Spanning three towns and two counties, Ortensi Farm and Equestrian Center in Central New York is owned by Gregory and Bernie Ortensi, a couple committed to leaving the land healthier than when they began farming it.
The farm’s 500 acres is split between Springfield in Otsego County and the towns of Stark and Warren in Herkimer County. The house and 250 acres are located in Springfield with the remainder of the property split among two other townships. “It’s a unique piece of property,” Bernie said.
At one time the farm was known as Hubiak Dairy Farm, raised show dairy cattle. In 1997, prior to meeting and marrying Bernie, Gregory purchased the farm.
A Massachusetts native, Gregory was raised on a family farm. He later left the farm and went to work in the logging industry. When a close friend purchased land in Central New York, Gregory was eager to spend time reconnecting with his agricultural roots. He commuted to his friend’s farm each weekend and volunteered his time and expertise assisting with machinery repairs.
Eventually, the property he now owns went up for sale and he leapt at the opportunity to purchase it. At first he raised only hay in the summer and continued logging in the winter.
Five years later, he and Bernie met and married. Bernie, also a Massachusetts native, was a professional horse trainer working in her family’s commercial boarding and training operation, which specialized in Appaloosa show horses.
Not long after marrying, the couple began exploring organic grain crops. “I didn’t like chemicals so in 2003 we started researching what it was to be organic,” she said. In 2005 they initiated the organic certification process and were certified a year later by Northeast Organic Farming Association (NOFA).
Cattle arrived on the farm in 2007 when they purchased young, open Simmental heifers. The next year they purchased a bull for live cover. Simmental cattle originated in Switzerland and is one of Europe’s oldest breeds and are often chosen for its rapid growth and development.
Today the herd totals nearly 50 cattle, a mix of cows, calves and bulls with plans to eventually reach 200. The cattle are rotated through 56 acres of pastured land. “We currently have two groups for grazers. A cow/calf group with a bull for live coverage and a group of finishers that are pastured with open heifers that will be bred through artificial insemination,” Bernie explained.
The cow/calf herd rotates to new pasture land every three days and the finisher group rotates to new grass every two days. “We keep the second group close to the farmstead so we can get the open heifers into the shoot to get bred,” she added.
Once finished, the steers are sent to a USDA certified organic slaughter house for processing and then 95 percent of the beef products are sold through the Adirondack Grazers Cooperative.
Ortensi Farm is a diverse operation. In addition to raising grass-fed beef, a flock of 150 pasture raised turkeys and 150 pasture raised chickens are also raised on the farm. Looking for a return to her roots in the equine industry, Bernie is also eager to expand the couple’s equestrian center. “We’re currently offering boarding with plans to specialize in services for Thoroughbreds in retirement or bred as broodmares,” she said.
Though the farm is certified organic and the Ortensi’s are committed to organic farming practices, she admits it’s difficult to be 100 percent pesticide and GMO free. “I am certified organic through NOFA, but rainwater from the neighboring farm brings chemicals from that farm onto our property,” she explained, “nature has its own ways of cross pollinating and spreading seeds so we can’t control everything.”
Despite some factors being out of their control, the couple remains dedicated to educating others about the benefits of organic farming practices. “We have a program for individuals to come live with us and learn about organic farming,” Bernie said, “a young woman just arrived from Austria.”
This winter Bernie will be presenting at the NOFA Winter Conference. Her presentation will be one of the first to discuss the costs of raising grass fed beef. “There aren’t a lot of hard facts on the costs of raising grass fed beef,” she said, “I’ve also volunteered my numbers to CCE (Cornell Cooperative Extension) so costs can be calculated.”
To learn more about Ortensi Farm and Equestrian Center visit the farm’s listing on the Adirondack Grazer’s Cooperative adkgrazers.com/our-farms/ortensi-farm/ .