By Tina Wright
Cayuga Pure Organics, local growers of organic grains and dried beans, suffered a total loss of their "beanery" in late May to an accidental fire. In 2006, they built the small mill to clean and process grains and beans at the home farm on Banks Road, where owner-operator Erick Smith and his wife Deborah Halpern also run a bed and breakfast.
GreenStar, a loyal customer for Cayuga Pure Organics (CPO) right from the start, is encouraging all community members to contribute to the farm's online fund-raising campaign with Indiegogo (online at http://igg.me/at/cpo/csfb) and to attend a benefit for CPO at The Space @ GreenStar on Saturday, July 13.
The fire loss is devastating to the small operation that was a pioneer in our area in taking local organic foods beyond the vegetable-fruit niche to include dried edible beans and grains. So Cayuga Pure Organics is asking all its many fans, customers, and the local organic food movement for financial help. They've reached out to their big fan base at the New York City Greenmarkets; they've placed donation boxes at area businesses that support them, like the P&C Fresh supermarket in the East Hill Plaza; and they're counting on the GreenStar community to help raise money.
The GreenStar-CPO connection goes back a decade. In 2003, then-CPO partner Dan Lathwell was a GreenStar employee who had an interesting conversation one day with GreenStar's bulk manager Joe Damiano.
Damiano said, "Our relationship with CPO started in the receiving room on a late winter day as I was unloading a truck that was bringing us grains and beans from many different places. I turned to fellow GreenStar employee Dan Lathwell, who unbeknownst to me was a farmer, and at the time a business partner with CPO, and said something along the lines of: 'I wish we could source some organic beans locally. It drives me crazy to bring all of these beans in from who knows where.'"
The bulk manager continued his story, "Dan lit up like a light bulb switched on, and said: 'I think we can do that for you.' Later in the day we had a very productive meeting, talking about prices we could offer per pound, and what kind of sales movement we could expect. Within a couple of months they were planting fields with many varieties of organic beans to be sold here , at GreenStar, and elsewhere."
GreenStar carries CPO's pinto, Red Merlot, navy, kidney, heirloom Jacob's Cattle, and heirloom cranberry beans. Also available are their live oats, freekeh, and hard red winter wheat; when in stock, seasonally, our co-op carries their farro, rye, barley, sunflower seeds, popcorn, spring wheat, soft wheat, and spelt.
Back at the farm, Erick Smith is now turning more and more of the farm business and work over to the younger generation. CPO staff includes Anne Riordan, field manager; Amy Martin, markets manager; Harlan Micek, chief mechanic; Steven Sharp, miller; and Dara Gray, shipping and packaging.
Smith maintains, "The farm employees are the future of CPO and are determined to continue this work. I consider it my job to support them in every way I can to make this happen. All the employees here are very dedicated to our local organic mission and to playing a role in the movement to create a sustainable food system."
Why is this fundraising appeal so crucial for CPO? Smith replies, "Briefly, the farm's survival depends on being able to raise enough money to rebuild. Most of our insurance money will be required to keep everything going while we rebuild, as we were underinsured. We will be able to harvest all our crops and store them, but will not be able to clean and package them for sale until we rebuild — so the major problem is that our income will gradually decrease as we run out of inventoried products."
On 320 acres of mostly leased farmland in the Brooktondale area, the farm has a rotation of grains, beans, clover, and corn. What is the biggest change since CPO started? Smith said, "The biggest change is growing rye for distilleries. This is huge. There wasn't even a market in New York State before now." Cayuga Pure Organics is selling rye to Finger Lakes Distilling in Burdett and Smith spoke with enthusiasm about the "mushrooming" of small beer brewers and distilleries that are revitalizing small organic grain and hops production in upstate New York.
Joe Romano, GreenStar's marketing manager, said, "Until CPO came along, we had not been able to source many beans, grains, and flours locally. Now that they're in need, GreenStar Community Projects and GreenStar in conjunction with other community partners will be hosting a benefit concert at The Space @ GreenStar on Saturday, July 13." Stop by between 5 and 9 pm to enjoy music by the Rockwood Ferry Trio (Tenzin Chopak, Eric Aceto, and Ethan Jodziewicz), The Good Hope, the Newman Brothers, Bronwen Exter, and Sundown Sally Trio for a cover charge of $10 suggested donation. Cookout fare by GreenStar and beer and other beverages will be offered for sale. Check GreenStar's website for more details as they are confirmed.
There is a bright future ahead if Cayuga Pure Organics can build a new, more efficient mill for beans and grains. We can all be a part of it. Jump in and help!
For more information on CPO, and to follow the story of the farm's recovery, visit their website, www.cporganics.com.