Organic farmers in NY 23 focus of new documentary

Staff reports
The Chronicle Express

PENN YAN — The Tracy Mitrano campaign for Congress debuted a documentary Friday night that captures the challenges climate change has posed for organic farmers. It will be shown at events across the district.

The Martens farm on Ridge Road in the town of Torrey is part of a new documentary on climate change and organic farming.

In the 23-minute documentary, organic farmers discuss the unpredictability of the weather, including water runoff and soil erosion, and how they are adapting to the changes: diversifying crops, covering soil, rotating land use and cultivating less of their land. 

Tracy Mitrano

The filmmaker, Shira Evergreen, is an award-winning documentary producer, graphic designer, writer and musician who uses solar energy to power projects in her Ithaca home.  

The documentary covers four farming operations. 

• Autumn Stoscheck runs Eve’s Cidery, a certified organic farm in Van Etten, NY. She cultivates just 12 of her 75 acres, but is able to distribute craft cider to eight states and Scotland. In the film Stoscheck talks about how extreme weather hurts her orchard. Months of nearly non-stop rain leaves the trees soggy and stressed. Early warm-ups cause the trees to bloom too early, leaving blossoms vulnerable to frost. 

• Thor Oechsner of Oeschner Farms in Newfield, N.Y. is also part owner of Wide Awake Bakery and Farmer Ground Flour. His diversified grain operation comprises 1,200 acres of organic field crops, growing corn, soybeans, wheat, rye, hay and other crops. He sacrifices lucrative crops so they can be used as organic matter to enhance the soil. 

• Anne Derousie and Karel Titus own Adventureland Farm in Lodi, NY, an all-grass cattle operation with fencing technology that helps them rotate grazing areas throughout the pasture. “We raise beef cattle, but it’s really a grass farm,” they say. They also say they haven’t had a normal season in the last four years. One storm dumped nine inches of rain in two hours, which quickly ran off the soil and into the lake. Still, they were proud and relieved that the runoff from their farm was free of the fertilizers that can contribute to algae blooms. 

Local farmer Klaas Martens of Lakeview Organic Grain will feature in the documentary.

• Klaas Martens of Lakeview Organic Grain in Penn Yan, says the organic label is a “tremendous marketing tool… When we started selling organically, we suddenly had a market for almost anything we wanted to grow.” He’s seen the first frost moving from August in some valleys to mid-November in some years. He too has lost fruit when trees are tricked into blooming in March and freak frosts wipe out much of the crop. “The extremes are going in all directions. It’s the unpredictability that’s really hardest on the farmers,” he said.

“The extraordinary beauty of this district disguises the terrible economic reality that so many of our farmers face,” said Mitrano. “We must address their needs, whether it be in terms of extreme weather planning or mitigating against uncontrollable market forces, such as the strength of the dollar or the price of milk on the global market, to revive the vitality of our small farms. This film reveals both the challenge and the opportunities in agriculture. I am pleased that our campaign has produced it for the people of the 23rd district.”