HFFC's Paul Tobin holding court over High Meadow's second grade class, photo: Ilona Ross

HFFC’s Paul Tobin holding court over High Meadow’s second grade class, photo: Ilona Ross

There’s nothing unusual about bringing a shopping list to the grocery store and planning menus for your new restaurant – unless you’re eight years old. Each year, the High Meadow School in Stone Ridge assigns its second graders the class project of starting a restaurant, and this year, the students came to the High Falls Food Co-op armed with their recipes and list of ingredients. They asked questions of the staff, they looked through the produce and dry goods, they took a tour of the basement storage area, and they bought what they needed for their new restaurant.

Under discussion, and new information to even some of the parents who chaperoned the outing, was how a co-operative differs from a regular grocery store and whether it’s fun to work at a co-op.

Grocery Manager, Kenny Rowe, and General Manager, Jodi Fogel, lead High Meadow kids on a stock tour, photo: Ilona Ross

Grocery Manager, Kenny Rowe, and General Manager, Jodi Fogel, lead High Meadow kids on a stock tour, photo: Ilona Ross

Transmitting to the next generation the importance of healthy food is very important, said General Manager Jodi Fogel. “It was exciting to see all these kids here at the coop. I feel extremely fortunate that at some time in my life I was exposed to health food, and as a result the quality of my life is a lot better. My relationship with food has determined the quality of my health.”

The perspective of these second-graders may be a little more near term. “They wanted to see how we buy food. We explained about deliveries coming in, we talked about ordering,” said Jodi. There was also some discussion about the differences between the co-op and larger chains such as Hannaford’s or Shoprite.

Second grade teacher Joanna Shaw said the idea was for the children to incorporate local ingredients into their final menu and to be more involved with the local community. “We thought what better places than the High Falls Food Co-op. I have a personal connection because I worked there when I was younger and Marybeth [Wehrung, who also teaches second grade] was on the board.”

"Let me tell you another one..." Paul Tobin and the kids of High Meadow School, photo: Ilona Ross

“Let me tell you another one…” Paul Tobin and the kids of High Meadow School, photo: Ilona Ross


story by: Ilona Ross

Ralph Sweson Jr. and Becky Swenson, photo: Ilona Ross

Ralph Sweson Jr. and Becky Swenson, photo: Ilona Ross

Ralph Swenson Jr. is a farmer with a conscience.

He objects when companies play on the organic label to jack up prices. ”The high costs just aren’t warranted,” he says. Organic farming has some added costs, Swenson acknowledges, but there are also many costs that are not there that some companies try to pass along anyway.

This week the Swensons delivered arugula, green onions, red radishes, spinach, green curly kale, and Asian greens, all for sale starting at $2.25 per pound or per bunch; and all grown within five miles of the Co-op. This compares with several area competitor chains, both conventional and organic, that charge more than $3.99 for 5 oz. clamshells of arugula, much of which has been trucked in from California – and which adds up to an astounding price of $12.80 per pound.

Although the Swenson farm is not certified, commercial pesticides haven’t touched his land for decades.  Any fertilizer applied to the silty, sandy, well-draining loam consists of chicken manure, composted horse manure, and fish emulsion.

Ralph, Becky, and Mary Swenson, photo: Ilona Ross

Ralph, Becky, and Mary Swenson, photo: Ilona Ross

Ralph Jr.’s parents, Ralph and Mary, were among the original group that started the High Falls Food Co-op. His father was a science teacher at the Rondout Valley High School. Mary, who will turn 90 in September, still drives the truck to the co-op for the Tuesday delivery.

Ralph Jr.’s introduction to organic growing took place when he helped out on the farm during summer vacations. At the time, back in the early 60s, the Swensons were the only organic producers around, and they grew whatever people wanted. ”Someone would say, ‘How about okra,’ so he’d grow okra.”

The Swenson farm, located in Accord, NY, is proof that a lot of land is not a prerequisite for crop abundance. They grow on only one acre, and with that one acre they are able to sell four harvests of lettuce to the co-op.

“Eventually I’ll grow everything in greenhouses,” he said, with shade cloth and plastic. “The end product is better and it’s less work. We have an underground irrigation system.”

If you’re familiar with Ralph Swenson Jr.’s name it’s because he’s Kingston City Engineer, and he is often in the news as he oversees work on the city’s aging infrastructure. His wife, Becky, teaches American Sign Language and Deaf Studies at SUNY New Paltz. In June she’s taking a group of students to Ethiopia under the auspices of Visions Global Empowerment for two weeks of working with the deaf.

The Accord farm is well-guarded by 5 ½ year old Elliott, the Swensons’ Majestic Treehound, half bloodhound and half black and tan coon hound, who eats ears of corn and “anything crunchy,” said Becky.


Ralph Swenson Jr. and Becky Swenson on their farm, photo: Ilona Ross


story by: Ilona Ross

High Falls Food Co-Op

Welcome to the High Falls Food Co-Op blog. For forty years, our little co-op has been nourishing the Hudson Valley with the best local, organic, sustainable food we can provide. Connecting with our community has been one of the core values that has allowed this organization to flourish for four decades strong. It is our hope that with this new blog platform, High Falls Food Co-Op can continue to strengthen the bond that we have with our neighbors, friends, co-op members, and visitors. We’ll be sharing product/vendor information, recipes from our co-op members and talented staff, local as well as global food news, and details on all of our in-house events. Please join us as we dive deeper into the digital age. 

From it’s beginnings in 1976, the High Falls Food Co-operative has taken the position that a healthy food supply for the community is paramount priority.

By the early 1990s, two factors had developed within our national food system which changed the discussion for food safety: the introduction of genetically-modified organisms (GMOs) into major crops and conventional dairy; and the authority over organic certification by the USDA.

This co-op has endeavored to keep GMOs off the shelves for decades, both by pre-screening products and through your feedback and suggestions.

Although part of our mission is to remain non-partisan (non-political), our continued concerns regarding environmental influences have lead the Board of Directors, on behalf of the membership, to “break silence” on the issues of hydraulic fracturing and, most recently, the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). Both of these issues are clear threats to the environments from which we produce our healthy crops, livestock and food products. Our BOD voted, unanimously, to participate in the dissemination of information on these topics to protect our tradition of “food democracy”.

Together we are the local community, and our voices joined in a timely manner is critical. The TPP trade agreement is scheduled to be “Fast Tracked” through Congress and adopted in October of this year.


Please help by further informing yourselves and others through the links below,

on Facebook:
TPP March on the Media Stop the Corporate Global Coup!

Then sign the petition at http://petitions.moveon.org/sign/congress-dont-renew-fast

Finally, call these federal representatives and tell them “No Fast Track for the TPP”:

Sen. Schumer: 518 431-4070
Sen. Gillibrand: 518 431-0120
Rep. Gibson: 845 514-2322

Here’s to good food and a safer environment for all life!

Bulk Bin InstallationThe High Falls Food Co-Op is excited to announce that we are installing brand new bulk bins!