This week, we had the wonderful privilege of stopping by Applegate's Garden in Virgil for a homestead tour. As I navigated between netted containers of harvest-time produce, lush piles of composted dirt, and greenhouses full of vined tomatoes reaching towards the sky and strawberry plants still producing a berry or two, I quickly became both impressed and inspired.
SVHC: Thanks for allowing us to tour your garden--it's absolutely lovely! How long have you been growing produce in Cortland County?
AG: We built our house about 20 years ago and began gardening shortly after that. The garden setup that you see today is about 12-13 years old. We have been using organic growing principles since we began.
SVHC: Raising food for yourself and your community cannot be an easy task to take on, why engage this type of lifestyle?
AG: After my mom passed away from cancer when I was 16, I began to cook for my family. I did not know much about being in a kitchen, but I learned to ask a lot of questions! Since then, all aspects of food production and preparation became a fascination for me. I can't imagine not growing my own food! I spend about 4 to 6 hours in the garden each day--more if it's my packing days--and I can about 500 jars of food during the growing season. Food is my joy. Being at a vendor at the Virgil Farmers' Market is really just a great excuse for me to garden!
SVHC: What has been your biggest joy as a local food producer?
AG: I owned two restaurants in the Cortland area and now have this homestead which produces an ample amount of food in a growing season. To me, it all has been a joyous journey of learning how much food is a great leveler and helps to create community.
SVHC: What has been your greatest challenge as a local producer?
AG: I have really enjoyed most aspects of food production over the years, but now I would have to say that the physical demand of tending to a garden of this size is the most difficult aspect. We got rid of our chickens and pigs a few years ago to help lighten the load a bit and that has helped.
SVHC: If you could tell your community one thing, what would it be?
AG: Buying local supports local in all ways--the people, the environment, the economy, the health of our neighbors--it's very multi-faceted. For us, a large part about growing local (as well as buying local!) is for environmental reasons. Regenerative agriculture is very important. If you are all freaked out about climate change, purchasing local is a great way to start making positive changes in our environmental trajectory.
SVHC: How can the community connect with you if they desire to purchase your produce?
AG: I have a stand at the Virgil Farmers' Market located in the parking lot of Hollenbeck's Cider Mill every Saturday from 9a-1p. The market will be open for a few more weeks--you are more than welcome to come visit and say hello! I also love to share what I have learned along the way. Contact me for a garden visit or if you need some recipe ideas!