A new venture: Zenda Farms Preserve

WATERTOWN DAILY TIMES FILE PHOTO
Thousand Islands Land Trust’s Zenda Farm Preserve.

BY: Marcus Wolf
Conservationists and producers have teamed up to support local, sustainable agriculture at the Zenda Farms Preserve by developing and selling new wine and cheese products.

    Homestead Heritage Cheese, LaFargeville, and Coyote Moon Vineyards plan to make and sell wines and aged cheddar-style cheese, respectively, using the Zenda Farms brand and resources. The cheese producer has been using a cooler inside the historic creamery at the farm to age its cheese, while the winery has planned to plant two acres of grape vines at the preserve for the new red and white wines.

    The Thousand Islands Land Trust, which owns the 405-acre preserve, plans to sell the new products from its local partners out of the almost 80-year-old creamery and collect a portion of the profits. Rebecca F. Dahl, coordinator for the preserve, said TILT will invest the revenue toward restoring and maintaining the historic facilities at the farm, which Merle L. Youngs built in 1939 and 1940, and for stewardship programs.

    “We want to make sure producers get a fair share as well as a fair amount going to Zenda for programs,” Mrs. Dahl said.

    David W. Van Pelt II and W. Edward Walldroff, who own Homestead Heritage Cheese, have stored 60 pounds of cheese for their new product in the creamery cooler, where they will let it age for another four months.

    Mr. Van Pelt said he diverts a portion of cheese he uses to make their organic cheese curds for the new Zenda Farms cheese, places it in a mold and heats it for 27 hours while flipping it and increasing pressure intermittently. He then stores the cheese in the cooler for three to six months.

    Consumers will be able to purchase the organic cheese, which is expected to have a sweet taste and a crumbly, buttery texture, by the holiday season.

    “Looking into the future, we may expand into alpine-style or blue cheese,” Mr. Van Pelt said.

    The Randazzo family, which owns Coyote Moon, will begin planting one acre each of Marquette and Itasca grape vines Wednesday.

    Anthony P. Randazzo said Coyote Moon will use the Marquette grapes to make the Zenda Farms red wine and the Itasca grapes, which his family has never planted before, to make the white wine. The preserve’s slopes allow air to move through the vines and prevent mold and mildew, and the fertile soil provides enough nutrients to help the grapes grow, Mr. Randazzo said.

    The family will start out making the Zenda Red Marquette using Marquette grapes from their vineyard, 17371 County Route 3, then transition to using only grapes from the preserve once they grow. Before that, however, the family will sell the wines on a limited basis for two years.

    “The whole thing is really neat,” Mr. Randazzo said.

    The new partnerships between TILT and the local producers not only allow TILT to continue financing its stewardship efforts at the farm, but provide another method to teach visitors how agriculture can coincide with conservation, Ms. Dahl said.

    Both producers work with natural landscape and ecosystem and use few, if any, pesticide and insecticides for their crops, sustainable techniques Mrs. Dahl said she plans to describe to visitors purveying the cheese and wine at the preserve.

    “We’re trying to use the land in the best ways we can without having added synthetic chemicals,” she said.

PRESERVING HISTORY

    After spending about a year on restoration and cleaning, TILT is ready to open the 1,200-square-foot historic creamery at Zenda Farms to the public.

    In addition to retrofitting the cooler and repairing tile work, Mrs. Dahl said she and other workers installed a new ventilation system, furnace, doors, windows, plumbing and electrical wiring and cleaned the entire facility.

    The creamery, also named the Mary and Ted Mascott Welcome Center after major donors and supporters of Zenda Farms, now features a front office decorated with informational pamphlets and antiques from the old farm, a display area that will feature the upcoming organic cheese and wines and a classroom and meeting space for programming and community activities, Mrs. Dahl said.

    The preserve coordinator plans to open the hold office hours at the creamery on Fridays starting next week, when she will provide tours of the creamery and dairy barn and answer questions. Visitors will also be able to learn about the preserve’s six other historic Jamesway Barns barns, hay keeper and corn crib, all of which Mr. Youngs built in 1939.

    “This was a big foundational step for us,” she said. “To see this come to fruition and see people get excited about it, it’s really unmatched compared to anything else I’ve done before.”

    The environmental nonprofit secured a $30,000 grant through the state Conservation Partnership Program to restore the creamery and implement a kitchen and gift shop at a later date. The grant also helped finance and informational video about the preserve’s history.

    Mrs. Dahl said TILT’s existing and future projects were created in tandem with Clarkson University’s honors program sophomore class. The class not only developed the video, which TILT will showcase in the future, but laid the foundation for new programs, a new webpage and blog.

    “We hope to have more of an online platform for Zenda,” Mrs. Dahl said.