CCE Madison County Colgate Intern – Riley Rice
As far back as Corey Mosher’s family can remember, his ancestors have always been farmers. Census records from the mid-1800s show the Mosher family as occupational farmers; however, they did not yet own land. One of Corey’s forefathers, George Mosher, lived in Eaton, NY and worked on a dairy farm located where the Mosher farm stands today in Bouckville.
The family who owned that dairy had taken George in as one of their own, and when they were ready to hand over ownership of the farm, George took over the business. The year was about 1920, and these are the first origins of the farm under the Mosher name. So while Mosher Farms may “only” be 102 years old, farming has existed on their plot of land much longer.
The Mosher family continued milking cows until Corey’s great-grandfather chose to steer the farm in a new direction in the 1930s, a time when many farms in the dairy industry were beginning to struggle. Corey remembers a photo of his great-grandmother Kate, sitting at a table by the road selling beans out of a peach basket.
He remarked, “Since then it’s been fresh market fruits and vegetables basically. I wouldn’t say the farm that we are today had its origin story there, but a lot of the things that were kind of thought about back then again, that that kind of access to the farm, right at that point, like the direct marketing started there.”
Over time the production at Mosher Farms has continued to shift while still staying within the realm of fresh fruits and vegetables. Today, their largest crops are cranberry beans; however, that has changed historically as distribution partnerships have changed. Over time, Mosher’s relationships have developed and faded with distributors such as Seneca Foods, Hunts Point Cooperative Market in the Bronx, and factories such as the Norwich sauerkraut factory Rea-D-Pack Foods Inc., which closed in 2008. Corey says that one of the most important aspects of being a vegetable grower is being flexible and reactive to products for which people have a high demand.
However, as vegetable growers, other factors have the potential to get in the way of that flexibility, most notably the dynamic nature of labor. Corey notes that while Moshers has mechanized over the past few decades, like the rest of the vegetable industry, a lot of fresh fruits and vegetables still require a lot of manual work to ensure the products’ quality.
“It’s not the most desirable work,” Corey said. “I can tell you when I was in high school the thought of me coming to the farm, 30 years down the road, I would have been like, I failed, which I don’t feel like that at all today, right? That’s the challenge a lot of times with farm work.”
To tackle these challenges posed by labor, Corey explained how the makeup of the farm’s crews has shifted over time, with Moshers employing both local kids and seasonal migrant workers at different times. This trend is all part of the dynamism that Moshers emphasizes in their philosophy. Being dynamic with the labor that Moshers employs allows the farm to better cater to the shifting demand for products.
Corey also says that he learned a lot more about the perspective of the migrant workers, many of whom hail from Guatemala a few years ago, during a conversation with one of the pickers.
“I asked him, ‘Why risk it and come up here? Tell me about home,’” Corey recalled. “And what he said was, ‘Corey, I can pick strawberries in Guatemala all day and make four dollars a day. I can do the same thing just in a different location and make so much more money that I can actually provide a better life for my kids down the road.’ And that always stuck with me.”
Corey also emphasizes the importance of advancement within a farm that employs migrant workers, a group he recognizes is primed for exploitation in the wrong circumstances.
He explained, “If they’ve done so much work on our farm, and we’re not putting them in higher management positions to be successful, then we are exploiting, we’re just kind of keeping them down. And you have to elevate workers after so much time and effort has been put in, but it can be really hard.”
It’s a give and take in terms of autonomy, advancement, and giving credit to the workers who understand agronomy as well as anyone.
Historically, to face some of the many challenges the farm faced, the Moshers would turn to Cornell Cooperative Extension.
Corey recounted, “For years, my uncle would tell me, Extension was the first call. You didn’t have to have crop consultants, becauseyou’re always just one phone call away from an extension agent that you know really well. That there was a hand-in-hand mentality on your farm, and then he would get you the resources or get you connected.”
However, Corey noticed a worrying shift over the past few decades as Extension and other Agricultural support institutions became one or even two steps removed from the farmers themselves. So when Corey was invited to join the board and later become the chair of CCE Madison’s Board, he sought to further that direct connection with farmers in the hopes that farms across the county would be able to look to Extension to get the support they needed once again.
“I mean, that’s the mission of Extension. This is what Extension is about, it’s to be that first call.” Corey said. “Abraham Lincoln was a champion of agriculture and he developed the land grant model to make sure that as we developed and we had those really elite people that could attend university, that that wasn’t being siloed off, that it was going to be available to the vast majority of people. And those were farmers.”
These are but some of the challenges faced by a farm operating in Madison County for over 100 years. However, there have also been many successes, and the Mosher family has a bright outlook on the farm’s future and continues to bring an aspect of dynamism into all parts of their business. Diversification, Corey explained, is critical.
“Usually it’s the case where one segment of our farm is doing well, we have other segments that maybe aren’t performing as well. And so we can be more dynamic and function kind of with less risk because that will maintain us in the future. You have to have a diverse farm. Now, you can get overextended easily and you have to be cognizant of that too.”
As Corey sees it, the end goal is a stable market where the farm can lean on its more established segments for consistent income and expand into and explore emerging markets that usually carry a higher risk level. Size is another factor that can be highly fluid in farming. As the farm has been passed down through generations, it has grown and shrunk, and this is another place where Corey emphasized dynamism.
“We have a rule on our farm,” he explained. “You can always come back, you always have a home, but you have to get out. You have to leave; you have to go to college or go experience other things, preferably out of state, you always have a home to come back to but you have to go experience now.”