Samascott Orchards is one of the Greenmarket ‘originals’, selling at the NYC Greenmarkets since its opening in 1978. A working farm since the early 1900s, Samascott Orchards demonstrates an understanding of its customers and an ability to change with the times, while maintaining a seasonal connection to the land. Today, the orchards are a third generation family-run farm, with the entire Samascott family working together.
Last week, I had a chance to talk with Jake Samascott, head owner Gary Samascott’s son, while we were both huddled near a heater at the Union Square Market.
Jake’s grandfather helped turn Samascott Orchards into what it is today. The land was originally used for both a dairy farm and orchards, before Jake’s grandfather decided to focus solely on the orchards. In forty years, the orchards have gone from selling five varieties of apples to over sixty!
Apples are Samascott’s biggest crop, taking up 100 acres of the 1,000 acre farm. But there’s no need to feel too overwhelmed: all 60 varieties never make an appearance at the market at once. Instead, the Samascotts rotate varieties in and out depending on the time of year. The varieties that you’ve seen during these chilly winter months will be here throughout the rest of winter. These apples were harvested in the late Fall and are put in cold storage throughout the winter to preserve their freshness.
Samascott Orchards “does a little bit of everything… blueberries, sweet and sour cherries, strawberries, lots of vegetables [like] tomatoes, peppers, sweet corn”. The first new produce of 2010 will be May’s asparagus. Besides apples, there are many other fruits and vegetables to choose from including potatoes, pears, and butternut squash. For a complete list of what Samascott sells, check out their website and What is Fresh’s list.
Samascott has diversified from a relatively small orchard when it first began to a large multi-crop producing farm, with plans to continue to diversify (beef and eggs could be future additions to their market stand!) While Jake didn’t use the word ‘biodynamic’ to describe the farm and orchards, the orchard clearly recognizes the relationship between soil, plants, and animals. They use animals for fertilizer and they try to limit spraying their crops as much as they can. “A lot of the vegetables we can get away with not spraying too much; we try to keep things as natural as possible.”
No farm is immune to the unpredictability of nature. Jake told me that in the past few years, “there have been some pretty bad hail storms where all the apple trees got cut and sliced and then the apples weren’t very ‘marketable’”. When asked how the orchard handled the situation, he explained that they picked through the crop and focused on reassuring the customers that the taste was the same. “The benefit of being at a market is that you can explain to [customers] why an apple looks the way it does. Once they taste them, we sell them.”
Q: Can you offer advice on how to select an apple (or any product with multiple options), if a customer is overwhelmed by the selection?
Jake Samascott: “[It] depends on what the customer is looking for; a lot of people will spend a lot of time reading all of the descriptions. They’ll ask what’s good for baking. Some people want a soft apple; some people want a sweet apple.… A lot of people aren’t aware that there are this many red apples. A lot of people try different varieties each week.”
Q: With the increasing focus on single crop mega-farms and government subsidies, what is the future of family farms?
J.S.: “We do a lot of pick your own and get a lot of local people coming in to pick. The best way to sustain the farm is catering to the local community and [being at] the market. For sustainable agriculture it’s really hard to grow just one crop—you’ve really got to diversify and have some animals and manure and keep everything in a system…cows, goats, chickens.”
Q: What is the best part about selling at farmers’ markets?
J.S.: “Seeing all the people; it’s good to talk to them. People like to know where their food is coming from: I can explain it better and show them what it is and where it came from.”
Q: It’s been said that you can tell a lot about a person by looking in their fridge and on their bookshelf. So, what’s in your fridge and what’s on your bookshelf?
J.S.: “Not much…I’m not home very often! I’m in New York City a couple days a week. [I’m reading] ‘Food Inc’; I’m almost done w/the book and will have to check out the movie: it’s interesting to see what other people are learning about.”
Farm Address: 5 Sunset Avenue Kinderhook, NY 12106