The HVADC Cultivator
HVADC Client Spotlight: Westwind Orchard
Fabio Chizzola and Laura Ferrara are cultivating the nuances of time-honored practices from their families’ Italian rural agrarian lifestyles on their Ulster County-based farm, Westwind Orchard. The 32 acre parcel has been producing fruit and vegetables for nearly a century. Chizzola and Ferrara bought the parcel in 2002, and revived the orchard in 2005 by clearing out dead wood and planting anew, with aspirations of growing organic apples. 40,000 honeybees, which the Chizzolas refer to as “free workers,” were soon added to the operation to bolster pollination. The couple soon diversified with pears, plums, cherries, paw paws, berries, garlic, winter squash, pumpkins and grapes. By 2008, Westwind Orchard was a certified organic farm.
Westwind Orchard refers to themselves as a “Holistic Community Orchard” which includes an apple, raspberry and pumpkin U-Pick. They are only using ecologically sensitive products, such as neem oil, Effective Microbes (EM), seaweed, kelp and compost teas toward creating healthier soil. Their farm store sells local products in addition to their certified organic produce, art from local artisans, maple syrup, honey, jams, apple sauce, cider vinegars, herbal health and beauty products, and other non-local fair-trade items. They also raise chickens for eggs and even recently added a wood-fired pizza oven.
Ferrara, a professional photography stylist, was born in a small village outside of Naples, Italy, and grew up on her family’s farm. The operation also included a café, butcher and a cantina featuring the farm’s own products. After her family moved to Brooklyn, Ferrara’s grandfather still gardened fig trees, grape vines, grew vegetables, fermented his own vegetables and even butchered his own lamb. Ferrara explained that her husband Fabio, who moved to New York from Rome at the age of 22 as a photographer assistant, has never been able to keep his hands out of the earth and is forever planting and growing. The couple met through their mutual careers in the photography, and their mutual love of old traditions brought them to Ulster County to start farming.
In 2015, Chizzola and Ferrara were interested in expanding their farm operation to include a cidery and tasting room, and were one of four HVADC Incubator Without Walls program clients awarded the New Farmer’s Grant Fund designed for new and early-stage farms. The program is administered by Empire State Development in consultation with New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets.
Brian Zweig acted as the lead HVADC consultant for Westwind Orchard, which was awarded $48,619, by assisting with writing and submitting their grant application. "The investment by the founders and New York State in Westwind Orchard will further the growth in agri-tourism in the Hudson Valley, and help create a critical mass of craft beverage destinations that will attract more visitors to the region," Zweig said. Zweig continued to work with Chizzola on business planning and financial planning for a loan. Jason Foscolo, attorney and owner of The Food Law Firm in Dutchess County who also serves as an HVADC consultant, helped Chizzola and Ferrara with the legal components of building the cidery.
“It was seamless,” said Ferrara, “[Zweig’s] expertise was so important in getting our production off the ground. We are as small-scale as they come, which means not a lot of room for mistakes. Having that insight was essential to our success.”
The couple bought mostly machinery with their grant money; a new apple grinder, new apple press, different sizes tanks, bottler and a corker/wirer. The grant also lead to their ability to hire new employees to staff the farm. “Machinery has been able to give Fabio more time so he could press more apples and expand the process,” added Ferrara.
“We realize the community invested in us when the community would come and say they are so happy we are here,” said Ferrara. “It has made us grow, it feeds our hearts and souls. They have made it hopeful and joyful. We are literally feeding them, but they are nurturing us. All the farmers around us supported us. To be able to reach out to people who care, and I felt like HVADC cares. I felt like HVADC was rooting for us. They were a rock for us. They gave us a peace of mind,” She continued.
“Small scale producers are the backbone of many of our communities in the Hudson Valley, and one of the hallmarks of our Incubator Without Walls program is that we individually cultivate, support and provide technical assistance and guidance to food entrepreneurs to enable them to pursue whatever business model they develop,” said Mary Ann Johnson, Deputy Director, HVADC. “Westwind Orchard is an example of how our resources and expertise can help early-stage productions realize their dreams,” she continued.
All of Westwind’s ciders are as natural as their fields and orchards; unfiltered, with bottle obtaining their fizz from yeast fermentation rather than added carbon dioxide, no added sugars and the only sulfites included are those naturally occurring. They offer three styles of cider: classic, raspberry—made with organic raspberries from their farm-- and Goldrush.
“We are staying put for the near future,” said Ferrara. “The first phase of getting the organic orchard up and running has been fourteen years in the making. We built the production facility with the idea that it will accommodate our growth over the years, but we are committed to small-scale family agriculture.”
For more information on Westwind, please visit http://westwindorchard.com/
For more information about the HVADC Incubator Without Walls program, visit www.hvadc.org/iww
Photos courtesy of Westwind Orchard Facebook