Sunday morning, in the parking lot of a quaint, unassuming town, is a market vendor’s hang-out under shade tents, talking to customers and neighbours, selling bread, vegetables, flowers and even some really good cider donuts. Everyone here is on friendly terms, sharing stories and recipes. On one side of this market, between the fruit vendor and the falafel stand, there is a simple table. Atop the table, inside plastic bins with ice, are bags of perfection. Adorned with the beautiful blue logo of a bird in flight, these bags contain fresh, flavour-packed organic lettuce and salad mixes. This is the table of Sky Farm, and standing behind it? Chris Regan, the man responsible for the best arugula you’ve ever eaten.
In 1998, Chris Regan, who studied to be an artist, was inspired by friends in the Berkshires to grow artisanal salads, so he started his farm in the fertile Hudson Valley near Millerton, NY and taught himself to grow lettuce. Chris grows his greens organically, but like many small farmers these days he is not certified. He considers it a lengthy, expensive process that can be demanding on smaller producers. In the growing world of local eating he thinks the ability to develop relationships and a loyal following from your customers can be just as valuable.
The level of quality to be found in Regan’s greens is due to his meticulous care and organic methods. While trial and error played a large part of the process in the beginning he has developed a combination of rotating fields, weed management, cover cropping and shade cloths to produce an exceptionally full-flavoured end product. Many of the varieties wouldn’t be considered salads but he includes them in his mixes as a way of incorporating interesting flavours, textures, and colours. One can find anything from herbs and edible flowers, to the more trendy micro-greens. On eleven acres, Chris harvests about eight hundred pounds of delectable leaves in the height of the season.
What is really worth noting about Chris and Sky Farm, is that he doesn’t own his land but leases it. In this time of rising property values, purchasing land is not always a feasible option for new agriculturalists. As land owners and farmers grow older and are less able to work their land, leasing is a smart and viable option to get new farmers into the dirt, and to prevent productive land from falling into disuse. It is an option that benefits all parties, landowners can receive tax exemptions and rental fees and new farmers get an opportunity they might not otherwise be able to afford, all while keeping farmland fertile.
Something else that sets Chris apart from other small growers is that he markets almost exclusively to restaurants and chefs. His salad mixes are featured on a number of menus at fine establishments all around the Hudson Valley.
Sky Farm and Chris are excellent examples of how the local food movement can be both easy and profitable.
Sign up to our Newsletter
Stay up to date with the latest SFT views and news