Peter Ten Eyck seems easygoing and amiable at first glance, and for the most part that’s true. There are things, however, that get him worked up.
“My number one agenda is to have us stop sliding down this slippery slope of waving money in the air and hoping somebody brings us something to eat,” said Ten Eyck, owner of Indian Ladder Farms on Route 156 in the town of New Scotland.
“We have to think ahead. We have to keep growing food within the fabric of the community we live in.”
For the Ten Eyck family, that means growing and selling produce, in particular apples, on their 300-acre farm situated at the foot of the Helderbergs. It was Ten Eyck’s grandfather, a former U.S. Congressman also named Peter, who began the operation a century ago and the farm has stayed in the family ever since.
“The family originally had a big farm at the corner of Whitehall Road and Delaware Avenue in Albany, but that’s not exactly farmland anymore,” said Ten Eyck. “My grandfather, who was a remarkable person, came out here and bought some land in 1916. He wanted to be a farmer, but my great-grandfather wanted him to make something of himself so he made him go to RPI and become an engineer.”
His grandfather, who was educated at Albany Academy and RPI, became a successful civil engineer. In 1912 he was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives as a Democrat, lost the seat in the 1914 election, and regained it for another two-year term in 1920. He died in 1944 and is buried at Albany Rural Cemetery.
Through much of the first half of the 20th century, the Ten Eyck farm, two miles from the village of Voorheesville and five miles outside of Altamont, raised dairy cattle along with produce. By the 1940s, Peter G.D. Ten Eyck, the current owner’s father, was running the show and switched from dairy to beef cattle. The cows remained a big part of the picture until the 1960s.
“When I got out of the service, I took over in 1965 and I looked at what we were doing with our cattle,” said Ten Eyck. “I had gone to agricultural school at Cornell and I figured I wasn’t smart enough to raise anything that moved. Life gets complicated, we had thousands of apples, and none of them are trying to get out, so we got out of the beef cattle business and stayed in apples.”
Indian Ladder Farms still has plenty of farm animals, including a 17-year-old Scottish Highlander cow named Rosie, and the place is about a lot more than just apples. People can pick their own blueberries, strawberries, raspberries, tomatoes and pumpkins, and there are always plenty of cider doughnuts on hand at the farm’s retail store.
“We have cider doughnuts from the time we open in May to when we close in late December,” said Cecilia Solodiev, the retail manager at Indian Ladder Farms. “People think we don’t, but we freeze the cider so we have them year-round. They’re a very big item for us.”
Solodiev handles things inside the farm store, cafe, bakery and gift shop, while the farm manager is Tim Albright.
“I do all the retail, and Tim’s in charge of everything that grows,” said Solodiev. “We have weddings here, we have summer camps, birthday parties, we had the Helderberg Theater Festival again this summer. There’s a lot going on and I love my job. You’re inside, you’re outside, you’re dealing with kids and people of all ages. I love the versatility.”
Albright, who is referred to by many as the “unofficial historian of Thacher Park,” got his first job picking apples the summer of his senior year at Voorheesville in 1979.
“I made two dollars and 90 cents an hour picking apples in 1979 and I just kept at it,” said Albright. “I went from picking apples to being in charge of the work crews that bring in the crop, and I have to say that the primary thing I like about my job is that it’s outdoors.”
Believing in philosophy
Like Ten Eyck, Solodiev and Albright are firm believers in the idea of locally grown produce serving the local community.
“At our summer camps we like to help children learn and appreciate the farm-to-table idea,” said Solodiev. “We teach them about dealing with food and help them get a sense about what it means to grow things on a farm. Rather than just going to a grocery store and picking up food, we hope they learn that there are a lot of people working hard to bring them that food.”
“It’s very important that we’re producing locally grown food that stays local,” said Albright. “It’s about farming and community, and we want the public to know that. Nothing is being imported. We’re not like a regular supermarket.”
During the peak season, Indian Ladder Farms may employ more than 70 people. Many of them work part time, many of them are teenagers experiencing their first job, and all of them earn an education in Ten Eyck’s farm-to-table philosophy.
“We all get it, and we’re all part of the farm family,” said Solodiev. “Anybody who works here has got to be passionate about what we do. I have a college degree, so I could go work someplace else and make more money, but I choose to do this because it makes me happy.”
Ten Eyck is married to a retired college professor, and he also has a brother and sister who used to work on the farm but are not that involved with the day-to-day operation any longer. He has a son and a daughter who work with him closely on the farm, and another daughter living in New Jersey.
“We’re working on things right now to get me out of the business so we can move forward,” said Ten Eyck. “We’re at five generations of Ten Eycks right now working on this farm because at one time or another all the grandchildren have worked here. My son, Peter, and my daughter, Laura, are soon going to be in charge and they both have ideas to take the farm into the next generation.”
Reach Gazette reporter Bill Buell at 395-3190 or [email protected]