Meet the Farmer at the Delmar Farmers Market: Solstice Hill Farm
Have you ever wondered about the farmers behind the produce we see at our Capital Region farmers’ markets? Who are they? What are their lives like? Well this piece will give you a glimpse into the life of one farmer, Clemens MacKay, the man behind Solstice Hill Farm.
Clemens grew up on the land he now farms today in Dorloo, NY (it’s near Cobleskill). And though he grew up on this beautiful land, his parents weren’t farmers. In Clemens’ words, they were back to the land hippies. What does that mean? Well, in addition to growing huge gardens, they had no electricity until he was 9 years old and they would ride a bike that would pump water to take showers and baths! While never being exposed to actual farming, Clemens grew up outdoors with an appreciation for nature, an appreciation that clearly stuck in his blood.
As did the hippie influence. Upon graduating high school, he had his car packed and was ready to hit the road, destination unknown. But just before he embarked on that journey, his father fulfilled a promise he’d made to an 8-year-old Clemens, to take him hang-gliding. He was immediately hooked and suddenly the destination was known. He happily spent the next four years as a hang hippie (again his words), flying hang gliders in North Carolina, Florida and California.
Perhaps it was the future or the impending reality of adulthood that nudged at him, but he eventually left the skies to enroll at Cabrillo Community College in California and then later at Humboldt State University. Over the course of the next six years, he studied a variety of subjects with a focus on engineering, but that early-formed love of nature constantly whispered in his ear. Taking a summer job on a farm, it all started to become clear. He loved being outside. He couldn’t imagine spending his days locked up in an office. After his second summer on the farm, he knew he wasn’t going back to school. Farming was his destiny. Fortunately, he was reminded by his dad he would someday inherit a house on farm land back in New York.
Destiny in motion, Clemens journeyed back to New York where he initially worked on Markristo farm. Working on four farms in three years helped shape him, giving him the foundation he needed. It also exposed him to a variety of produce. In California he worked on a peach and mixed vegetable farm. And while he hasn’t given up on the idea of peaches in New York, it was lettuce he fell in love with. He loves gigantic bowls of salads. But it was more than just the love of vegetables, it was also what it did for his life. When he first began farming, his health was really suffering. Living on a farm, eating pure farm vegetables and eliminating processed foods changed his life. His health returned and he continued to want endless salads.
Clemens confesses he probably would have benefited from continuing to work for other farmers for a bit longer, but he had the passion and in 2010, Solstice Hill Farm was born. Six years later, he still has the sparkle in his eye to confirm it was the right choice. And he’s growing. He tells me he recently purchased an additional 30 acres of land to add the 28 already owned. He’s also added 1000 mushroom logs and will be expanding into wholesaling shiitakes next year, in addition to foraged wild mushrooms, chanterelles and black trumpets.
Isn’t it stressful, I ask him? With farming you’re always at the mercy of nature. He laughs and agrees, yes, yes it is stressful. And there are times when he’s on his knees calling mercy. But the rewards far outweigh the stress. The energy and satisfaction from bringing in a crop are worth the moments of angst. To bring a beautiful load of produce to market and have people love your work, to have people ask, “did you really grow this?” make it worth the effort. It’s stressful, but it’s beautiful. He shares with me how he sees an artistic aspect to farming. When you’re an organic farmer, you’re not out to beat up nature and make it succumb to you. You work with nature. You coax her and mold her. There’s an element of creativity and it’s beautiful. The long straight rows, the flowers, the constant background of bird song. Organic farming harmonizes with nature, an element of peace that counterbalances the stress.
Yes, I can see this in his eyes. He will farm until his body is no longer able. The future of Solstice Hill Farm may also include farm stays, agritourism events that allow regular folk a peek into the beauty of the world Clemens sees every day.
Until then, you can find Solstice Hill Farm through his CSA, at wholesale markets, or at one of the following five local farmers markets: Delmar Farmers Market, Voorheesville Farmers Market, First Presbyterian Church in Albany Market, Gloversville Market and Cooperstown Market.
Do stop by; you’ll be glad you did.