The first-time Sandy Arnold toured the Pitney Farm with Bill Pitney in 2014, she knew she would have to do everything she could to preserve it and keep it in agriculture.
“I saw it as a place where we could not only teach and train a new generation of farmers, but also where the entire community could experience agriculture and see first-hand the remarkable attributes of farm life,” she says.
So she led the charge to make it happen. Through Arnold’s persistence, the conservation easement was put in place and the purchase of the farm was finalized in December. Pitney Meadows Community Farm, Inc. was established as a new nonprofit organization that Arnold today leads as president.
It’s been a long haul, but Arnold is still going strong, now enjoying the support of a high-powered board of directors, an experienced and well-connected advisory board, and more than 100 volunteers who are pitching in to make Pitney Meadows happen.
Arnold also can count on her husband Paul, her son Robert, and her daughter Kim. Together over the last 30 years they have built Pleasant Valley Farm in Argyle into a model operation for a small, profitable, sustainable farm in the Hudson Valley that grows organic produce year-round for local farmers’ markets. Now they’re bringing everything they’ve learned to Pitney Meadows’ 166 acres on Saratoga Springs’ booming west side.
Preserving the Farm
The open-space effort in Saratoga Springs started in the early 1980s with the Pitney Farm a major target for preservation. The effort to preserve the Pitney Farm started when Sandy and Paul teamed up with another highly-respected farmer named Michael Kilpatrick to help Bill Pitney and his two sisters, Kathy and Judith, achieve their goal of preserving the farm.
The Arnolds had known Kilpatrick since he was 15 and started what would turn out to be many years of mentoring and learning from each other. “Michael was so inquisitive and enthusiastic, we called him the ‘question box’,” she says.
Arnold says becoming a farmer never occurred to her until she met Paul in 1989. “I had always wanted to work outside and work for myself, so when I met Paul, it was the perfect fit.”
“My father grew up on a family farm in Maine, and I always loved his stories about skipping school with his friends to harvest local potatoes," she recalls. “I lived in many areas of the country as a child, and I always enjoyed tending our small vegetable gardens and my extensive flower gardens."
"I acquired my passion for flower gardens from my grandmother," she says. "I still have some of her perennials in my garden at our farm and I envision beautiful gardens everywhere at Pitney Meadows.”
The Hub of a Teaching Farm
Now that the City Council has unanimously approved the key zoning change for whichPitney Meadows applied with expert guidance from The LA Group, Pitney Meadows needs only the Planning Board's approval of its site plan before it can proceed with its plan to make the farm a home for agricultural education, year-round cultivation of produce, and activities for the whole community. That approval should come within the next month.
"How much we can accomplish in 2017 will depend on the amount of money we can raise and installation of all utilities, including water, sewer, electricity, and natural gas," says Arnold. Early goals include:
- renovation of the existing historic farmhouse;
- offering the community as many as 100 plots for individual gardens;
- building a large “high tunnel” structure that can grow crops and serve as an event and gathering space;
- building a children’s greenhouse with gardens, for which the Alfred Z. Solomon Charitable Trust already has contributed $25,000.
“We all want to honor the Pitney family by bringing the farm buildings back to life and raising healthy, organic vegetables for the community," says Arnold. "I see Pitney Meadows as the hub of a teaching farm where we can do research, run conferences, and train the next generation of farmers. It will be a unique gathering spot where the entire community can come together to experience and understand the importance and joys of sustainable agriculture.”
Dan Forbush with Mirabelle Cohen