The HVADC Cultivator
Meet the People of HVADC:
A Q&A with Board President Mark Doyle
Motivated by the sense of fulfillment from working in agriculture, HVADC Board Chair Mark Doyle is currently General Manager for Fishkill Farms, a diverse, family-owned, Pick-Your-Own fruit and vegetable farm in Dutchess County. There, as part of a three-person management team, he has developed and managed a workforce of over 100 employees, cultivated multiple sales avenues (including an expanded farm store); planned, constructed and implemented major projects. Prior to joining Fishkill Farms, Mark provided consulting services for farm enterprises and managed two farms in Dutchess County. Mark joined the HVADC Board in December of 2008 and has served as Board President since 2018.
We recently sat down with Mark to learn a little more about his background, motivation and goals for HVADC.
What did you do prior to landing here in the Hudson Valley?
Mark: I grew up in South Africa and in my teenage years and college worked on a farm during vacations. After two years of national service, I worked for my father as a farm appraiser, followed by a stint on a 3,000 head sheep farm in a beautiful part of the country. Then, with a civil war seeming to be the most likely outcome of the intractable Apartheid government, I had an opportunity to sail a 30’ sailboat from Cape Town to Greece via Brazil followed by working as a first mate on a beautiful charter sailboat in the Caribbean and U.K. An extraordinarily lucky set of circumstances enabled me to find a job and obtain visa documentation on a beef and horse farm in Dutchess County in 1989.
What came next for you?
Mark: I quickly realized that the hay-making business and sending my steers to auction was a guaranteed way to burn out and lose money. I developed a grass-fed Angus program and a strong direct sales market including a small supermarket and several restaurants in New York City. This was just as the grass-fed industry was getting off the ground and I enthusiastically became involved in obtaining grant-funding for and participating in a feasibility study of a slaughter facility in the area.
After the farm owners decided to sell the herd, I moved to Wassaic in Dutchess to a startup-farm on the grounds of an old developmental disabilities facility, which housed 5,500 people at its peak and had 300 acres of farmland and many abandoned buildings --- and managed the build-out of a grass-fed dairy and cheese making operation with a visitors’ center and event kitchen. After four years of development the effort was halted and today, that is the site of the soon-to-open Millbrook Distillery. I had been farm business consulting for several years when Robert Morgenthau asked me to work with his son Josh, to re-invigorate Fishkill Farms, their centennial family orchard in 2008. It had been leased to other operators and I’m proud of our progress since then, and consider myself extremely fortunate to work for a family whose dedication to the land and country has had such a large impact.
What is your educational background?
Mark: I graduated with a Bachelors in Agricultural administration from Stellenbosch University in South Africa. Stellenbosch is best known as a center for grape-growing and wine-making.
How did you first engage with HVADC?
Mark: Jerry Cosgrove, then Northeast Director of American Farmland Trust, invited me to meetings while the formation of HVADC was being discussed. The effort was a direct outcome of an AFT report entitled, Agriculture at a Crossroads and the perspective I’d gained through direct marketing and the process of developing the livestock marketing and slaughter feasibility study of opportunities and hurdles in the Valley was apropos. I was invited to join the Board in 2008.
What makes you want to serve on the HVADC board?
Mark: It’s an honor to be part of an organization that has made a real difference for farm businesses in the Hudson Valley. I have a business and marketing outlook on agriculture, and find that the combination of the analytical and marketing approaches are useful characteristics on a very diverse board.
Name a few accomplishments with HVADC board that you’re particularly proud of.
Mark: While I have been on the board, the organization has grown internally and in terms of its capacity as well. We have expanded our County footprint in the Hudson Valley and have become well-recognized as a ‘go-to’ voice of ag-economic development in the region, and in the process have developed into a strong and well-run organization. The recent addition of business lending capacity has tremendous promise.
List some obstacles unique to Hudson Valley farms and food producers:
Mark: We are on the front-line of urban-oriented social change, which is evidenced by unfortunate legislation such as recent ag-labor laws on one hand, but a burgeoning interest in local and sustainably farmed food on the other. We are farming in a location that gives us immediate access to best markets in the world, but I think there are gaps in the ag system, the most important of which is labor and farm worker training. Another is management training; such financial and data management.
What do you feel your strengths are as an HVADC board member?
Mark: I think my experience in on-farm sales and agri-tourism and long association with people and organizations across New York State provide valuable perspective. Less tangibly perhaps, are the various cultural and occupational experiences I’ve had, which allow me to facilitate the synthesis of multiple perspectives and environmental factors in order to provide a balanced approach.
What are your three top objectives or goals as HVADC board president?
Mark: My top objective is to provide the support of the Board and my own to the day-to-day operations of our Executive Director Todd Erling and excellent staff. Secondly: working to assure the longevity of the organization by helping to keep the economic development organizations, and local and State representatives, focused on the utility of HVADC and the role we can play in the regional as a whole. A high priority is to maintain a dynamic Board. We are extremely fortunate to have such strong leadership from each of our current members and it’s vital to be able to attract people with energy and vision as we grow and deepen our portfolio of resources to the rural community.
For more information on the HVADC Board of Directors visit https://www.hvadc.org/our-team