Ellie Wilson, MS, RDN Senior Nutritionist
I drove to A. Gurda Produce in Pine Island, NY on a rainy morning in late October. Fall colors were bursting through the cool, gray gloom, not to be dampened by the weather. As I got closer to the farm, the whole landscape transformed from hilly and green to flat and black. I had found the famous black soil region, a former glacial lake and swamp, transformed by Polish and German immigrants and a drainage ditch into a farming community like no other in the United States. The region was first famous for onions in the 1800’s, but modern farmers, like Andrew Gurda, have diversified into a world of wonderful produce and herbs.
The Gurda farm is a family farm, and Andrew and his brothers are carrying on their family legacy on 230 acres. They also pack and act as a shipping hub for another farm in the area, which changed and increased their business. While studying agriculture at SUNY Cobleskill in 1992, Andrew took a chance one day and drove to Price Chopper’s headquarters to talk business. Price Chopper talked back, and we have worked together ever since. Andrew feels Price Chopper is a good partner for a number of reasons – the produce team understands farm variables, like weather issues, and is fair and respectful with the business aspects of the equation. Like all of our farming partners, AGurda’s is GAP certified – food safety is top priority. The packing facility is SQF certified – a similar safety certification for processing facilities.
A. Gurda’s has a huge list of items they grow – onions, romaine and other lettuces, cabbage, kale, beets, carrots, arugula, escarole, and more – herbs like cilantro, dill and different parsleys – great diversity. Andrew has a great philosophy when it comes to choosing seeds and vegetables to grow – don’t be the first to lose the old, or the first to try the new. They have solar power, energy efficient lighting throughout the packing plant, and other sustainability measures in place.
It takes a lot to keep this farm and business humming along, and Andrew admits that his favorite part of all of it is actually farming. Planting, and checking the fields at 5 AM to see what is ready for picking that day, the smell of the land. When he does get away in the winter, he finds himself reading about the produce business – catching up, but in a nice tropical spot where his cell phone doesn’t have signalJ.
Customers and their interest in what produce is grown where are the game- changer he sees has and will continue to elevate produce and grow business. He also hopes to see some restoration of the programs that he grew up with, so the next generation has good insight into farming and can continue to improve it – agriculture programs back in high schools, and more horticulture programs can help grow jobs and capacity. He also participates in the Produce for Kids program, supporting education and information to help families and children eat more produce. You can find that recipe-based outreach in Price Chopper stores every year.
Andrew has his own recipes – he cooks for his family every day, and shared a great quick recipe that includes sautéed onions, kale or escarole, sweet and hot sausage, and maybe parsley – sautéed together in a pan, it sounds delicious and easy. Enjoy the coo weather crops, beets and onions, that are in our stores right now – grown for you!