Phyllis and Wayne Underwood
I have spoken with a many of our farmers, and have been amazed at the different ways that people arrive at becoming a farmer. Some have arrived via the traditional route of being raised on the farm and developing an inherent love of the work, and some worked their way into it by working for other farmers. The Underwoods are unique in their journey – they arrived at hydroponic farming via a trip to Disney.
Last Friday was a perfect summer day, and our dietetic intern Gaby and I made our way to Shushan Valley Hydro Farm, along the back roads of Saratoga and Washington counties. Nestled in a pretty hollow on a dirt road, Phyllis and Wayne purchased their family farm in 1979, to fulfill Wayne’s dream of dairy farming. They found it rewarding, but also a hard industry to be successful in. They changed gears in 1986 – pursued different work, and took their family to Disney in 1990. There, they did what was called “The Backyard Tour” which showcased the old/young field of modern hydroponics, and the idea began to simmer. (Epcot has an experimental farm that they offer as a ride/tour, and it is really exciting to see if you are a farm fan or foodie – my son and I loved it.) Fast forward to 1995 – they started building their hydro farm, and were in production by 1996. Their children, both adults now, are true second generation farmers, and still work with their parents.
Shushan Valley Hydro is a year round operation, focusing on fragrant, delicious fresh basil plants in the herb house, as well as dill, parsley, cilantro, and rosemary. They grow beautiful vine tomatoes that are also in our stores most of the year. The vines will keep producing if they are managed correctly, and they keep growing in length also – the average tomato vine is over 40 feet long! They also started cucumbers this year, and they are beautiful.
Operating year round in our climate means there are costs – energy costs in particular. Farmers are thrifty folk, and they pursued sustainability as technology became available. In particular, they converted to LED growing lights and saw a significant savings. Hydroponic farming has some inherent aspects of sustainability built in – it can be located in the country or the city, and it is very water smart. Technology also helps ensure the hot houses can be managed for temperature, as the large fans on the end of the row opened up and turned on while we were walking by. This translates to each square foot being able to produce a substantial amount of food. Like all of our farmers, Shushan Valley Hydro Farm is GAP certified, which means they build food safety into all of their work, so we can bring you the highest quality, most delicious local produce. Like all of the farmers I have met so far, they also work with the food pantry, supporting better nutrition in their community.
Phyllis is really happy to see people looking for local produce and getting excited about eating it. Her pesto recipe is renowned, and here for you to enjoy.
Phyllis Underwood’s Shushan Valley Pesto
2 cups Shushan Valley Basil
2 cloves garlic
½ cup pine nuts
½ cup grated parmesan cheese
1/3 – 1/2 cup olive oil
Sea salt and fresh pepper to taste
Combine basil, garlic, and pine nuts in a food processor add oil as needed to process in to a pourable consistency. Then add cheese, salt and pepper.
Serve with your favorite pasta, add some shrimp or fish – quick simple but delicious meal. Pesto is great as a topping for chicken and pork, or sliced tomatoes and other fresh veggies!