Sue Decker is the farmer at Blue Star Farm in Stuyvesant and Kinderhook, NY. We started buying vegetables from Sue before we had our farm, while we were weekenders when we shopped at Hudson farmers’ market. We now buy many of our vegetables from Sue throughout the year for the farm kitchen. The vegetables Sue and her team grow are really delicious and we’re constantly amazed and grateful about how beautifully presented they are. We asked Sue to explain a little about her vegetable growing operation as a part of our series on people who help us do what we do here at Little Ghent Farm.
When did you set up Blue Star Farm and what’s behind the name?
We set up Blue Star Farm in 2009 and my husband and his son actually came up with name. We wanted something that was good graphically to work with and that stood for high quality and that name fit the bill.
What size is Blue Star Farm and how many people are on the team?
Our size varies according to the season, in high season we are a team of five full time people and usually 3 part time workers. In the winter it slows down to 3 part time workers, including myself.
Why do you farm and what made you want to be a vegetable farmer? What did you do before?
I farm because I love it, I love growing things, I love watching the season and being outside and the challenge of doing everything from plumbing to doctoring chickens to stewarding the land. I have done many things before farming, amongst them, owning a design business, Thoroughbred exercise rider on East Coast race tracks, and managing video and print production in New York City.
How would you summarize your approach?
Very planned and calculated but also by the “seat of my pants”.
What does a typical summer ‘high’ season day look like?
Feed the dog, cat and chickens at 5:00 am, water greenhouses, greet staff at 8:00am, harvest for wholesale accounts or market in the AM, lunch, water greenhouses again, check on high tunnels, prep fields, weed, seed and continue with priorities on the to do list for the week. Staff leaves at 5:00pm and I take a break and if daylight allows continue tractor work or field management.
What type of customers do you supply? – please name some examples if possible
We supply local restaurants including Bonfiglio, Food Studio, Fish & Game, Farmer & Sons in Hudson and Roux in Albany. Ben Gable and Prepared in Chatham. We also supply specialty food stores, farms and coops which include Made in Ghent, Chatham Coop, Hawthorn Valley Farm Store, and Talbott & Arding. Two of our larger clients are Kripalu Yoga Center and The Omega Institute. We also sell directly to customers at The Hudson Farmers Market and have a loyal following there.
What feedback do customers give you about your produce, what’s your difference versus other growers?
We consistently get feedback on the high quality of produce that we supply, both from our wholesale customers and our retail customers. People often comment on how long our produce keeps for them. We specialize in micro greens and unusual crops such as ginger, turmeric (3 varieties), jicama, husk cherries, many varieties of hot peppers, unusual greens such as ice plant or oyster plant. Mostly our efforts are to produce a wide range of high quality produce and do that using sustainable practices.
When you’re all done for a season, how do you define success?
We are never “all done” for the season. We farm 365 days of the year, growing winter greens in unheated high tunnels throughout the winter months and selling storage crops along side of those. At this point in our development (7 years) we define success as being able to build out infrastructure that will make production easier and increase the amount of product we can bring to market.
Are you noticing any changes recently in terms of climate? If so what and how does it affect your activities?
Certainly we notice less and less rainfall it seems from year to year, but truly we have been doing this for only seven years and I don’t think we can define any patterns in that time. Each year brings it’s differences and each year some things do worse and some things do better. Our activities are effected more daily by weather and the choices of some varieties from year to year.
What advice would you give to others starting a vegetable growing farm?
Start with the best land you can afford and the best tools you can buy.
What’s your favorite thing to grow and why?
I don’t think I could narrow down a favorite. I love every crop that I grow and bringing each of those crops to its fullest potential gives me the greatest thrill.
If people aren’t used to buying vegetables direct from a farmer which vegetable would you recommend they try first in terms of tasting different fresh form the farm as opposed to coming from a supermarket?
I think carrots are an easy one to start with, as well as tomatoes. You can really taste the difference of a fresh grown local vegetable as opposed to one that is grown more for shipping purposes.
You can contact Sue at Blue Star Farm for more information.