In 1985 Bobbie and Terry Jones took over the Cedarville, NY, farm that her family had owned since 1954. About 10 years ago they put up a new free stall barn and new milking parlor. Every morning Bobbie is up at 4 a.m. to milk approximately 140 cows. Counting her grandson, Nicholas, the Jones’s are going on the 4th generation of farmers to work Wedgenock Farm. But, like most farmers in Upstate New York they were always dealing with the constant question of how to keep their farm going.
The answer came after a lot of research. And that answer was black oil sunflower seeds. Their son Philip Jones did his homework and after months of research Wedgenock Farm decided that planting sunflowers was the key to the future.
A wide variety of local birds make black oil sunflower seeds part of their regular diet. Chickadees to blue jays to cardinals love to eat them. Black oil sunflower seeds have a soft shell and are meaty. The high oil content (thus the name) gives birds a boost of calories and nutrition with each bite. The seeds are also a great source of vitamins and minerals such as calcium, iron, potassium, and Vitamin E. Sunflowers like slightly acidic to somewhat alkaline soil. Sunflowers grow best in locations with full sun and they prefer long, hot summers. Sunflowers are a huge crop for the plains of the Dakotas. Would the sunflowers grow here?
Wedgenock Farm just finished their 5th black oil sunflower growing season. Their first planting was in May, 2009. That first season they planted 80 acres. Bobbie said, “That’s a lot of sunflowers. That’s a lot of blood, sweat and tears,” she added, “You plant in May and pray.” The prayers are for no frost. The young plants are no match for frost. And then you pray rain; not too much rain, but just enough.
The Joneses do all processing. After planting they harvest the sunflowers using a row crop combine. The seeds are then transported back to the farm where they’re double cleaned. After cleaning the seeds are stored in a grain bin where they are aerated, stirred and fanned to remove moisture. No heat is used on Wedgenock Farm black oil sunflower seeds. After 2-3 weeks the seeds are ready. The seeds are bagged as needed in 30 pound bags. Each bag is sewn shut by hand.
Fortunately, the Joneses have been able to stick with their pricing of 50 cents a pound. They’ve been selling to the public and groups from across the state like the Delaware-Otsego Audubon Society and the Audubon Society of the Capital Region. Arie Vandergroef stopped by to purchase some seeds for his home. He has been buying seeds from Wedgenock Farm for about four years. “Buying seeds locally is the way to go.”
There’s gold in them hills and Wedgenock Farm has found it. The Joneses, all four generations, have teamed up to make their sunflower crop a success. While they are not the first dairy farmers to diversify in the interest of keeping their farm going hopefully other farms can follow their lead and find a way to keep their farms farming. For more information on Wedgenock Farm go to: www.wedgenockfarm.com