more evidence that blueberry consumption improves cognitive function. The authors found that adults age 60 to 75 who consumed 24 grams of freeze-dried blueberry powder (the equivalent of one cup fresh berries) daily showed significant improvement in verbal memory, repetition, and task switching over their placebo-group counterparts.
Blueberry Nutrition at a Glance
A 1-cup serving of blueberries contains:
- 84 calories
- 3.6 grams of dietary fiber (14% of daily requirement)
- 0 grams of cholesterol
- 1.1 grams of protein
- .49 grams of fat
- 21 grams of carbohydrate
- 24% of an adult's recommended daily allowance of vitamin C, 5% of vitamin B6, and 36% of vitamin K
- Iron, calcium, potassium, magnesium, phosphorus, sodium, manganese, zinc, copper, folate, beta-carotene, folate, choline, vitamin A, vitamin E
- Phenolic compounds with antioxidant activity, including anthocyanins, quercetin, kaempferol, myricetin and chlorogenic acid
Member Spotlight: Abbott Farms
Ask most farmers what they grow and sell, and they’ll enumerate a list of fruits and vegetables. Ask Warren Abbott of Abbott Farms, and the answer is “Fun.”
Of course, the farm also sells other products, and lots of them—including strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, sweet cherries, rhubarb, asparagus, sweet corn, pumpkins, Italian prunes, and apples, as well as beef, hard cider, and wine. But what Abbott Farms—located in Baldwinsville and in operation, in the same family, since 1866—focuses on most of all is the customer. “We really sell an experience,” Warren explains, noting that the farm has up to 85 employees seasonally each year, most of them in customer service–related roles.
Prior to 1964, Abbott Farms was a small subsistence dairy. They added grain and potatoes at that time, and a small store for some retail sales by the early ’70s. In 1993, with the addition of a new store, they shifted their focus toward retail, and by 2007 had left the grain market entirely. These days, under the management of their fifth generation of farmers, they sell wholesale only if there’s extra supply. Recently, they added hard cider and wine, to satisfy the customer demand for quality local products and the in-person touch.
Over the years, the Abbotts have found that in order to sell in volume, customers require that the products be grown right on the farm. “Every time we decide to grow an item we sell, we triple sales of that item instantly,” Warren says. “I would have never guessed it would be so dramatic. We would have made that change sooner [if we had known].”
Crop losses from SWD encouraged the Abbotts to walk away from growing fall raspberries and day-neutral strawberries, though Warren says they may restart those crops “if control methods are available and economical.” As a business, Abbott Farms’ bigger challenges have been expanding frequently to maintain income; labor rates and regulation; and finding, training, and keeping good employees in seasonal positions.
For now, they’re focusing on frequent shake-ups to their strategy to maintain consumer interest. “The cidery will take some time to dial in, but it’s the most exciting and promising change since 2007,” Warren says, adding that they’ll be introducing a hard-cider tasting room soon. Besides the many varieties of fruit and sweet ciders available for tasting, they also offer happy-making products like 10 flavors of fudge and more than 20 flavors of ice cream. And they try to emphasize to customers that they select berry varieties for flavor, and pick for flavor and sugar content—not shipping and storage hardiness—to bring audience back week after week.
On-farm events—such as foot races, berry festivals, pancake breakfasts, a weekly festival in the fall, weekly farmers’ markets, and birthday parties—have been a big success. These events keep Abbott Farms top of mind—and tops in word-of-mouth referrals—for customers, as does maintaining a regular e-mail and Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter presence. They also advertise on billboards and in family and leisure guides in season.
Even though Abbott Farms is tech- and marketing-savvy, they still make sure the personal touch comes across in everything they do. Warren says, “We will continue to offer educational, family fun, while picking fruit and relaxing around the farm.” Maybe even for another 150 years.
How Overseas Research & Information Sharing Benefits Our Farms
By Marvin Pritts
Ever wonder what those Cornell professors do when they run off to another country? Oftentimes it’s to attend a conference, but occasionally we are asked to help a particular group of farmers with their production practices. Some may ask if we should be helping farmers in other countries—won’t they just end up competing with us in New York? And given that there are problems here at home, shouldn’t Cornell faculty just stay put and work on solving local problems?
In April, I had a chance to visit Chin State in the country of Myanmar. This country has been relatively isolated from the rest of the world, as it was under a military dictatorship for 50 years. Recently, it has had elections, so a democratic government is now in place. However, some of the outlying regions continue to have ethnic violence. Chin signed a peace treaty with the federal government in 2016, so it is now safe for foreigners to enter.
Although it is now safe to travel to Chin, this region has been cut off from the rest of Myanmar, and the world, for most of its existence. There is no real industry in Chin State. Travel to the capital city, Hakha, is an 11-hour drive on dirt roads from the nearest city with an airport (which has just one flight a day). Farming villages are even farther from Hahka. The roads in this state are one-lane, steep, and curved, with no guardrails and 1,000-foot dropoffs. During the rainy season, roads become impassable because of mud and landslides. Most of the country speaks Burmese and is Buddhist, while many different languages are spoken in Chin and Chin people are mostly Christian. All of these differences reinforce the isolation and makes education in this region difficult.
