hill country observerThe independent newspaper of eastern New York, southwestern Vermont and the Berkshires


News & Issues May 2024


A hybrid of farm stand, co-op

Start-up grower gives members access to produce from range of area farms


Aliza Pickering, seen here at her parents’ greenhouse and garden center in Arlington, Vt., has set up a membership group that provides subscribers with fresh local produce from area farms, including her own, through a roadside farm stand in Saratoga County. Joan K. Lentini photo

Aliza Pickering, seen here at her parents’ greenhouse and garden center in Arlington, Vt., has set up a membership group that provides subscribers with fresh local produce from area farms, including her own, through a roadside farm stand in Saratoga County. Joan K. Lentini photo


Contributing writer


Inside The DayDream Farmer’s rustic wooden shed at the corner of Route 9 and Ballard Road, the shelves of a walk-in cooler are stocked with boxes of fresh local produce and other foodstuffs.

The contents of each box are intended to last a week and provide seasonal greens, fresh fruits and other locally produced foods to nourish the members of this community-supported agriculture, or CSA, operation.

In a traditional CSA, customers buy memberships in advance of each growing season and then receive shares of a farm’s produce throughout the season. The arrangement gives farmers needed capital at the beginning of the season, while the member-customers effectively assume a share of the risks of farming as well as a stake in the bounty.

But at The DayDream Farmer, owner Aliza Pickering is pushing the boundaries of the CSA concept, giving her customers the flexibility to sign up for memberships of as little as one week. And while some of the produce comes from her own fledgling farming operation, she gathers much of it through partnerships with other area growers, most of whom are following organic practices.

The result is a hybrid operation combining elements of a CSA, a farmers market and a food co-op.

Pickering began offering her curated boxes of locally grown and produced foods in September to residents of Saratoga and Warren counties. The boxes, available for weekly pickup beginning each Friday, come in two sizes: The $25 size feeds one to two people, while the $36 box is suitable for a family of three or four.

The contents change from week to week, depending on what’s in season. The offerings one recent week included a bag of mesclun greens, a half-head of cabbage, new potatoes, rainbow carrots, Swiss chard and a container of homemade pesto.

Her overarching goal, Pickering explained, is to give people the ability to buy locally produced food in a convenient way.


Youthful experience
Born and raised in Arlington, Vt., she was familiar with agriculture thanks to her parents’ business, Pickering’s Greenhouse and Garden Center. Although that business focused mainly on flower beds, the family grew some vegetables too, selling them from a farm stand in their front yard.

“Growing and selling vegetables is how I grew up,” Pickering recalled. “It was all hands-on learning on how to grow the best peppers and lettuce.”

Her love of growing food continued when Pickering got a job as the vegetable manager at Pitney Meadows Community Farm in Saratoga Springs. For three years, she oversaw growing operations at the community farm’s pick-your-own CSA.

The 166-acre community farm on the city’s west side had been cultivated by the Pitney family since the 1860s. Despite lucrative offers for land development, William Pitney and his family, through the city’s Open Space Fund, arranged in 2016 that the acreage would be preserved through a nonprofit organization in perpetuity for farming and education.

“Because members help grow the food and it’s pick-your-own, Pitney Farms is a great way to teach families where food comes from and how to be connected to the land,” Pickering said.
As much as Pickering loved helping to instill in others a love of farming, her entrepreneurial spirit eventually grew restless.

“I decided I wanted to do something on my own,” she recalled. “There’s room for creativity in this type of business. And if an idea doesn’t work, you can always go in a new direction.”

Many farms, one membership

Pickering’s original plan of growing her own vegetables on a nearby acre of land in Gansevoort was quickly tabled when the soil turned out to be inhospitably sandy. She knew improving the soil would be a lengthy process, so she pivoted to another idea that became an instant success: gathering produce from nearby farmers to create weekly CSA shares.

