For over a decade, Tello's Green Farms has been a well-known producer on the Catskills local food scene, and a beloved vendor at the New York City Greenmarket. Customers rave about Tello's eggs; restaurant chefs wax rhapsodic about their marigold-orange yolks.
The egg farm, started by Colombian native Nestor Tello in 2000, is home to several thousand chickens who forage on pasture in large open-air coops. Tello farms in Coxsackie and Red Hook. Last September, a writer from the food blog Nona Brooklyn visiting Tello's Coxsackie farm found his chickens happily pecking at grass and scratching for bugs -- an experience most commercial egg-laying hens never get.
But when state police showed up at Tello's farm on Route 9W in Coxsackie on March 9, they found a very different scene: A farm littered with dead and starving chickens.
The 52-year-old Tello was arrested and charged with failure to provide proper sustenance, a Class A misdemeanor under New York state agricultural law.
The issue was reported by a concerned person who noticed dead chickens on the property and alerted the police, according to Trooper Michael O'Connell of the New York State Police.
"There was a large quantity of chickens deceased," O'Connell said. "We had an outside organization that was able to provide food that day to the remaining chickens and make sure they were taken care of."
Since the arrest, O'Connell said, Tello has cleaned up the situation on the farm and is feeding his animals.
Reached by phone on Tuesday, March 18, Tello declined to discuss the issue.
Before emigrating to the U.S. in the early 1990s, Tello studied as a veterinarian. When they started their farm over a decade ago, Tello and his wife, Alejandra Tello, were the first farmers to participate in the Greenmarket's New Farmer Development Project, a program that helps recent immigrants with farming experience to start their own farms in the New York City foodshed region. The program helped the Tellos recover from a devastating loss in 2002, when their coop collapsed under the weight of heavy snow.
Tello's Green Farms is a current member of the Greenmarket, and sells at several locations around New York City.
When asked about the arrest, Greenmarket director Michael Hurwitz declined to comment on Tello's specific situation, but said that in order to be eligible to sell at the Greenmarket, farmers must comply with all state, federal and local law.
"It is our practice not to talk about individual farmers to the public," Hurwitz said. "Once we're notified that there's a potential issue, we have to inspect the issue and make a determination ourselves prior to the court case."
This year's long, harsh winter has been especially hard on farmers in New York State and across the nation. Last month, in a particularly gruesome case, 22 dairy cows were found dead in a Minnesota barn, and their owners with no food in the house and in desperate need of help themselves.