With the abundant natural beauty in the Southern Finger Lakes region of New York, it should come as no surprise that business owners large and small are making conservation efforts a priority to preserve the integrity of the land, their communities, and the sparkling waters of Keuka Lake.
The consumer demand for sustainably made products is real and increases every year. People want and crave a healthier lifestyle, and they care about what goes into their bodies. Many businesses in the Southern Finger Lakes region are working to develop environmentally friendly practices to help the cause. Here’s a handful of the groups that are making a difference in keeping this scenic section of New York beautiful for generations to come.
1. Healing Spirits Herb Farm and Education Center
Founded in 1982, Healing Spirits is an organic farm raising herbs that are hand-picked, solar-dried, and hand-process on the property. Owners Andrea and Matthias Reisen say that if they don’t look at sustainability in the production of their food and medicine, there is no sustenance to what they offer to themselves and future generations. In this vein, they have a 16.5 KW photovoltaic solar array to supply part of their energy for the business. “We only have one planet at this time, and it is very important to nurture it just as we would ourselves,” Andrea Reisen says.
The farm creates and sells a wide range of organic, handcrafted oils, body-care products, and compound herbal tinctures. “We look at a holistic approach to healing, not only the body but the planet earth also,” Reisen says. “By looking at a holistic approach to business, we have to include sustainability, the environment, and what effects we have on it.”
2. Three Birds Restaurant
The ambiance here is romantic and modern, featuring a dining room filled with hand-blown glass from local artists. But don’t be fooled by the mellow vibe—this is a farm-to-table restaurant hustling to work in harmony with nature by featuring seasonal menus that rotate based on what’s available among locally grown organic vegetables and herbs, ethically sourced meat, and wild-caught seafood. This can include foraged mushrooms, hand-picked blueberries, and so much more.
With chefs trained by the Institut Paul Bocuse and the Culinary Institute of America, it follows that the highlight of the menu is the Chef's Table selections. These five- or seven-course meals are each paired with different wines, many of which are locally produced. The owners of Three Birds, John and Debra Loehnert, extend their sustainable efforts by being involved in the community and hosting or supporting many local charity events.
3. Heron Hill Winery
Sustainability is at the forefront of why Heron Hill grows its own grapes to make wine (versus purchasing grapes from other growers.) “We want to produce products that people feel good about drinking and sharing,” says Marketing Manager Chelsea Guererri. “We take sustainable practices seriously and implement them wherever we can.”
Both Heron Hill and Ingle Vineyards (co-owned by John and Jo Ingle) don’t use chemical fertilizers, herbicides, or insecticides. In addition to the human health benefits, this keeps the runoff out of the water table and nearby lakes. Keuka Lake provides an epic view from the award-winning tasting room at Heron Hill in Hammondsport—and they want to keep it that way. The vineyards also use techniques for weed maintenance and fertilization that help improve the soil versus stripping it of its nutrients, which then leads to chemical assistance to keep producing. As with an increasing number of area businesses, the vineyards even provide much of their own power with their own solar array.
“Sustainability is more than just the soil and the land, it’s also being able to have the wine and vineyard workers make a living wage from the work and the land,” says John Ingle. He is committed to providing consistent jobs for his employees, going beyond the seasonal work seen in most agricultural endeavors.
“Sustainability is for everyone and businesses of every size,” Ingle says. “Young people starting out small, and older people who’ve been doing it for decades, need to get behind sustainability and push it forward. I’m excited about putting the energy, time, and money to see it through.”
Ingle is currently an integral part of a group building a collaboration for New York State winemakers who are interested in using more sustainable agricultural practices. About 30 winery representatives showed up to the first meeting, and as Ingle says, “We have a good feeling and optimism that we are doing the right thing.”
4. Stewart’s Family Farm Creamery and Store
This family-run business grows all of its produce organically with no pesticides, and it practices soil-enriching methods. Most of its vegetables are heirloom varieties, which means that they can reproduce naturally, unlike some mass farmed and genetically modified produce. By using heirlooms, the Stewarts can also offer a wider variety of vegetables, which is important for maintaining food resilience and sustainability. It’s essential to keep heirloom varieties from going extinct as they are often more capable of withstanding diseases and environmental changes.
