Summer camps for elementary and high school kids. A CSA that partners with local restaurants. A farm-to-table-restaurant. A sustainable farm hub to which Saratogians commute to intensively farm leased plots.
These are a few of the main themes that are emerging as the Strategic Planning Committee continues its work, having visited a dozen farms throughout the Northeast, performed a "strategic visioning" exercise focused on Saratoga Springs in 2056, and heard the results of a semester-long study undertaken by five Skidmore College students participating in the Skidmore Saratoga Consulting Partnership.
Twelve members comprise the committee, which aims to complete its work well before the next planting season. The result, says chair Kim London, will be a business plan blueprint that defines Pitney Meadows' capacity -- systems, structure, staffing, governance, processes, and financial resources -- necessary to achieve goals and serve constituents.
"We're currently in the research and analysis phase of the process," she says. "We're defining the fundamental issues that are facing Pitney Meadows, exploring industry trends and issues, demographic projections, competition, current and projected staffing, and opportunities for growth and success. Next month, we'll advance to decision-making, making strategic business decisions based on the analysis."
Following are some of the main areas the committee has explored thus far.
IMPLICATIONS OF GLOBAL WARMING
Climate scientists nearly universally agree that planetary warming trends will continue as a result of increasing carbon emissions. Unless we can sharply reduce these emissions, average temperatures will soar by as much as seven to 12 degrees F over the next century. Should that happen, Saratoga Springs will have the same climate that North Carolina has today. By the turn of the century, our grandchildren and great-grandchildren will experience the same climate that South Carolina has today.
Spring will arrive two days earlier with each decade that passes. Short droughts can be expected every year by the end of the century, and long droughts could triple to every six or ten years, Extreme weather events -- such as hurricanes, tropical storms, and hail storms -- also will become more and more frequent.
What implications do these trends have for Pitney Meadows?
The crops we're growing in Upstate New York already differ from those we grew 20 years ago, said Sandy Arnold. "For example, sweet potatoes thrive today, whereas no one even tried to grow them in the 1990s." And some Northeastern farmers already are growing figs. Forty years from now, that probably will be common, said Michael Kilpatrick.
One thing's for sure, KIlpatrick said: "We're going to have a lot of high tunnels, both to extend the winter growing season and to protect crops from the ravages of extreme weather. You can control everything. You don't have to worry about the weather."
Considering the enormous impact that climate change is going to have globally on agricultural, Barbara Glaser raised these questions: "Do we have sufficient acreage to be able to adapt to climate change? And can we be a demonstration site that shows how farms will have to adapt to the changing climate?"
For committee chair Kim London, there are three key questions:
- How will climate change affect our farming practices?
- Can Pitney Meadows play a role -- through in research and education -- in helping farmers in our area adjust to changing climate and more resilient in a changing economy?
- As Saratoga Springs and our surrounding area become increasingly developed, how can we ensure that current and future generations maintain a close connection to food and nature?
HOW BIG WILL PITNEY MEADOWS BE?
How large an organization will Pitney Meadows ultimately be?
"That really depends on our programming," says Michael Kilpatrick. "If we develop a substantial farm school and a wide array of educational programs for kids and adults, a farm hub and processing center, a farm store that's open seven days a week, a large year-round meeting and event space, and a farm-to-table restaurant, we might ultimately employ hundreds."
Rather than farming the entire 100-acre main field ourselves, Kilpatrick sees part of it being farmed by students in our farm school and the rest by farmers who pay annual rents we keep low to ensure that their operations are economically viable. Rental fees paid by corporations for use of our large, year-round meeting space -- beautifully landscaped and offering vistas of our grounds -- may be among our major revenue sources.
"Farm education also will be an important source of revenue, but it won't be a huge money-maker unless we decide to become an accredited wing of, say, SUNY Adirondack," he says. "If we're accredited, we could start charging for credit hours. But if we just maintain a farm education school -- which is where our vision has mostly been -- then we won't bring in as much money as we otherwise might."
As for a farm-to-table restaurant, Kilpatrick thinks we have a great location but "I don't see us running it."
