by Julie Cushine-Rigg
There may not be much green and growing at 9 Miles East Farm in Schuylerville, NY these wintery days, but that doesn’t mean they’re not busy producing local food.
The 29-acre vegetable farm lies almost exactly 9 miles due east of Saratoga Springs where a kitchen runs from 6 a.m. until 10 p.m. seven days a week, year-round producing to-go meals for customers in the Capital Region and Boston, MA.
“Our mission is to make it easy for busy people to eat healthy local food and we didn’t want to compete with other farms. We wanted to make local food accessible to a new audience,” said Gordon Sacks, owner and operator of the farm.
To that end, Gordon says they gear their marketing to folks who don’t have time to get to the farm or the farmers markets or to cook the food themselves: busy workers and families at homes and offices. And you can see by the farm’s website, www.9mileseast.com, that they indeed cater to these target audiences and beyond with tabs titled Workplace Wellness, and Healthcare which give information on nutrition as it relates to diabetes and cancer. Online options also allow customers to have meals delivered to them at work or home, and which can be tailored to an individual’s needs including vegetarian, gluten-free, and Paleo nutritional options.
Sacks started 9 Miles East with just 11.5 acres in 2004 and said he chose the area because it was close to where he lives. He added that he also started because he believes that customers would benefit by what the farm was doing — producing healthy, local food while sourcing as many local products as possible and cooking them into delicious meals.
The farm raises approximately 50 varieties of vegetables including everything from tomatoes and peppers to kale and other greens with no one crop dominating the land, and which are chosen for taste and nutrition over shelf-life.
There are 32 employees at peak growing season on the farm, with about 15 involved in food preparation, 10 serving customers, and the remainder cultivating and harvesting crops.
To help keep the soil healthy, Sacks uses cover crops of clover, buckwheat, and rye. Right now, in the white of winter, he said their tasks include reviewing soil tests to ensure their fertility program is in place. He added that the soil amendments used on the farm are Organic Materials Research Institute (OMRI) approved and they try to follow an all-natural program by feeding the soil via cover crops, and in turn the soil feeds the plants.
At any time of day or year, 9 Miles East is home to all manner of food preparation and Sacks said that they are increasingly using more of their own vegetables in those meals. For the remainder of what they need he said they are very practical.
“We use the best ingredients we can buy to supplement the things that we grow…we don’t grow our own rice, for example, and we try to work directly with as many local farms as we can to buy product…beyond that we use Black River Produce in southern Vermont that also source from local farms,” said Sacks.
The farm also sources ingredients from Marty’s Local in Great Barrington, MA. Most of the products from other farms are delivered directly to 9 Miles East, though they do pick up from farms as well and are open to the option of working with more farms that have a surplus of products.
Meals prepared at 9 Miles East Farm serve approximately 3,000 people every week. That’s a lot of fresh local products reaching busy folks who truly appreciate the local food movement.
“It’s been mostly word of mouth… so many people are interested in eating healthy but they’re very time constrained. One of the services we’ve introduced is a pizza delivery operation that uses local organic flour from Ithaca, farmer ground flour, cheese from Cappiello Dairy, local sausage and other toppings and we use our own tomatoes. That service has been very popular,” said Sacks of pizzadelivery.farm, the online ordering system that lets customers choose either a subscription or a one-time delivery or pick up for pizza, salads, fresh vegetables, drinks and dinners.
Talking about how the farm’s food benefits customers in large offices, for instance, Sacks says companies like it because it makes the teams healthier and employees like it because they get to purchase high quality locally sourced food right at the office.
“Everybody wins there!” he said.
The farm uses a fleet of six delivery vehicles equipped with refrigeration or coolers. Meals are never frozen, but customers can opt to freeze meals by the eat-or-freeze-by date.
Future on the farm
Acreage on the farm is not expected to grow, but the customer bases will be, and to keep with that goal Sacks said he’s always happy to talk with other local farmers about purchasing products.
“We still have work to do to optimize the land,” said Sacks. They’d also like to have more year- round growing capacity by adding to the one greenhouse and two high tunnels they have now. In the coming seasons they’d also like to start growing raspberries and blueberries. Not huge growth, but its what the farm can do successfully and in the end it’s a few more steps to add to an already long list of local farm products reaching more customers.