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Porters keep farming in the family

By Gretel Kauffman

If you're looking for fresh, locally grown produce, look no further than Porter Farms on Edgerton Road in Elba.

I stopped by the farm on Tuesday morning to talk to Katie Porter (pictured above with her three-legged dog, Milo) and get a tour of the family farm, which is one of the top models for organic growers and Community Supported Agriculture in the nation.

Porter, a 2004 graduate of Elba High School and a 2008 graduate of Cornell University, says that she has worked on the farm as far back as she can remember.

"When we first started the CSA, it was my dad, my sister and I," Porter says.  "We helped him with the newsletter and the produce."

Today, as the manager of the program, she writes the newsletter, does presentations to promote the farm, makes phone calls, sends out emails, and oversees distribution of the produce.

"Basically what the CSA is, is people buy a share and we use the money to pay for seeds, labor, equipment repair, stuff like that. Then in return we give them fresh, locally grown produce. Since their money goes right into the farm, they really get to feel what it's like to be a farmer."

Porter says that she thinks this is a big part of the CSA's appeal. It is growing rapidly, with approximately 860 members, which is about 760 members more than it started with in 1996.

"If we have a bad season, the members see the results. Like this year our tomatoes weren't too good, so they didn't really get tomatoes. Or if we have an abundance of onions, they'll get a lot of onions. I think people like it not only because they get their vegetables, but because they learn a lot about farming."

The program usually begins in June and ends in November and is either $310 or $340 a share, depending on whether you choose to pick up your produce at the farm Saturday mornings, or have it delivered if you live in the Rochester area. 

"It's so funny how everyone comes here on Saturday mornings and seems to know everyone else. They just hang out and talk."

The farm, which was started in 1956 by Jack Porter, began as a beef-feeding operation.  In the 1970s the Porters decided to grow the crops they needed to feed the cattle, such as hay, corn and wheat. Eventually pigs and sheep were added to the farm. 

In 1990, due to economic downturns in the livestock market, Jack's sons Steve and Mike switched the focus to crops and began experimenting with organics. Today, the 500+ acre farm is entirely organic and, since the deaths of Jack and Steve, is run by Katie's uncle Mike Porter with assistance from Katie, her sister Sarah and the rest of the family.

"It's definitely beneficial to the environment, It gives us healthier soil and helps with biodiversity.  We're farming the way people used to farm."                                


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