Interview by Devon Van Noble
|Allan Gandelman in the greenhouse |
at Main Street Farms.
Allan has had a lifelong passion for farming. "For the past 10 years I had my own gardens, fruit trees, and raised goats in New Paltz," he says. When he moved to the area and began working as a middle/high school social studies teacher at Cortland Alternatives School, Allan found himself deeply interested in school food. "Being aware of school food issues in the Cortland County School District inspired me to be able to provide healthy food for kids year round, food that didn't depend on international sources."
Now Allan is an urban farmer and entrepreneur in the rural town of Homer, NY. His enterprise, Main Street Farms, sells organic produce and vegetable transplants. He hopes to tackle the issue of healthy school food by distributing his locally grown produce to area schools through his nonprofit, Schoolyard Gardens.
His latest interest is aquaponics, a combined fish/plant production system in which plants purify water for fish, which in turn fertilize the plant life. "When I found out about aquaponics it all made sense to me. It seemed like an economically sustainable model that could produce year-round. It can be put anywhere. And fish are a really bountiful protein source without a lot of land demands or fossil fuel inputs." Allan has already built one aquaponics system and is looking to build another.
Allan was attracted to the New Farmer Training Program because he felt the organic farming curriculum would help him on his way to becoming a successful sustainable farmer. "I looked at the electives and thought I could really use this stuff, and could have used this stuff even 10 years ago when I was planning on becoming a farmer," he says. He says he's learning about the logistics of running a farm. "The most significant thing I've been picking up on recently is the layout of farms - where you put the cooler, where you wash vegetables. Seeing the workflow patterns has been helpful in my planning process for my own property. I'm also paying a lot of attention to production practices and their interaction with markets."
Just as importantly, the class is also giving Allan a supportive social network. "There have already been 6 or 7 people from the class that have been out to Main Street Farms, which is great. It's also really beneficial to simply see what other people are doing- what else is going on out there." Meeting all the farmers has been crucial, says Allan. "Now that we know each other, I'm able to go to them to ask questions when I need help. Being exposed to all these different perspectives has been really helpful too. Every farmer has a unique role in the food system, and they each approach their role in very different ways, philosophically and ideologically."