"I think it would be incredibly valuable to have a restaurant on the site, but that's not our main purpose. We would get rent, but I don't think this would be a massive income generator."
London agrees. "Six months of the year, our fields are beautiful to look out on. But they're not as beautiful in January. On the west side of the city, there aren't many competing restaurants and we're seeing a lot of new development. That's good. But we'll have seasonality, both in our event business and in the restaurant."
FARMERS AND FARMER TRAINING
While technology is rapidly changing agriculture, Kilpatrick is confident "farming will still happen and we'll still be growing in the soil" in 40 years. Moreover, "farmer training will still be incredibly important."
"By 2056, we'll probably have 3D holographic images in our living room, so it's likely that much of our training won't necessarily be done on the farm, but I think hands-on training will still be very important."
Despite rising demand for dairy products, the number of cows on Capital Region dairy farms declined by 17,500 between 2002 and 2012 and many smaller dairy farms went out of business. That trend is likely to continue and will open up small farmland, believes Barbara Glaser. "If that's the case, Pitney Meadows can be the place where young people can take up farming for three to five years and then, through cooperation with local land trusts, acquire these smaller properties to operate as their own farms.
"So here's what I'd like to see," she continued. "We have a series of fields that demonstrate alternative approaches to agriculture. On one three-to-five acre parcel, we have a permaculture demonstration. On another we demonstrate hydroponics. On another we have aquaponics. Let's have as many as eight different models of agriculture where young people can come in, learn about it, experiment, and compare the production of crops by each method. Let people choose the model they want, and let them lease up to five acres with the idea that they can later sign a long-term lease or, working with our regional land trusts, get a piece of land of their own."
Such an initiative would be something like a six-month apprentice program offered by the University of California Santa Cruz which teaches three approaches to farming, noted London.
"I think you're on to something," said Kilpatrick. "What I keep hearing is that we have all of these different models out there, but no one is showing the real numbers behind them. The problem is that -- if you have eight different models -- you'll probably need to have eight people managing them. It really makes sense to have one person devoted to one model, so that they can really devote their effort to that. This would take a lot of fundraising, but no one's really doing it. This could be where our distinctive advantage comes in."
"I'm torn between modeling alternative agriculture and being a place where people can still connect with the land," Glaser said. "Open space in Saratoga County is disappearing at a rapid rate. I think organizations like Saratoga PLAN with its trails and Pitney Meadows with the farm are going to be incredibly important if we maintain our connection with peoples' experience of place. Forty years from now, people are going to be longing more than ever to have some connection with the earth and with each other."
THE IMPORTANCE OF A CSA
Most of the dozen or so community farms visited by members of the Strategic Planning Committee offer their communities CSAs. "I like the whole idea of the CSA," said Jim Gold. "It's not something that's going to go away."
Barbara Glaser said she'd like to see a CSA that partners with local restaurants. "If someone wants their own herbs, for example, they'll be able to get them."
Susan Knapp reminded the group that we need to stay focused on activities that are going to bring people -- "lots of people" -- to the farm. "It's the 'you-pick' things -- such as berries, herbs, cherry tomatoes, beans and things you can't easily find locally that are going to make Pitney Meadows a destination."
This is a big category that in our first year included such events as our Fire Feast on the Farm, Pitney Meadows Art Exhibit, Founding Patrons Celebration, and Family Fun Day. What's this list likely to look like in 2056? All agreed we should strive to complement, not compete with, whatever summer lineup the Saratoga Performing Arts Center comes up with, joining the city's larger "ecology" of summer entertainment.
"Since we're right next to SPAC, that could be a big bonus for those who might want to host a dinner on the farm prior to a SPAC event," said Michael Kilpatrick. With parking at such a premium downtown during the summer, the easy availability of parking offered on the farm would be a big plus.
Others suggested we might build a bandshell or ampitheater to host a weekly concert series similar to what Burlington-based Intervale Farm offers in its Summervale series. Or, taking a page from Millsaps Farm in Springfield, Missouri, how about we launch the Pitney Meadows Thursday Night Pizza Club?