A diverse operation, Stewart’s Family Farm offers ethically produced products including beef, lamb, goat, maple syrup, baked goods made with locally ground flour, cheese, ice cream, and milk from cows and goats that are not treated with rBST. According to the farm’s mission, “We believe that the quality of food really matters and our desire is to share our love of tasty, healthy and beautiful food with everyone!”
An integral part of their sustainability efforts involves engaging with the community year-round. This includes a uniquely structured Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program that allows the public to buy a discounted share of its products. The Stewart Family Farm also offers various classes on a wide range of topics from cheese making to learning about the slow textile movement and natural dyes. You can even learn to make pasta and tortillas from scratch.
5. Timber Stone Grill
Timber Stone is a chef-owned restaurant in Hammondsport where crafting creations with “locally sourced ingredients, meats & regional cuisines” is paramount. This farm-to-table eatery has a strong commitment to the community and practices sustainability by using as many locally sourced products in its meals as possible, including offering rotating taps for local beer and partnering with a local vineyard. Timber Stone has a special collaboration with the nearby McGregor Vineyard winemakers to craft wine and food pairings not found elsewhere. (Check their website for details on the monthly McGregor wine dinners and other special events.) When visiting Timber Sone, don’t miss the highlight of the menu—the chef’s small-plate tasting option of three or five mini entrees based on what’s fresh in the kitchen or on the chef’s mind.
6. Houghton Land Preserve
Jamie and Maisie Houghton wanted people to have a quiet place to find peace of mind when they contributed their 194-acre property to the Finger Lakes Land Trust (FLLT). The Houghton family has a deep commitment to the Corning community, and this was a way for the family to give back. They created a free public nature preserve—with no motorized vehicles—and put it in the care of the FLLT. The land will be protected in perpetuity, meaning that it can never be sold and will never be developed.
“There have been numerous studies showing how important it is for mental health to live near green spaces and to have access to getting outside,” says Kelly Makosch, director of development and communication for the Finger Lakes Land Trust. The preserve is located in the headwaters of the Chesapeake Bay watershed and contributes to water quality protection in the Chemung River watershed.
“Any time you can protect open space it’s good for climate resilience,” Makosch says. “Protecting land around the water helps to prevent excess nutrients from going into the waterways, which can help prevent algae blooms and other issues.
“One thing that makes it so special is how close it is to downtown Corning,” she says. “Having a nature preserve that is really close to the downtown center is a tremendous asset for the community.”
7. Bluebird Trail Farm
Based on the idea that people who know where their food comes from have a deeper appreciation of it, Bluebird is an educational farm that offers a variety of activities and products to promote its mission. The core of its offerings are chemical-free produce and humanely pasture-raised meats. All poultry is raised on pasture, which means the animals have almost full-time access to sunshine and the outdoors. Its free-range pork is provided with a constant supply of compost materials, such as potato peels, apple cores, and garden leftovers. Sheep and goats are almost exclusively raised on pasture with the addition of hay and some grain.
The public is encouraged to visit the farm to pick seasonal vegetables and fruit or join its CSA, which provides garden shares twice per week. The farm offers three educational programs for schools and maintains several conservation and educational projects to support a range of wildlife. It created a meadow from an old hayfield to provide for pollinators, and it has installed bat houses. A honey bee colony was brought in to ensure the pollination of the pastures, and a monarch butterfly waystation provides a habitat for the migrating insects. Perhaps its most popular endeavor is the mile-long Bluebird Trail, which was built specifically to provide a much-needed habitat for the bluebirds. Guests can hike the trail with more than 30 houses provided for the birds.
All these initiatives make sense for both the businesses and the Southern Finger Lakes region in general. As more and more companies are finding out, being good for the environment is something that makes sense.
Written by Lisa Collard for Matcha in partnership with Steuben County.