Whether harvesting apples, raising beef or producing dairy, the Smith family can always be found busy on the farm — and this time of year baking holiday pies for their Orchard Bake Shop is keeping the family hopping.
For years the Smith family has worked the dairy and beef farm and the orchards on Jockey Street in Ballston Spa, NY.
“My grandfather moved here in 1932 and started the dairy,” explains Rick Smith, who runs the farm with his brother Bill. “He moved here from a few roads away, because there was a better barn here than at the farm he was on.”
Smith says his grandfather kept beef at his original farm and had dairy at the Jockey St. location, where there was also an orchard. “We’ve just grown from there.”
The farm, which has been awarded the honor of being a ‘Dairy of Distinction’, is home to about 375 registered Holsteins and 75 head of red and white Herefords. “Our animals are raised on quality feed and are hormone and antibiotic free.”
Smith’s grow all of their feed and also grow and sell horse hay. “I own around 350 acres,” said Smith, “and we’re working over 1,000.”
The175 milking herd are housed in a free stall barn and are on a twice-a-day milking schedule. They hold a 24,000 – 25,000 herd average.
About 250 calves are born on the farm each year. Some are kept for replacement heifers, while others are sold. “We don’t want to grow any bigger,” Smith stated.
The calves are kept in hutches and fed three times daily. “We started feeding three times a day a few years ago in the cold winter weather. Then, two years ago we decided that we would stay with it year round.”
Smith Brothers Farm won the Conservationist Award in the late 1970’s for Stewardship of the Land for Saratoga County.
“We’ve taken part in many conservation plans over the years. You’ve got to take care of the land or it won’t take care of you!”
One conservation problem Smith is dealing with is getting rid of Ag Bags. “All of our feed is stored in Ag Bags. We get a machine in here and they bale it up, supposedly to recycle it, but that program isn’t getting too far!”
Smith points out baled Ag Bags piled high behind the barn, waiting to be moved out. “They don’t want us to burn them, so we’re baling them, and now it’s getting to be a hassle to get rid of the bales.”
Smith commented on how his aunt and uncle went to Europe and reported seeing street signs made out of recycled plastic. “We seem to be behind what Europe and other countries are doing as far as recycling, at least that is the way it appears to me.”
The farm has been putting in “several hundred thousand feet a year, on an average, in tile, for the past 40 years.” In one project, the farm joined 13 fields together to make one field.
“We took out the stone walls and put in strip cropping and tile for drainage. It could be one field, but it’s in 100 foot strips for erosion purposes.”
The farm has always hired a crew to come in and do the tiling. One man, Dave Weaver, who has now passed away, worked for all three generations of the family putting in drainage tile.
Besides the beef and dairy end of the farm, the apple orchards have proven to be profitable — especially over the past few years!
“We’ve always had between 10 and 12 acres of orchard,” said Smith. “Over the years we had expanded and added on. It got to the point where we had 12 to 14 acres of orchard and we were bagging 3-pound bags of apples for smaller grocery stores like the A&P and the Grand Union and Chicago Market; smaller markets in this area. We delivered in this area.”
Then, one by one, the smaller grocery stores all began to disappear. “There isn’t any A&P or Grand Union or smaller markets anymore and the bigger ones all buy from co-ops or bigger orchards, they don’t really buy local. So we downsized a couple of the orchards, we pulled them out and turned them back into crop fields.”
Then a friend of Smith’s wife Shelley, who was on the Farm Bureau Board, tasted one of Shelley’s pies at a Farm Bureau dinner. The rest is history!
“Shelley started making pies right out of our kitchen when our girls were little, that was about 1990, and that kind of got the pie business going.”
A business that began with about 10 pies a week is now producing about 70,000 pies a year!
Twenty-six varieties of hand-made pies, ranging from ‘Apple’ to ‘Very Berry’ are available most of the year — and at nominal prices. Folks come from all over New York State and from neighboring states to purchase them. Each pie is individually made and the pie dough is also homemade.
Apples are grown, peeled, sliced and bagged on the premises for immediate use. “We have at least a dozen different varieties of apples including some new varieties,” said Smith.
About 100 bushels of peeled apples were used for pies the week before Thanksgiving.
“We’ve been going almost 24 hours a day for the past three days,” said Shelly two days before Thanksgiving Day. “The ovens have barely shut down!”
Family, friends and neighbors are all employed during the holiday rush.
Besides pies and farm raised meats; eggs, cheese, ice cream, fruits, vegetables, fudge, donuts, jellies, jams, cider, salad dressings, salsas and honey are all available at the shop.
So, what is the secret behind the huge success at Smith Brothers Farm and Orchard Bake Shop?
“If you’ve got a good product, the business just grows,” smiles Smith.
Contact Smith’s at 518-882-6598.