Meats and Mushrooms at Mariaville Farm
Chris and Bob Chandler didn’t set out to be farmers. “We moved to Delanson from Rotterdam in 1988 because we wanted to raise our kids in the country,” Chris explained. “We got a few animals so the boys could be involved in 4-H. Bobby started showing chickens and rabbits when he was eight. Then he fell in love with cows and that led to our first half dozen Black Angus. Next came some sheep and goats for John and Billy to show at 4-H.”
Mariaville Farm now spreads across 270 rolling acres of open pasture, perfect for grazing livestock. “The owner before us had raised about 100 cows here,” Chris explains. “We changed the fencing to high-tensile wire and started to build up our own herd. Within a couple of years, we had about 100 Black Angus in addition to the kids’ 4-H animals.”
The family now includes three generations working on the farm: Chris and Bob, their oldest son, Bobby, and his wife, Allison, and Kennedy, their 3-year-old daughter. “She’s my little helper and follows me around, filling water buckets and collecting eggs,” says proud grandmother Chris. While Bobby is the only son involved full-time on the farm, his brother Billy is in his third year at Cornell studying to be a veterinarian. “He helps with the herd and takes a real interest in dairy cow reproduction,” says Bobby. “My youngest brother, John, is a music teacher in Whitehall. He loved growing up here, but farming’s not for him.”
The Chandlers specialize in pasture-raised meats: beef, pork, lamb, chicken, duck, turkey and rabbit. All the meat is 100% free of antibiotics and hormones and processed at a USDA facility, Double L Ranch in nearby Altamont. Their herd of about 85 beef cows runs 90% Angus. They have a similar number of heritage breed pigs. A hundred sheep enjoy free access to four lush pastures. “Our cows, horses, sheep, pigs, even chickens all share the same pastures. It seems to keep everyone mellow and social,” Chris explains.
Chris raises laying hens, meat chickens, ducks and some turkeys. “I brood our laying chicks in the barn. When they’re big enough, I move them outdoors and they join the rest of the flock. They wander the barnyard all day and happily return to their henhouses at night. We built them on the frames of an old hay wagon and a trailer. That way, my husband can move them around the farm to new pastures.” Her meat chickens live a similarly luxurious existence, roaming and foraging to their hearts’ and stomachs’ content. The exercise and fresh air make for rich, dense, flavorful meat. The Chandlers process their own poultry on farm.
Mariaville Farm meat is available at four farmers’ markets year-round, including Troy, Schenectady, Saratoga and Spa City. Chris and Bobby share the markets, with Chris overseeing Troy and Schenectady while Bobby handles Saratoga. Bobby had studied at the Albany College of Pharmacy until he got fed up with pharmaceuticals and earned his degree in biology. The lab skills he gained in both settings ultimately proved transferable to his true passion, growing mushrooms.
“All mushrooms have health benefits,” Bobby explains. “That’s what first got me into this business. I love being able to heal people, but I have serious issues with the drug industry’s approach. Growing mushrooms offers an all-natural way to feed and heal people.”
Bobby and his two partners, Jake Wheeler and Tito Alejandro, cultivate seven varieties of mushrooms (shiitake, oyster (blue and golden), piopinno, lion’s mane, reishi and maitake) in a climate-controlled facility.
The Mushroom Men harvest almost every day. “Because we are climate-controlled, the process never stops. Some days we harvest shiitakes for three or four hours a day.” In summer, they harvest at least 200 pounds each week from the grow room. On average, they manage 100 shiitake blocks, 30 oyster bags, 50 to 60 lion’s mane bags and 30 bags of pioppino, aka the black poplar mushroom.
And in a wooded area of the farm, Bobby tends another mushroom mecca with 3,000 logs sprouting deeply flavorful shiitakes. “The logs rest during winter, but in summer, it’s pretty amazing to see 100 pounds growing throughout the log stacks. We use oak, maple and beech from here on the farm. It’s a fantastic way to get started on mushroom cultivation.”
Growing mushrooms encompasses a mindset: recycling, working with nature, using mushrooms to restore the environment. “I firmly believe that mushrooms can change the world.”