If you are looking for a one stop shop for your physical and mental health needs then you should check out Shady Grove Farm and Wellness Center. Since 2006, Francisco and Karen Braun have turned 45 acres in Schuyler Falls, New York, into their family home as well as a sustainable farm and wellness center. Together with their daughter, Sierra, the two have developed a 50-member Community Supported Agriculture business (CSA). Gaining popularity in the past 25 years, a CSA is a way for the consumer to connect to a local producer to get quality fresh vegetables, fruits and meat. For Shady Grove Farm members, the CSA allows them to purchase a share of fresh garden vegetables, grass fed beef and pasture raised pork.
Karen, a licensed physical therapist for 25 years, started SB’s tour at the Wellness Center upstairs in the loft of their picturesque barn. The first thing that caught my attention was the gorgeous view through the huge picture windows facing east. Karen observed that you can see the Vermont mountains in the wintertime from up there. “We used recycled barn board and bricks for the loft walls and the beams come from Vermont,” she explained. “Following the philosophy of conservation and sustainability there are a number of solar panels on top of the barn which provide the farm with three quarters of its power.
Shady Grove offers chakradance and therapeutic meditation every week with sound healing once a month. “Sound healing is taught by a certified practitioner,” Karen explained. “It is a way to relax and become more balanced.”
As we continued our tour Karen pointed towards the woods where they have developed hiking trails which go well with the ten camping tent sites on the Salmon River that runs for half a mile along the north side of the Shady Grove property.
Francisco, the manager of the farming side of the business, took us to the three 1,520 square foot unheated greenhouses called high tunnels or hoop houses. “Everything here is as organic as possible. We are not certified organic, but we use no sprays on our fruits and vegetables and if we use any pesticides they are organic.” He recommended, “People should know that they still have to wash their fruits and vegetables whether they are organic or not.”
As we walked the gardens there were perfect rows of onions, red cabbage, lettuce, peas, collards, brussel sprouts, tomatoes, and eggplants all without a weed in sight. Francisco showed me a stirrup hoe which he said is a great solution to weeds. We went by some kiwi bushes and I was amazed to see that they were loaded with flower buds. Francisco explained, “Plants have to be a hardy variety for this climate; it takes them eight years to produce fruit so what you see here looks great.” As we stopped to taste some juicy strawberries I noticed asparagus beds, rhubarb plants and some 30 fruit trees including cherry, peach, persimmon, Asian pear and nectarine.
As we drove by bee hives Francisco explained Shady Grove has about 25 hives. They started keeping bees when their friend and beekeeper, Bruce Kilgore, needed an area that was a little warmer for his bees during the winter. Now they have bees and raw honey. When I visited the Brauns they were getting ready to host a Champlain Valley Beekeepers meeting, putting on a barbecue for about 30 of its members.
In their beautiful wide-open fields, we saw beef cows relaxing in the shade; Francisco likes to keep about six or seven. They currently do not raise dairy cattle but eventually would like to bring dairy products onto the farm for future Farm-to-Table events. Shady Grove also offers pasture-raised pork and free-range chicken eggs for sale.
Francisco observed that some agricultural business owners have a hard time finding good employees. “I don’t have any problems. I use reliable high school and college students looking for a summer job and they come back because they love the farm.”
Francisco and Karen’s daughter, Sierra, has completed her first year of Environmental Science Studies at Cornell University and is home for the summer working on the farm. In addition, she is also doing an internship with the Clinton County Soil and Water Conservation district. “Going to college was a big change for me,” she said. “I really gained a better understanding of farming and I learned to appreciate the food from our farm so much more.”
The other contributing family member at the Shady Grove Farm and Wellness Center is Francisco’s mother, Jane Desotelle, who is a wild foods expert and is versed in medicinal herbs. She tends to the herb garden and offers educational walks through the gardens.
Francisco and Karen would like to do more marketing to the local community. They already sell to restaurants such as Anthony’s, Butcher Block and Pasquale’s, but they could expand on that. Soon you will be able to find Cedar Grove products at a self-serve farm stand on the corner of Route 22B and Mason Street in Peru.
Karen grew up in Peru with parents who lived off the land; Francisco childhood home was Churubusco. As adults they both traveled, living in other places but came home to the North Country. Their goal is to share their love of the land with others and show them how to live a simple, healthy life.