The first hard frost in late October/ November generally marks the end of the growing season for most fruit and vegetable farmers in the Rondout Valley. But for this month’s Featured Farmer, chilly Autumn is when growing activities kick into high gear!
Meet Kathy Puffer, owner of Hudson Valley Vertical Farms (HVVF), which uses an innovative greenhouse and aeroponic techniques to provide fresh and nutritious greens to their CSA members from November through April.
Where is HVVF located and how long has it been operating?
We are located in Tillson, and this is our third season offering shares to CSA members.
IS HVVF your first experience as a grower, or do you have a farming background?
A little bit of both – my father was a dairy farmer, and a good portion of the rest of my family was involved in farming too, particularly beans (legend has it that my grandmother was born in a bean field!) I grew up on a street full of small farms, taking care of our neighbor’s horses.
My educational background is in Special Ed and Speech Language Pathology. Originally from South Florida, I moved up to the Hudson Valley in 2002 to complete my degree, but I ended up making this area my home after meeting my husband and starting our family. However after several years living and working here, something still felt incomplete, and I realized that I missed the farming aspect of my earlier years.
How and why did you get into aeroponic (soil-free) farming?
Our property is on only two acres of land including the house, so our growing area is restricted. For several years I’d been working with my friend Janice Kelsey on small scale vertical aeroponic installations, but meeting with Sam Stoltzfus (co-founder of Aero Development Corp.) is what really gave me the idea that I could grow food in a very limited space during the winter season – when I have to be at home anyways because of my teaching duties -, thanks to a custom-built greenhouse.
Has there been anything in your farming experience with HVVF that has startled or surprised you?
What surprised me the most occurred during a course I took with Holistic Management International, along with a diverse group of women farmers. Initially I wondered how I would fit in or what I would get out of the program, but in fact I learned really important skills , like how to make decisions about my farming, pest management and budget – as well as how to make those decisions from a family-centered perspective. I learned how to make my business what I want it to be, instead of what IT wants me to be!
Any updates about what you’re planning on this upcoming growing season?
I’m looking forward to contacting some local chefs and setting up a cooking class, sometime in the doldrums of winter (Jan/Feb/March), so people can learn how to cook some of the wonderful hearty greens that we offer.
Another project we’re working on with Sam Stoltzfus is a limited-edition aeroponic growing unit that can fit on a kitchen table, to help people get started on growing food indoors.
For more information on Hudson Valley Vertical Farms or to buy a share in their winter CSA, visit their website.