If you need a reminder that everyday life is still connected to the crops that we grow in American soil, visit the operation at Saunderskill Farms in the Ulster County town of Accord. Saunderskill—named for the tributary of the Rondout Creek that flows through the 300-acre property—has been operating in very much the same way it did in 1663, when Lieutenant Hendrick J. Schoonmaker was first granted the land by Peter Stuyvesant as payment for military service. It has been farmed steadily since 1680.
Every successive generation of Schoonmakers—twelve, to be exact—has been involved in the upkeep of this farm and its farmstand market, maintaining a business as American as apple pie and a sturdy work ethic. It is the second-oldest operating farm in the state.
Changes have been made to the daily operations. While the dairy has been phased out, fruit trees and strawberries have been added. Several greenhouses supply annuals and perennials.
“Whereas our grandparents sold to local bungalow colonies and hotels,” said Cathy Schoonmaker, “we have established a clientele of roadside markets which we deliver to daily during the season.” The popular retail farm market, established only 15 years ago, and overflowing with fresh produce, prepared foods, regional dairy products, fresh-baked breads, rolls, scones, cookies, muffins and cakes, has transformed Saunderskill Farms into a required roadside stop for locals and tourists traveling along Route 209.
“The farm market has opened up jobs for more of our family members and has brought us closer to our customers,” Schoonmaker said.
For those who insist on the virtues of locally purchased foods—both nutritional and ecological—Saunderskill offers a variety of fresh produce from June through late September. Some choices: strawberries, greenhouse tomatoes, peas, sugar snap peas, squash, sweet corn, beans, potatoes, tomatoes, cucumbers, watermelons, melons, peaches, nectarines, plums, raspberries and September apples.
Despite the abundance, there is something familiar and low-key about daily business at Saunderskill. That, Schoonmaker said, is intentional.
“We never wanted to be different than other farm stands. We have always worked hard to provide a quality product to sell in a quality atmosphere. We take pride in our product and enjoy sharing it with our customers.”
While the switch from wholesale to retail for the Schoonmaker family was initially challenging, it has been rewarding to interact one-on-one with neighbors and visitors to the area.
“We began to see repeat customers who were excited about our crops and interested in what we were doing,” Schoonmaker said. “Our greatest asset is our customers.” Upgrading the business to include a Facebook page has brought Saunderskill to an even wider customer base of people interested in quality-made on-premises products and freshly picked fruits and vegetables.
“We are continually communicating with our customers to get a feel for what they are looking for in a farm stand.”
When it comes to a business philosophy, the Schoonmakers reflect their Colonial forbearers in declaring that they are committed to “honesty, integrity and hard work.”
In these challenging times, there is still room for growth for the operation. Saunderskill Farms holds seasonal events to bring in new customers. This past April, they held a day-long demonstration of draft horses plowing the ground for spring planting. The event was complemented by hayrides for the children, a butter-making workshop, and live music and dancing. In 2013, the Schoonmakers will expand the farm stand footprint to accommodate a wider inventory and to relieve some shopping aisle congestion.
While sprawling supermarkets pose a threat to this humble operation, Cathy Schoonmaker stresses that her family focuses on playing to their unique heritage and strengths.
“The best thing you can do for your business is to take care of your customers. Give them the best shopping experience possible, something the big box stores cannot do.”
Saunderskill Farms Market and Greenhouse
5100 Route 209, Accord, NY
845-626-2676 | saunderskill.com