Meeting The Demand For Edibles: High Meadows Farm
Although Howard Prussack, owner of High Meadows Farm in Putney, Vt., has been growing vegetables on his 65-acre farm since 1974, the use of protected structures to finish crops has been a relatively recent addition. His operation was the first certified organic farm in Vermont and is currently USDA GAP-certified (Good Agricultural Practices) and USDA-organic certified.
About 20 percent of his company’s sales come from 7 acres of organic field-grown vegetables. Finished produce is sold to Hannaford Supermarkets, food co-ops, local schools and hospitals.
Prussack says 80 percent of his production is vegetable and herb transplants in trays and 4-inch pots. The plants are sold to garden centers, Gardener’s Supply stores, co-ops, natural food stores and Whole Foods Market stores in five New England states. Prussack is also custom growing for other farmers, which he says is a quickly expanding market.
“We grow certified organic, which has helped us,” Prussack says. “We have had double-digit growth for the last 14 years. The worst year was at the height of the recession in 2008 when we had 9 percent growth.”
Prussack started growing raspberries in greenhouses in 2007 after winning $10,000 in a business competition for developing a non-traditional agricultural business plan.
“I purchased a couple of Harnois greenhouses to grow raspberries,” Prussack says. “Raspberries are a good crop because we don’t have to replant them every year. We just have to renovate the in-ground beds.”
Prussack produces fall raspberries, which when grown outdoors normally have a harvest season that starts in August.
“We start picking ours in July, at least a month earlier than field-grown crops,” Prussack says. “The quality of the greenhouse raspberries is much better, and the shelf life is better. We don’t have mold issues because the fruit is not getting rained on. We usually pick berries until the end of October. The outdoor raspberry crops are usually finished after a killing frost. We usually get a month to six weeks longer harvesting time than the traditional outdoor picking season.”
Adding Finished Tomatoes
The year after starting the raspberries, Prussack received a Natural Resources Conservation Service grant, which he used to purchase a 2,800-square-foot high tunnel to grow tomatoes.
“Tomatoes fit in with our marketing,” Prussack says. “We sell them at the farmers’ market in Brattleboro, Vt., which we have been doing since 1974. We also have our own stand here on the farm.
Tomatoes are a high value crop, and they are hard to beat in regards to greenhouse space, in terms of return per square foot, Prussack says. He has also tried some other finished vegetables with varying success. The yields on the tomatoes have increased every year since he started producing them.
“We started using our own grafted tomatoes two years ago,” Prussack says. “This has lead to a nice side business for us.”
The business sells a couple thousand grafted tomatoes to other growers. Those are used primarily by greenhouse growers. It also produces some grafted tomatoes for consumer gardeners with SuperNatural rootstock, which is more of an outdoor garden-type rootstock than greenhouse tomato rootstock, says Prussack.
Prussack plants the greenhouse tomatoes in March and begins to harvest by the end of June.
“We are a little late in harvesting compared to more traditional greenhouse tomato growers,” he says. “Traditional greenhouse tomato growers put more effort into planting them earlier than we do. But we are ahead of field-produced and garden-grown tomatoes by quite a bit. And that is what drives our local markets.”
High Meadows’ goal is to beat the local gardeners. According to Prussack, hardly anyone grows field tomatoes in northern New England anymore because of the weather and disease issues. They are competing against gardeners and other greenhouse tomato growers.
Phasing Out Flowers
While vegetables and herbs make up the bulk of High Meadows’ business, some flowering plants are produced.
The business does 300 to 400 flowering hanging baskets, but it used to do about 2,000 baskets.
“We have been slowly phasing the baskets out of our product mix because they just bring in more problems,” Prussack says.
Because the business is a certified organic farm, it can’t use any of the traditional chemical pesticides.
“We have effective program of biocontrols,” Prussack says. “The addition of flowers does not make it easy. This year we confined the flowers to one greenhouse, and we sold out of them the earliest we ever have before.”