There is little to no flat land in Chin State. The hillsides are too steep for most grazing animals, except for goats. But having goats is risky, because they can escape through fences and eat valuable crops. The rain stops after the rainy season, so farmers then endure six months of drought. The capital city is too far to take goods to market, especially given the state of the roads.
People who live in villages in Chin are malnourished. It is estimated that 40 percent of the population suffers from protein, vitamin, and mineral deficiencies. Our task was to visit these villages, determine if anything could be done to help increase fruit and vegetable production and consumption, train extension educators, and advise about the curriculum used in the state agriculture institutes and the agricultural university at Yezin.
The people of Chin State were exceptionally friendly and open to new ideas. We shared information and techniques for drip irrigation, sources of nitrogen fertilizer, soil management, postharvest handling, and garden design, and I hope these will gain traction and be implemented. Farmers in the United States do not have to fear competition from a country that is struggling to feed itself.
Such activities in developing countries help spread Cornell’s reputation abroad. It also could pay dividends for us in the future. For example, apple and pear germ plasm grow wild in the hills. Developing a good relationship with Myanmar could give us access to new germplasm in the future. Establishing such relationships increases the probability that bright students will come to the United States to study. Also, when we can work with growers in another country to reduce their pesticide use and minimize environmental impacts, it benefits all of us. Myanmar is strategically located between China and India, so having friendly relations with them is politically beneficial. Finally, it is simply the right thing to do.
So while spending time in developing countries may not appear to benefit New York growers, we are laying the groundwork for future dividends to be paid.
Cornell has reported sustained SWD catches in several counties. Numbers are not high yet, but have been increasing. Be vigilant in your trap and fruit monitoring, weeding, and irrigation/drainage, and employ a spraying routine that works with your picking schedule. Follow this basic guide:
- Maintain an open canopy to increase sunlight and decrease humidity
- Eliminate weeds within rows to increase sunlight penetration and improve spray penetration into and deposition on the canopy
- Repair leaking drip lines and avoid overhead irrigation when possible. Allow the ground and mulch surface to dry before irrigating, and eliminate areas that encourage puddles.
- If you’ve set your own traps, check them regularly—daily, if possible. Females usually arrive first, but males are quick to follow.
- Check your fruit regularly. Pick groupings of 15-25 ripe fruit from different locations in your field, especially along the edges. Lightly squeeze each fruit. In a resealable bag, mix 1 cup salt and 1 gallon water. Add the fruit and mix well. After 30 minutes, check for small white larvae floating at the top. Repeat for each fruit grouping.
- Apply pesticides every 5 to 7 days; repeat if it rains.
- Rotate pesticides to prevent resistance.
The Berry Patch Pioneers Innovative Use of Exclusion Netting
to Combat SWD
The Berry Patch, in tiny, rural Stephentown, has pioneered an innovative solution to spotted wing drosophila (SWD) infestation. Since it arrived in the United States in 2008, SWD has made it virtually impossible to grow commercially acceptable, pesticide-free raspberries and blueberries, but the Berry Patch’s experiments with exclusion netting seek to end crop losses.
Spotted wing drosophila is native to Southeast Asia. It first appeared in California in 2008, and spread to Florida the following year. By 2010, SWD had migrated to the Carolinas, Louisiana, Utah, Michigan, and Wisconsin. Northeastern fruit growers first went to battle with the insect in 2012, when an average of 80% of raspberry and 30% of blueberry crops—and approximately $4.3 million in revenue in NY state alone—were lost due to infestation of the fruit during its early ripening stages. Dale-Ila Riggs, co-owner of the Berry Patch and NYSBGA board chair, says, “This pest is a game-changer for berry growers nationwide. There are no natural enemies for it in the U.S.”
In 2012, Riggs lost about 40% of her lucrative blueberry crop to SWD. After observing some early research on the use of exclusion netting at Cornell University’s New York State Agricultural Experiment Station in Geneva, she obtained a Northeast Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education Farmer grant to test the use of the netting on her half-acre blueberry planting. Riggs adapted her existing bird-netting support system into a support system for the exclusion netting, with extra protections and anchoring to withstand thunderstorms, hail, and up to 60 mph winds. She then compared the fruits from the covered plot to the fruits grown in a control plot protected only with bird netting.
The results were startling. Riggs documented an infestation rate of 0.7% and 0.3% in 2014 and 2015, and last year had a 0% infestation rate—a rate virtually unheard-of in agricultural systems. Other farms around the country are taking notice, and have started to duplicate the Berry Patch’s successful growing system.
Riggs will set up her blueberry exclusion netting again in early July, prior to SWD’s summer activity. She also plans to experiment with the same exclusion netting for her high-tunnel raspberry planting for the first time this year. “With SWD, no one has been able to grow pesticide-free berries that are free from infestation,” Riggs notes. “The netting makes it possible. This is a highly effective method that brings new hope for growers.”
