Since 1973, Sonja Hedlund has been farming in the Sullivan County Catskills with her husband, Dick Riseling. On 80-acre Apple Pond Farm, the pair raise chickens, goats, sheep and draft horses; hand-spin wool into yarn; and make fresh goat milk into cheeses and yogurt.
But Apple Pond Farm is much more than a farm. It's a living laboratory and classroom for sustainable living. Through educational programs and apprentice training, Apple Pond Farm teaches visitors -- beginning farmers, local school groups, and curious farm-vacation guests -- about life on a working family farm.
With solar photovoltaic panels, a solar hot water system and Sullivan County's first on-farm wind turbine, the farm produces almost all of its own energy. The farm hosts workshops for other farmers interested in producing their own renewable energy.
In this video from Pure Catskills, Hedlund talks about what farming in the rural Catskills means to her -- and the vital work that still needs to be done to create a thriving food system that supports local producers.
SONJA HEDLUND: I like to be out of doors. I'm an activist at the community level. I think you can't just talk about things, you have to sort of try to do them yourself -- or what's the talk?
Farming and agriculture and economic development in rural settings is really important. Figuring out how to do that in a place like the Catskills is quite a challenge.
We see around us land that's empty, nobody's using it, and although many people talk about the connection of restaurants to producers, in Sullivan County, we don't have enough producers.
If people could see farmers, talk to farmers, I think they'd have a better clue about what it takes to grow something, and care for the land.
On Apple Pond Farm, we produce food, breeding stock for people who want to start raising sheep and goats. We also sell meat, custom butchered. We sell wool, and some wool products, and some roasting chickens as well. But our biggest business right now is really educational -- wanting to encourage people to get into farming on some smaller scale.
We also make electricity. We're very serious about renewable energy and the end of the oil age that we're relying on. We've been doing that for about eight or 10 years. We've helped farmers get grants to put in solar installations to reduce their energy costs, and have held probably 50 workshops on what you need to know about renewable energy.
If you are going to be an electrician, you learn about volts and wire and plastic and codes. Farming requires so many more disciplines. You have to be a carpenter, a plumber. You have to know about water. You have to be a vet, up to a certain point. Farming requires so many more skills. And therefore, it's never dull.
We have people come to stay in our guest house for vacations. We want them to know where food comes from. It doesn't come from a Styrofoam box. We want them to realize the challenges of farming. How beautiful the countryside is, just two hours from New York City.
I would like them to go home thinking: "How can I reduce my energy use? How can I buy local? What can I do? What's the one thing that I can do throughout the year that's not just to help my family?"
Pure Catskills is a regional, buy local campaign developed by the Watershed Agricultural Council.