Farm to Market: An interview with Deb Kavakos

Deb KavakosDeb KavakosThis year's Farm to Market Conference, a get-together sponsored by Pure Catskills and being held this Sunday in Liberty, is an annual conclave of growers, distributors, marketers, and buyers from all points in the food chain. We attended last year and were amazed with how many fruitful conversations we had about food and farms in the Catskills.

The biggest thing we learned? That there is an almost insatiable appetite for local food in New York City, and that Catskills farms have barely begun to fill it. As we wrote last year in our article about the conference: Farmers are wanted.

We can’t make it to the conference this year. (We’ll be in Washington, DC attending a conference sponsored by the International Women's Media Foundation, which has given the Watershed Post a $20,000 grant.)

So instead, we’ve interviewed several of the experts who will be presenting in Liberty about their thoughts on local food issues. We'll be posting excerpts of those interviews this week, starting today with our chat with Deb Kavakos of Stoneledge Farm, a 200-acre family farm in South Cairo, in Greene County. Stoneledge is one of the pioneers of the community supported agriculture movement, having sustained its operations with CSA shares and groups since 1996.

Watershed Post: What is your biggest challenge as a grower who makes a living in the Catskills region?

Deb Kavakos: Like every grower, the unpredictable weather is the biggest challenge. Being a CSA farm, we need to produce a variety of products for 1,400 member families every week for 24 weeks. It is not really a struggle, but part of our planning.

WP: What, if anything, do you need from other participants in the food supply chain? What can buyers, marketers, and consumers do to help you?

DK: We serve 18 different CSA groups from Greene County through Westchester County into Connecticut, with most of our membership in NYC. Our base of consumer support is very strong. Our farm has been delivering CSA shares for 16 years now and we have had to work very hard to meet the demands of being a CSA farm. This year we are going to offer more products from the region to our CSA members and that is where we could work with other suppliers.

WP: What is your advice to farmers and farmer-wannabes who want to make a living in the Catskills?

DK: That seems to be two different groups of experience and skills. Established farmers know what they can grow successfully and if they are willing to extend into the metropolitan area they may find that the added stresses in distribution will greatly increase their business. That is a very individual decision. New farmers need to get as much experience as possible and then need to work diligently.