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Schenectady congregation continues Carrot Fest tradition

Schenectady congregation continues Carrot Fest tradition

Congregation Agudat Achim at 2117 Union St., and its annual Carrot Festival will never be wanting fo
Schenectady congregation continues Carrot Fest tradition
Robin Scharf, of Niskayuna, serving carrot cake at the Congregation Agudat Achim 33rd Annual Carrot Festival in Niskayuna on Sunday, September 11, 2011.
Photographer: Patrick Dodson

Congregation Agudat Achim at 2117 Union St., and its annual Carrot Festival will never be wanting for carrots, or just about any other kind of produce.

It was 34 years ago that Agudat Achim members Paul and Rose Westheimer began hauling in carrots from their Schoharie County farm to help make the congregation’s first ever Carrot Festival a smashing success. While the Westheimers sold the farm to Richard and Susan Ball in 1993, the carrots haven’t stopped coming.

“They’re kind enough to promote us, and since it’s a fundraiser we give them very good prices,” said Richard Ball, who owns and operates Schoharie Valley Farms on Route 30 just a mile north of the village.

“We supply them with all the produce they need for that day. It’s something Paul and Rose started way back when. The Westheimers were very well-known carrot growers throughout the Northeast in their day, and we’re very happy to keep that tradition going.”

Entertainment lineup

The 34th annual Agudat Achim Carrot Festival begins at 10 a.m. Sunday and runs through 4:30 p.m., rain and shine.

Along with the carrot-related food items, there will be plenty of entertainment, including an appearance of “Imagining Lennon and McCartney,” a Beatles tribute band featuring Tom Raider and Brad Jarvis as John Lennon and Paul McCartney, respectively. Their performance will begin at 2 p.m., while other musical guests include the Melody Makers, Three Minute Pop, and Union College a cappella groups the Dutch Pipers, the Garnet Minstrelles and the Eliphalets. At 3:40 p.m., Rotterdam ventriloquist Jake LaMarca will take the spotlight and offer a 20-minute comedy routine.

Agudat Achim Carrot Festival

WHERE: Congregation Agudat Achim, 2117 Union St., Schenectady

WHEN: 10 a.m.-4:30 p.m. Sunday

HOW MUCH: $3 for parking

MORE INFO: 393-9211,

While carrots are the theme of the festival, they won’t be the only food item available. Visitors can also partake in the chicken schwarma, tsimmes, Israeli salad, knishes, hummus, brisket and portobello mushroom sandwiches, hot dogs and hamburgers. Dessert items include various types of carrot cake along with chunky apple pie and cookies.

“We’re also bringing peppers, tomatoes, cabbage, parsnip and onions, a little bit of everything,” said Ball. “We don’t bring as much as we used to because the event used to be more focused on carrots and produce. Now they have all kinds of food and a lot of different activities going in.”

Schoharie Valley Farms sells carrots and other produce throughout the Capital Region and as far south as the New York City area. They also sell their produce at their Route 30 facility called the Carrot Barn Store.

“Our retail farm market is called the Carrot Barn, and that’s in reverence to the history of carrots here,” said Ball, whose wife, Susan, died in November of 2010. “This farm has been selling carrots for over 50 years now, and while they are not our No. 1 crop anymore, they still make up a significant portion of what we sell.”

Climate and soil

Ball, who has three adult children who help him run the family business, said New York state and the Schoharie Valley in particular is a great area to grow carrots.

“We actually have a very good climate for carrots, and here in the Schoharie Valley we have 15 feet of topsoil that is also high in minerals,” he said. “It’s very well-suited to carrots, and just about any kind of crop you could imagine.”

Not all of the carrots at the Carrot Festival came from Schoharie Valley Farms. Some were actually grown in Israel earlier in the summer.

“We start baking our cakes in July and that’s too early for carrots in New York,” said Anita Merims, who has been a part of the Agudat Achim Carrot Festival since it began. “So we go to our supplier in Menands, and we bought about 350 pounds of carrots from Israel. Then we bake some of the cakes and freeze them. We’ll have about 600 individual cakes, and we bake 25 of the double-layer, double-pan sheet cake.”

The carrot cake she and her fellow bakers come up with is quite tasty, if Merims says so herself.

“There are pecans throughout the cake, and we have a praline filling with butter and heavy cream,” she said. “That goes into the center and then we pop another layer on and add the cream cheese frosting. It’s beautiful.”

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