FARM FRESH to Farmers Market : Bush Gardens family farm stays local from seed to sale

DAYTONA NILES / NNY BUSINESS
Loren and Chris Bush pick lettuce in preparation for their Wednesday Watertown Farmer & Craft market.

BY: Norah Machia
Loren Bush and his wife, Chris, bought their 15-acre farm just outside of Carthage nearly 10 years ago with a long-range plan of growing an abundance of fruits and vegetables to sell locally.

      Today, they are working 14 to 16 hours daily on their land, growing plants in their fields and inside three high tunnels (plastic-covered unheated greenhouses). They also built a main heated greenhouse to help expand their growing season, allowing them to start planting in February. Their farm is located at 10371 NYS Route 26, between Deer River and Denmark, where they also have a large roadside stand.

    Since they bought the land, the couple has built their farm into a nearly full-time produce operation, establishing themselves as one of the top fruit and vegetable vendors at the Watertown Farm & Craft Market. They also sell eggs from the chickens raised on their land. This year, the couple started producing honey and maple syrup as well, with help from other family members, said Mr. Bush.

     They have maintained a presence at the market for eight years and have an established customer base. Their booth at the market attracts new customers each year, including those in the military seeking out their booth for the first time, he said.

    “People buy from us because they know we grow it, and we’re not buying it off a truck,” Mr. Bush said. They offer a variety of seasonal vegetables and fruits, including lettuce, spinach, tomatoes, peppers, onions, carrots, cucumbers, eggplants, beans, potatoes and zucchini, along with blueberries, raspberries, and melons.

    “It’s all home grown, and that’s what people want to buy,” he said. The couple’s roadside stand operates on an “honor system that most people have been really good about using,” he added.

     The Bush family has grown their farming operation conservatively, Mr. Bush said. “We don’t borrow money, we grow our business as we grow.” This enables them to better handle changes in the economy, such as rising fuel prices, he said.   

   Their farm operation has fulfilled another dream, providing the couple with an ideal location to raise their three adopted children, ages 7, 10 and 13.

   “This has been a great environment to raise kids,” said Mr. Bush, “We really have a lot to offer them here, and we have been able to teach them quite a bit about farming.”

     Their children are also learning the business side of the farm operation as well, he said. They help the couple with their booth at the Watertown market each Wednesday, by stocking the tables and waiting on customers, he added.

   While their produce business has been expanding, it’s still a challenge to run it as a full-time business in Northern New York. The couple supplement their income by working for the federal government, plowing snow on Fort Drum during the winter months.

     “We’re federal civilian employees for six months of the year, and we’re full-time farmers for eight months of the year,” Mr. Bush said.

   The Watertown Farm & Craft Market serves as an important way for local farmers like the Bushes to get their products from the fields to their customers.

     It’s the local produce growers who are the “heart and soul” of a traditional farmer’s market, said Kylie S. Peck, Greater Watertown-North Country Chamber of Commerce president. The chamber has been sponsoring the market in Watertown for many years.

    “We are fortunate to have several long-standing produce growers at our market,” she added.

     Many of the growers have been with the Watertown Farm & Craft Market for years, and their same customers return each season, she said. “They are on a first name basis with many of them,” Ms. Peck said.

     The Watertown Farm & Craft Market got underway in May and will continue each Wednesday from 6:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. through October 10. The market features a variety of locally grown fruits and vegetables, flowers and garden plants, baked goods, handmade crafts and jewelry and many more items.

   This year the Farmer’s Market introduced a new set-up to expand its operation. A portion of Sterling Street alongside the Watertown Municipal Building has been blocked off to traffic on Wednesdays, allowing patrons to walk from one end of the market to the other without having to cross traffic. The market runs along Washington Street from the Dulles State Office Building plaza to the office building at 215 Washington Street. 

     “In past years, people had to cross Sterling Street to get through our market,” Ms. Peck said. “It’s really changed the atmosphere, and it’s very pedestrian friendly. We also have some musicians who have set up in that area as well.”

For more information: www.watertownfarmandcraft.com www.localharvest.org/bush-gardens.