The HVADC Cultivator
Battenkill Valley Farm
When Ted Berndt’s plans come to fruition, Washington County will have a new agritourism destination featuring farmers, craftspeople, artists, antique dealers, food vendors, specialty food producers, special events and musicians at his Battenkill Valley Farms in Cambridge. The venue, a secure 12-acre campus situated on a 175-acre former mushroom farm, with over 24 structures, that is currently offering RV and boat storage, will be transformed into an indoor/outdoor market that will be open from late April until December, hosting up to 120 vendors per weekend, and drawing shoppers from the Capital Region, as well as travelers from the New York City, Boston and Montreal radius.
In addition to storage facilities, Battenkill Valley Farms now offers a corn maze, u-pick pumpkins and in the past, a Haunted House. Recently, Berndt was awarded over $20,000 through the Empire State Development Corporation’s grant program for new farms to purchase equipment to diversify crop production. Berndt said he intends to purchase a 50 hp tractor and some implements to switch from corn, pumpkins and sorghum to vegetable production on the growing side of his operation.
Berndt participated in HVADC’s most recent Farm and Food Funding Accelerator (FFFA) program which concluded in June. “I have been aware of HVADC’s contractual relationship with Washington County government for several years and became interested in the FFFA after seeing the success of Argyle Cheese Farmer and Lavenlair Farms during the first 2016/2017 FFFA cohort,” he said.
Berndt is familiar with new beginnings. He grew up on a Christmas tree farm in Central New York, with most of his extended family working in dairy farming and has a biology/chemistry degree from SUNY Potsdam and an M.B.A. in International Business from Syracuse University. Berndt worked for ten years in quality assurance management for Anheuser-Busch, two years as a pharmaceutical sales representative with Pfizer and then reinvented himself, to work another eight years in the natural resource space as a self-employed fly-fishing guide on the Battenkill River.
In 2013 Berndt purchased the former Franklin Mushroom Farm and converted it to a light commercial park with hopes to establish an ag-market. By 2015 he had created a business plan, put together a local management team and received a commitment for $10 million in financial backing from the Durst Organization for a medical marijuana bid. “We were unsuccessful, but it was a hell of a story,” he said. “We have had a number of collaborations with local farmers, value-added producers, operated two farm stands, a corn maze and even a haunted house with our local rescue squad as a fundraiser.”
Berndt’s partner, Starr Pombrio is a Certified Public Accountant with experience in agriculture and greenhouse operations.
“Participation in the FFFA helped me refine my business plan and be able to make pitches [to funders],” said Berndt. “I found the peer to peer networking to be invaluable. The feedback from my peers who had used farmers’ markets as sales channels was extremely helpful.”
Berndt added that he has gained more self-assurance in his endeavors from the FFFA experience and in focusing on obtainable goals. “I am much more confident about my team’s abilities, we gained insight on grant writing, financial reporting and focusing on measurable goals. The biggest takeaway from my peers was to focus on your core business. I look forward to working with other farmers and food entrepreneurs with HVADC.”
In March of 2019 Battenkill Valley came in second place at the New York Farmers Market Federation’s Business Plan “Shark Tank” competition. He is currently working on a hemp drying project for several farmers in his area as well as further developing the market’s plan.
“Ted’s vision to create an agritourism destination is Washington County at Battenkill Valley Farms has the potential to be a significant contributor to the local economy, said HVADC Deputy Director Mary Ann Johnson Ted brought positive energy to the sessions and offered his guidance to other peers. The peer to peer networking has once again proven to a valuable component of the program and one we look forward to in our 2019-2020 cohort.”
Simultaneous to the FFFA program, HVADC co-sponsored a survey with Eight of Eight Strategies of tourism preferences of Washington County residents as well as past visitors to ascertain feasibility for a number of agribusiness possibilities in the county. The top line data indicated a high interest in visiting the county for farmers market, individual farm markets, food events, and destination travel. Citing the success of The Windmill Farm & Craft Market in Penn Yan, a model that Battenkill will somewhat follow when it launches, Berndt is projecting that the visitors that the market will draw, will also contribute to other agribusinesses in the county.
HVADC is now accepting applications for the third FFFA class, set to begin fall 2019, with an application deadline of September 16. FFFA is a no fee intensive training program for producers and makers in Orange, Sullivan, Ulster, Dutchess, Columbia, Rensselaer and Washington counties.
Application information may be found at https://www.hvadc.org/fffa-2019-2020-application