“It’s a great idea because it supports local farmers and gives their products to customers who wouldn’t normally have access to them,” Pickering explained.

Some of the vegetables, especially pumpkins and peppers, are grown in the Arlington, Vt., fields of her parents, Fred and Heidi Pickering. Other growers include Pleasant Valley Farm in Argyle, Green Jeans Farm in the town of Milton, Featherbed Lane Farm in Charlton, and Juniper Hill Farm in Essex County.

The soil at her nearby acre is improving thanks to rigorous composting efforts and now yields lettuce varieties for the weekly boxes.

“It’s going to take time,” Pickering said. “Farming is really about the soil, and we’re continuously adding nutrients to it through compost, cover crops, and amendments. It’s a slow process of increasing organic matter and living organisms in the soil.”

Greens are a year-round staple of Pickering’s boxes. And in the winter months, she supplements produce with fermented food products and local grains. She also offers a meat CSA option in partnership with Echo Farm in Essex.

Her CSA boxes are available year-round, and Pickering reports that the farm stand’s location at 895 Route 9 has proven a convenient spot for commuters.

“A lot of my customers work in Saratoga County and live in Corinth or Glens Falls,” she said. “And the area also has a lot of bedroom communities nearby.”


Easy access to fresh food
Sue Baldwin of Wilton is a weekly customer and says she likes the win-win of convenient access to locally produced food.

“I stop on my way home from work,” Baldwin said. “The small box is perfect for my husband and me, and it helps us eat healthier. The lettuce is fresh and lasts so much longer than supermarket varieties.”

Pickering said the premise of the food boxes is similar to that of a traditional CSA, but there are a few differences. First, there’s no requirement of up-front payment for an entire growing season.
“That’s a great model that works for a lot of farms; many of them need to do that for start-up funding for equipment and labor,” she said. “With my co-op, customers are charged on a weekly basis.”

Customers pay in advance with a credit or debit card when they order, and cards can be charged weekly or every two weeks, depending on customers’ needs.

“There’s no long-term commitment,” Pickering said. “They can try it out once -- there’s an option on the website for a one-off box to try it one time. And if regular customers want to skip a week, that’s fine too.”

Produce boxes are stored in the shed’s walk-in cooler for members to pick up at their convenience from Friday through Tuesday of each week.

“It’s a great option for people who can’t make farmers markets or who don’t have the time to drive from farm to farm,” Pickering said, explaining that her goal is to break down these barriers to give people easier access to local produce.

Each week, she e-mails members a newsletter detailing contents of the food boxes, the participating farms, optimal storage techniques, and recipes to accompany the week’s selections. One recent issue of her newsletter included recipes for “healthy sauteed cabbage,” “world’s best braised green cabbage,” and 26 additional cabbage recipes.

Baldwin said she likes the recipe ideas as well as being introduced to new vegetable varieties.
“We tried Delicata squash for the first time because of the Day Dream Farmer,” she said. “Now it’s absolutely one of my favorite vegetables, and I never would have tried it if not for Aliza.”
This type of anecdote explains why Pickering does what she does.

“I truly believe food is medicine, and what we put in our bodies matters,” Pickering said. “My CSA provides that to customers while helping to keep local farms thriving. You get the benefit of fresh food that’s nourishing to body and supporting the economy at the local level.”

She plans to offer a pick-your-own flowers CSA starting in July, and in August, Pickering will offer classes in making bouquets. But her true love is purveying locally produced food.

“Juniper Hill Farm’s motto is, ‘Don’t let California feed New York,’” Pickering said. “Our current food system is a lot more fragile than it looks. Corporate-controlled food systems damage the soil and water needed to sustain food production and exploit workers for the sake of profit.

“Just like with farming and soil, you want to create a full circle system that doesn’t rely on many outside inputs to sustain itself. Communities that are able to feed themselves are just more resilient.”


For more information about the Day Dream Farmer, visit www.thedaydreamfarmer.com or call (802) 681-5595.