by Marie Doyon
During the last major ice age, massive sprawling glaciers covered the entire Northern Hemisphere, dragging and depositing soil, silt, and other organic matter as they advanced and retreated. Many of the familiar mountains and valleys of upstate New York were sculpted during this period by the ebb-and-flow movement of these frozen giants.
The Rondout Valley is one such topographical feature. The valley is a corridor that extends from Kingston to Ellenville, from the Shawangunks to the Catskills. Early inhabitants in the area were not oblivious to the productive earth of the valley; they cultivated it long before Henry Hudson sailed through on the Half Moon on the river that would eventually bear his name.
The fertile soil in the Rondout Valley is 10 to 15 feet deep in many places, and even 20 feet in some areas. It’s enough to make us mountaintop gardeners green with envy.
This explains why the region has long been an agricultural hub, dubbed in former days as the breadbasket of New York City. For many generations, families like the Davenports, Schoonmakers, and Barthels have raked and hoed and planted and harvested the land of the Rondout Valley. Their collective territories were once several thousand acres.
But as time went on, these families watched farmland turned over for roads and state infrastructure, housing developments, and commercial properties. In 2003, Bruce Davenport co-founded the Rondout Valley Growers Association (RVGA) in hopes of reversing this trend, developing ways to keep farms profitable, and bringing positive energy to these challenges.
Today, RVGA is a vibrant nonprofit community organization comprised of local farmers, residents, and businesses that are committed to strengthening the region’s family farms and preserving agricultural open space for future generations. The organization supports resiliency and encourages innovation on local farms by creating community among growers and facilitating agricultural education for growers and the community. They promote increased access to fresh locally grown food for children, families, and underserved populations through partnerships with schools, soup kitchens, and food pantries.
|New RVGA president Nick Cipollone (left) with
past-president Bruce Davenport (right).
Now after 10 years of serving as the president of RVGA, Bruce is passing on the baton, welcoming Nick Cipollone of Barthel’s Farm in Ellenville as its new president.
“Bruce Davenport as the founding president of RVGA nurtured this organization from a seed to a strong vibrant voice for agriculture in our region,” say long-time RVGA members Nadia and Oleh Maczaj of Rusty Plough Farm and Rondout Valley Organics. “Nick Cipollone as RVGA’s new president has an excellent base from which to keep the momentum going and thereby guide RVGA to the next level, throughout the Valley. We are excited and look forward to working with him.”
In the view of Slow Roots Farm owner and RVGA Board Member Jacob Diaz, “Nick Cipollone’s stepping in as the new president of RVGA is an exciting transition. Nick brings a tremendous passion for learning, growing, listening and connecting with the people of this community. Bruce Davenport has been a faithful, strong leader for over ten years. Under Nick’s guidance, the health of the Rondout Valley’s farms and community will remain the top priority of RVGA into this next decade.”
“I was very humbled when Bruce nominated me to follow as president,” says Nick. “He is an important figure in local agriculture and I feel I have big shoes to fill. With his guidance I look forward to continuing the work he began in supporting, sustaining, and advocating for local agriculture and open space.”
Nick is aware of the tenuous state of the agricultural industry in the country and specifically in our region. He said, “If I was a young kid interested in a farming career, without family that had been in the industry for two to three generations—well, I don’t know how anybody does it. There is no easy in. You need tractors, land, knowledge. People see the stretches of open land and they think it is so beautiful. But it takes long days, hard work, and a lot of money.”
So how can the RVGA help this situation? Nick explained that the RVGA is predominantly an inward-looking organization. The board and the members help connect the other members with the information and people that they need to grow.
Of his hopes for the future, Nick said that he would like to see more interaction between RVGA and the public: educational seminars; increased partnerships with local restaurants, schools, and food pantries; and pairing landowners with farmers who would like to lease property. And he would like to find a way for RVGA to support new and expanding farmers in the grant application process.
When asked whether Nick saw RVGA affiliating itself with a particular agricultural school in the future (e.g., organic, conventional, biodynamic, etc.), he firmly said that he did not see this happening. “We have members who do all of those things. We, as an organization, don’t favor any one of them. We are pro local farming.”
With regard to the Hudson Valley FarmHub, Nick acknowledged that it is a big project. He said, “Any time someone buys up the largest piece of farmland left in the region, it’s going to make a splash, whether it’s good or for bad. But I think it’s good.”
He explained that RVGA has been meeting with FarmHub representatives continuously throughout the process. He said happily that the FarmHub, which is the newest member of the RVGA, has been “willing to take our comments and concerns into their process.”
Bruce Davenport will continue to serve on the RVGA board of directors, providing continuity and guidance at a critical time in the local agricultural environment. Deborah DeWan, the RVGA executive director, says, “We are all immensely grateful for Bruce’s dedication in creating and leading RVGA these ten years.”
Bruce said, “Nick’s father and my father were both large-scale sweet corn growers and friends, at a time when sweet corn fields, and dairy farms, dominated the landscape. Both of our businesses have changed drastically since then but I still feel the same connection with Nick that our fathers had. I’m pleased that he’s agreed to take over where I’ve left off.”
If you’ve stopped in Barthel’s on your way down 209, you’ve probably seen Nick rearranging the colorful rows of fresh produce or pruning the flowers in their wide array of garden plants. With a tremendous work ethic, a quiet, solid presence, and just a glimmer of mischief in his eye, it’s easy to believe that Nick will make an excellent leader for the next decade of the RVGA. Let’s raise our forks to Bruce and Nick.