Food Stories

Fresh Food for All
Local farmers could revolutionize how millions of New Yorkers eat

By Elizabeth Royte
On Earth, August 21, 2012

Like any farmer patrolling the back 2,000, Dave Weiss steers his pickup with two fingers, seat belt unfastened, eyes on his fence posts. “Why don’t you love me like you used to do?” he croons. “How come you treat me like a worn-out shoe?” Weiss grins, revealing the absence of several teeth, the handiwork of a bull no longer bellowing. Loose tools and pens skitter across his dashboard, which is coated in dust so thick it looks like red velour.

Built like an ox, wearing a blue plaid shirt with homemade short sleeves and a camo cap, Weiss is a man of seemingly irrepressible good humor. “How was that?” he asks eagerly. “I can also do Cash.” He points across a wooded intervale to a herd of black-and-whites knee-deep on a grassy hillside. “Those are mine,” he says, for the umpteenth time. We drive on, he growls “I Walk the Line,” and for more than an hour claims ownership of fields, forests, and cow flesh.

Born on his farm to city-bred parents who learned farming through mail-order courses, Weiss is the largest landholder in Sullivan County, New York — the heart of the Catskills, a hundred miles northwest of Manhattan. He milks 260 cows a day and sells to a major dairy cooperative. But like any farmer, he says he’s getting killed. Milk prices are low, feed prices have tripled (thanks to the corn ethanol boom), labor is expensive, and fuel costs are through the roof. Sixty years ago, the county had 400 dairy farms. Today, there are just 22. Standing downwind of his 1.4-million-gallon manure tank and no longer singing, Weiss asks, “How can we compete with the giant farms with their monster machinery, their good genetics and high plant yields and immigrant labor?”  Read full story….