We Love Local: Meet Local Farmer Ralph Swenson Jr.
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.
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 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.
by: Ilona Ross