Feb 1, 2023
Prospect Hill Orchards in Milton New York has been farmed by seven generations of the Clarke family over the past 200 years. With the bulk of managerial operations now in the hands of Pamela Clarke Torres, Pam reached out to HVADC and participated in the 2019/2020 class of HVADC’s Farm and Food Funding Accelerator Program (FFFA).
Prospect Hill Orchards in Milton New York has been farmed by seven generations of the Clarke family over the past 200 years. With the bulk of managerial operations now in the hands of Pamela Clarke Torres, Pam reached out to HVADC and participated in the 2019/2020 class of HVADC’s Farm and Food Funding Accelerator Program (FFFA). While that class had to overcome many pandemic- related hurdles, today she says the lessons she learned from the program permeate the family’s current plans for growth and change.
Operating on three properties, the family grows a wide variety of fruit, beginning early season with cherries, continues through the summer with plums, apricots, peaches and nectarines and finishes the season with apples, pears and pumpkins. They sell at several Greenmarkets in New York City, on-farm, and also operate UPicks, and was planning to grow.
“Initially I was interested in the FFFA program because we had a dried apple product we wanted to boost,” said Torres. “We heard from others that went through it that it really helped them crystalize their plans.”
While in the program Torres says she realized she needed to take advantage of HVADC’s Business Technical Assistance (BTA) resources to restructure the farm’s operations, centralizing the management, where before it seemed every member of the family was siloed running a different aspect of the business.
The Clarkes also struggled with the logistics of the necessary generational transition of the farm business. While in the FFA program, HVADC connected Torres with attorney services to create an LLC for the farm, which she says has been the most important change to modernizing the business.
It can be hard to update an old family farm, especially one as old as Prospect Hill, which has been in the family since 1817. Torres says she found it can be just as hard to update an old farmer’s way of thinking.
“In our family everyone lives to a really old age, so there’s this notion that you’ve got 100 years to work,” She said. “As my parents have gotten older they have begun to think ‘oh, maybe we can retire at 80.’”
After struggling to grow their business through the pandemic, in 2022 Prospect Hill worked with HVADC again, receiving BTA marketing consulting from Diane Greco of Tactix Inc. Torres said Greco instilled in her not just the importance of communicating with customers through social media and mailing lists but help her set up a schedule that worked for her so marketing felt like less of a burden and more just a matter of course.
“When Prospect Hill entered the FFFA they were faced with the same issues as so many of our legacy farms. Issues of business succession and how best to modernize the business for a 21st century market,” said Mary Ann Johnson, HVADC Deputy Director. “They deserve all the credit in the world for embracing the challenges and creating a business plan that allows them to change with the times while honoring their incredible 200-plus year history.”
Torres is still in contact with HVADC business consultant Brian Zweig as well, who helped them craft their current business structure. “At this point he’s mostly our cheerleader of accountability,” she said with a laugh. “(The FFFA) got our systems in place. We just learned so much. HVADC understands agriculture and that’s so important. It changes the tone when someone like Brian knows what you are talking about when discussing equipment, seasons or the weather.”
It’s an exciting times at Prospect Hill Orchards these days, as they jump in to the lucrative distilling market. It a few weeks they plan to be up and running creating an eau de vie from apples. They have their sights on making spirits from their peaches and pears as well and have a long-term vision for a hard cider operation. Torres recently took a class on brewing cider at Cornell Cooperative Extension.
The farm recently constructed a new building on site. It’s the hub for their popular pick-your-own program but will also soon serve as their distillery and tasting room. Their offerings of value-added products is an increasingly integral part of the business plan they crafted with HVADC. They also hosted farm dinners last year and will be doing so again in 2023 celebrating full moons throughout the season.
“It’s fun to get people up to the farm because we have gorgeous Hudson Valley views,” Torres said. “What’s great is what you see is still just a lot of other farms. When you sit and enjoy the view it’s nice to think about how that is due to the hard work of a lot of farmers.”
To learn more about the type of BTA that HVADC can provide farms and food producers, visit https://www.hvadc.org/business-technical-assistance.