Doing "Nearly Everything Wrong":
A West Coast Farm with Northeastern Techniques
We’re always happy to see berries in the news, and we especially like to see stories that praise the growing and harvesting methods New York State growers have been using for decades. That’s why this April 17, 2017, story in the New York Times caught our eye.
The article, about Rick and Molly Gean, owners of the strawberry farm Harry’s Berries, near Los Angeles, touts growers who “do nearly everything wrong, at least according to the gospel of modern commercial berry farming.” The Geans started out with commercial strains of berries but now organically grow Gaviota and Seascape strawberries. They sell 500,000 pounds of berries per year, with 70 percent of their business at farmers’ markets; pints are priced at $8. The article states that Harry’s Berries are the preferred fruits of many West Coast chefs, and even a handful in the Northeast.
What’s most interesting about this article is the spotlight it shines on the Geans’ harvesting, which happens once every five days, to ensure peak ripeness. “Ripeness is all,” proclaims the piece. “When the berries run out, they run out, because the Geans would rather send a customer home empty-handed than with a berry that doesn’t meet their standards.”
While the article doesn’t acknowledge that New York’s independent berry growers have been harvesting only at peak ripeness for generations, this is a great talking point with customers. And while we may not have the advantage of year-round growing in a mild climate, our short season gives us the opportunity to highlight the berries as “limited edition,” available only for a few weeks a year. Keep a copy of the Times article in your farm store or at your market booth, and see if it sparks some important conversation.
Tomion's Farm market
Farming has been part of the Tomion’s Farm family for so long that co-owner Alan Tomion is stumped when asked when they first established the business. He laughs and explains, “My great-grandfather started growing strawberries, and my father added vegetables. Then I expanded it with raspberries, hay, rhubarb. So it’s definitely been over 50 years. The farm has always been in our family.”
Located in the Finger Lakes in Penn Yan, the 160-acre Tomion’s Farm and store is open year-round, and sells strawberries, red raspberries, and blackberries, as well as a variety of fruits, vegetables, and live plants. The operation is primarily retail, with wholesale strawberry sales in the summer. The store also offers fresh baked goods and a selection of gifts.
Alan’s wife and co-owner, Crystal Tomion, runs the farm market, and oversees a handful of year-round part-time employees. Two of the couple’s sons have also joined the business.
While SWD was an issue for the Tomions’ fall raspberries a few years ago, the farm’s proximity to the Geneva Experiment Station has allowed them to benefit from the expertise of Professor Greg Loeb, who has conducted research on the farm, and their strawberry crops have been unaffected. Instead, the biggest challenge has been finding summer laborers. Alan says, “There needs to be some kind of program for workers who aren’t citizens to be able to make a living and not be hassled,” and notes that tightening restrictions against noncitizen workers have reduced their seasonal prospects from 100 to about a dozen.
Another challenge originates closer to home. The local Mennonite community, with their larger families and tradition of training their children as the next generation of laborers, are able to sell produce at a much lower price than farms with higher labor costs. “They’re stiff competition,” Alan admits.
Also stiff competition: grocery stores that sell peeled and washed produce and prepackaged dinners, and that target their marketing toward busy families and career people. “Older customers know that local berries have a lot more taste and nutrition,” Alan says. “But we’re slowly losing our older customers. Eating habits among younger people have changed quite a bit. They go out to eat more and buy more premade meals. And they don’t buy extra to freeze, like our older customers do.”
Still, Tomion’s Farm, which benefits from its high-visibility location on the busiest highway in the county, has succeeded for more than half a century by sticking to its mission of providing high-quality local foods. Alan and Crystal used to do more marketing and advertising, but ultimately decided that the cost outweighed the extra revenue that was needed to cover it. They now rely on their website and Facebook page, a few ads in local newspapers and magazines, and the word of mouth of customers, to spread the berry gospel.
Although Alan loves seeing first-time customers turn into repeat customers, for him, it all comes back to getting hands-on in the earth. “Farming is in my blood,” he says. “I just enjoy watching my crops grow.”
The Health Benefits of Berries
Vitamin and Flavoid-packed Powerhouses
Beyond their ability to add flavor to and complement a variety of savory and sweet recipes, berries are vitamin- and flavonoid-packed powerhouses. Get to know more about each berry and how it can benefit your health.
- Consistently ranked as one of the top antioxidant foods—twice the concentration of spinach, and three times the amount found in oranges and grapes!
- High in vitamins C and K, and manganese
- Good source of fiber
- The newest research suggests that blueberries may reduce the risk of heart attack and be beneficial in halting age-related memory decline
- Packed with vitamin C (one serving has 150% of the recommended daily value)
- High in antioxidants
- Good source of fiber, folate, potassium, and manganese
- One of the earth’s strongest antioxidant foods, with high levels of polyphenolic compounds including ellagic acid, quercetin, and cyanidins
- High level of fiber
- High levels of vitamins C and K, manganese, and folic acid
- Packed with fiber
- High levels of vitamin C; vitamins B1, B2, and B3; magnesium, folic acid, and iron
- High levels of antioxidants, including catechins, salicylic acid, and anthocyanins
- Contain raspberry ketone, which some preliminary studies suggest may be helpful in weight control