What's in the water in Essex County?

Courtney at the Saranac Lake market. Photo: David Sommerstein

Courtney at the Saranac Lake market. Photo: David Sommerstein

As we've reported for quite a while here at NCPR, the Champlain Valley has become a hotspot in the North Country for young farmers trying to forge a new path for agriculture.

The Adirondack Explorer traces the roots and future possibilities of that community in a recent article. It highlights Courtney Grimes-Sutton, who wrote journals for The Dirt all last summer, and her Mace Chasm farm. It also points to the influence of Essex Farm and Kristin Kimball, author of A Dirty Life.

Many young farmers worked at Essex Farm before going off on their own. Others found different ways to acquire practical know-how in advance. Take Courtney. She ran a vegetable farm and little CSA program for several years with a couple of girlfriends and later immersed herself in livestock production at Essex Farm.  She also apprenticed with a blacksmith, graduated from industrial welding school, and gained competency as a butcher.

The dynamic Essex County scene caught the attention of Severine Von Tscharner Fleming, the force behind the Greenhorns, a national organization that aims to “strengthen the cultural and social fabric for the next generation of farmers.” The six-year-old, largely volunteer group throws parties for young farmers, produces festivals, hosts a radio show, and engages in all sorts of creative collaborations. It has published several books and released a full-length documentary.

That documentary, "Small Farm Rising", has aired on PBS. Watch the trailer here.

I hope to have more this summer on the interwoven relationships between many of these farms. And the other day I received great news that Courtney will be journaling here at The Dirt again this summer. Expect a new entry soon!

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  1. Good stuff Dave. Keep it up.

  2. I suspect that Essex County is a hotspot because it shares the Lake Champlain media market with Vermont. Folks west of the lake hear stories about all the local food activity going on in Vermont, and figure, "Heck, we can do that here."

  3. But which came first: the farming or the media? Essex County used to have many small farms, not only in the Champlain Valley but also the AuSable Valley where we are trying to resurrect our family's farm. AuSable Valley farming is more difficult due to our Zone 3 situation. Champlain Valley farming looks like the tropics to us! Essex County is the 2nd largest county in the state with much variety in growing conditions and Lake Champlain is an enviable spot to do it. Hence the media market focuses where farming is most successful.