to the Table
annual Hoosac Valley Farmers Exchange Pancake Day rallies
the agricultural community for the coming season and provides
an opportunity to reflect on the state of the industry
road is full of pickup trucks and the tavern is full of flannel.
In front of the taps, the bar is crowded with mugs that say
Hoosac Valley Farmers Exchange Pancake Day, 2010. Farmers
stand in line for pancakes hot off the griddle and sit down
to eat them with local sausage and maple syrup. Beer signs
are off and the televisions are on, showing sports, hunting
shows, and more sports. This is a bar, but no one’s drinking
anything but coffee. No one is talking much either—chatty
farmers are few and far between.
Main Street dead ends at the Hoosic River in Schaghticoke,
where Lewis’ Tavern overlooks big rocks and the river’s falls,
and sits across the street from the warehouse, retail store,
and grain silos of a farm supply store.
Every spring, the Hoosac Valley Farmers Exchange plants a
seed with its customers in the form of a free pancake breakfast
that lasts all day long. The pancake breakfast has been running
for 45 years, and the business has been open since 1925. The
event has traveled up and down Main Street, taking place at
the store, the American Legion, Henderson’s Bar and Grill,
and now Lewis’ Tavern.
Ray Lewis and his family cook pancakes to order and have plenty
of sausages, coffee and half-pint cartons of milk (chocolate
and whole, both from Sycaway Creamery) ready. The maple syrup
is from Millbrook Dairy Farms Sugarhouse in Valley Falls,
and flows very, very freely—anyone who knows the cost of this
liquid gold can see from this alone that the Agway store appreciates
its customers. Food is available from 7:30 AM until 3 PM,
and nearly 300 farmers drop in throughout the day to eat and
visit, catching up after the winter.
These farmers come from about a 30-mile radius. Many of the
men in the room look old enough to have reached retirement
age in other careers, but the room is not filled with a sense
of relaxation. This is a pause in the midst of days that begin
early and will end late—the sun stays out long, and daylight
doesn’t get wasted. Many here are dairy farmers, “or, at least
now I am,” says one, alluding to the precipitous state of
Rensselaer County has long been dairy country, but in keeping
with national trends, the number of farms has dropped over
the years. Since 1975, according to the USDA, the number of
dairy farms has dropped considerably, while herd sizes have
significantly increased. Changes in technology and the complicated
economics of farming in America are responsible for this shift.
A gallon of milk and a gallon of gas cost the consumer about
the same three dollars, but at this price, dairy farmers are
not meeting their expenses. When milk prices dropped in late
2008 and early 2009, many dairies went into debt. In February
2009, County Executive Kathleen Jimino called for a review
of federal pricing structures for milk to help this slice
of agriculture, which was especially hard hit by the recession.
While some governmental attention is being paid to this plight,
such as recent federal antitrust investigations into the milk
market, the situation is still grim.
The last few years have been tough not just on farmers, but
also on the businesses who supply them.
we were a newer facility, we’d be closed,” says John Halford,
owner of the Hoosac Valley Farmers Exchange. “Fortunately,
we don’t have a mortgage here, so we’re able to survive, and
that goes with a lot of farms, too. Those farms that have
mortgages, something breaks [and] you’re probably going to
be out of business.”
The breakfast is a thank you, and an opportunity for the business
to buy and sell spring items quickly. Inside the store, the
farmers have found a use for words, and are animatedly discussing
tools and solutions, calculating how much to buy.
going to order a lot today. Seeding supplies, water tubs,
plastic to cover hay, salt blocks. Anything we can think of
we get,” says Clifford Lewis of Lewcliff Farms in Valley Falls.
He is with his son, and this isn’t the only father-son duo.
Robert Duncan used to come with his dad, starting 38 years
ago, and this year he is here with his family. Dale Cornell,
a seasoned farmer despite his youth, stands with his parents,
Allen and Edna, outside the store, near the grain silos.
is a tradition,” says Allen Cornell, who says of the silos,
“When dairy was big they used to be busy all the time. Farmers
grew their own feeds and brought them here to mix them.”
The Cornells grow their own grain and mix feed for the 2,500
chickens on their farm in Hoosick Falls. They sell eggs around
the region, and vegetables, too, at farmers markets and retail
outlets. Late in the morning of Pancake Day, Allen waves their
order sheet in the air—a kind of goodbye. Workers fill up
their truck with what they brought. Time to get home to work.
this community we all have our joys together, and we all have
our sorrows together,” reflects Halford. “So basically it’s
a way of saying thank you to the people who support the facility
and a way to support the community. The community has been
good to us.”
here for a list of recently reviewed restaurants.
Ristorante (18 Division
St., Saratoga Springs) celebrates the second anniversary
of its monthly “Twelve” Program, a fundraising
initiative supporting local nonprofits and named
for a bronze panel from the Holy Door at St. Peter’s
Basilica in the Vatican. On the 12th of each month,
you can have 30 percent of your guest check donated
to the featured nonprofit. On April 12, the beneficiary
will be Aspire Programs, a New York State Education
Deptartment-approved preschool for children with
developmental, learning, and emotional disorders.
No reservations are needed, but call 580-0025
for more info. . . . Remember to pass your scraps