Ellie Wilson, MS, RDN Senior Nutritionist
Larry Eckhardt is a corn connoisseur, and a corn scientist. As I rode around the farm with him, to the last fields of sweet corn that were to be harvested later that week, he jumped out, grabbed an ear of white corn off a stalk, quickly husked it, and took a bite. “Not quite” he says, “we will need a few more days for the best quality.”
Larry is the second generation to farm here, at the farm purchased by his father, located in Stephentown – a small town near the Massachusetts border. Larry was three years old when they arrived in 1959. His father, in his 80’s now, still helps out in the summer – drives a delivery truck, accompanied by one of the many local teens they employ in summer. He has his own old tractor that he drives around the farm, puttering and doing small chores that keep the rest of the family, like son Matt, free to plant and manage the corn, tomatoes, and pumpkins that are their primary crops. They also have about 60 head of Angus beef cattle, and about 10 sheep. The sheep sustainably help manage weeds and grass in the equipment pen, the cattle eat the corn that doesn’t make retail grade, so everything is managed or recycled. The full list of crops they grow includes: sweet corn, field corn, hay, tomatoes, pumpkin, soy, oats, rye, and wheat. They also grow vegetables for a farm stand they run on the property. They own 200 acres, and rent 900 more all around the region.
Eckhardt’s first sold corn to Price Chopper’s Central Market around 1975, and quickly expanded out to 7 stores in the Berkshires. Larry likes working with Price Chopper for several reasons – foremost of which is the relationship that has been built over time, and how respectful he says Price Chopper is of the farmer’s challenges. It is a true partnership.
Larry is also an educator – president and best front man for the New York Vegetable Growers Association for 19 years, he has traveled the United States expounding on the quality of New York-grown vegetables and fruits. He had recently hosted over 70 farmers for a soil health seminar. Each season, they have multiple product trials going on. Some trials are successful, and some are not – he trialed an early variety of corn bred for the Northeast, but found it just had no taste, so elected to maintain his typical growing schedule. Like all of the farmers I have met so far, he works with the seed companies to try new items, and uses specific criteria to select his seeds – taste and eating quality, tolerance to cold, eye appeal, and whether the corn stalk stands until harvest all factor in. Like all of the farmers that work with Price Chopper, food safety is of paramount importance and the Eckhardt’s Kinderhook Creek Farm is Gap (Good Agricultural Practices) Certified.
The Regional Food Bank truck pulled up to pick up a load of late tomatoes as I was getting ready to troll their roadside stand at the end of my visit, as well as a local chef that includes the Eckhardt name in the dish when their produce is on the menu. As a registered dietitian and food advocate, this visit was a great snapshot of agriculture at work – retail, restaurant and produce access for the hungry all tapped in to one farm.
Larry welcomes all of the interest in where food comes from, especially the “local” movement, but he would like to see more farming/crop literacy built in to the discussions – helping people really understand how challenging, and how rewarding, farming can be. Stay tuned to our blog, as we will be working with Larry to share more about their work year round. Try making a pumpkin pie from one of the small pumpkins in our stores – I cut it, remove the seeds, and then roast it while I am doing other things. Then you can use the pumpkin just like canned in any recipe – but I guarantee, you will find the fresh taste takes your pie to a whole new level!