Fans of sweet corn flock to the Fall Creek Farm Market in Freeville, N.Y., as soon as the first early-season varieties are snapped off the stalks in nearby cornfields and brought to the large wooden building that has served as a farm market since 1985. Kim and Karin LaMotte, sisters and owner-operators in their early 50s, have been selling sweet corn since they were youngsters with a table in the front yard of the family dairy farm.
Now they are corn connoisseurs, offering dozens of varieties during the season to their customers, who have been consulted on variety selection every step of the way. From July’s first harvest to the first frost in fall, the LaMottes harvest small batches of sweet corn all day long to keep their corn bins full. Each sweet corn variety has a sign listing its characteristics and popularity. The LaMottes are always happy to talk about their sweet corn, and customers are easily lured into conversations about yellow corn versus bicolor versus white sweet corn. With up to 30 varieties offered each growing season, you can buy sweet corn by the baker’s dozen, half dozen or single ears at the Fall Creek Farm Market.
Their produce market is full-service – that is, it features all the vegetables and fruits that upstate New York has to offer. Situated on a busy road between Cortland and Ithaca, N.Y., it’s ideally located for customers living in the area, as well as commuters and tourists to the Finger Lakes region. The farm market is open daily from the last week of June until Halloween.
All the fruits and berries and many of the vegetables sold at the farm market are grown by other farmers and purchased wholesale at the CNY Regional Market in Syracuse, N.Y. The sisters grow all their own sweet corn, cut flowers and pumpkins, as well as smaller amounts of tomatoes, summer squash, winter squash and cucumbers.
The LaMottes specialize in growing what they do best. Just as sweet corn is king in their fields, the geranium is queen of their greenhouse, which was built in 2011. In mid-February, they were busy starting a wide variety of annual flower and vegetable plants that will be sold at the greenhouse from late April to mid-June.
Karin LaMotte said, “A growing part of our business is potted plants, a little different than a six-pack. We feel there’s a real market for bigger plants, container plants.”
The greenhouse is 42 feet by 100 feet, and LaMotte estimates that they have boosted production in the facility by 80 to 90 percent.
Fall Creek Farm Market is famous for its wide variety of geraniums, offering 15 to 20 different colors. With all flowers, they sell the typical small seedlings in six-packs, but more and more customers want larger plants in pots, and some will even bring in their own pots and cemetery planters to fill.
Nothing says summer like lovely buckets of cut flowers in front of a farm market, and the central New York growers excel at growing gladioli with a painter’s palette of colors blooming in August. The glads always contrast nicely with bright bales of rye straw that Kim harvests every year to sell and to decorate the market.
What advice does LaMotte offer to someone getting started in growing and selling produce? She says they need to stay on an even keel in order to deal with the ups and downs of crop diseases and weather. “You can have weather – three minutes of hail can ruin everything out there,” she said, adding that wildlife damage is constant, especially from deer and raccoons.
“Success is possible if they like working with people, if they like growing things,” LaMotte said.
She also has advice for farmstand operators buying wholesale from other growers, noting that trust is essential. “Watch for quality. You are buying in large quantities,” she said. “Over the years, I’ve come to know wholesale growers and can rely on their quality. They have to know you’re in it for the long haul.”
“My great-grandfather bought the farm in 1894, and it was a dairy farm until the 1970s, when my parents started to diversify,” LaMotte explained. Gradually they began growing and selling a little more produce every year, and in 1985, with the construction of the building, they expanded into a full-service fruit and vegetable stand.
The sisters had to make some changes following the deaths of their parents, Nick and Bert LaMotte. In 2007, they sold the last of their dairy cows and started expanding the greenhouse operation. With 80 to 100 acres of farmed land in addition to some pasture and woodland, they also grow hay and rye straw. The sisters support themselves working full-time on the farm and at the market, without outside help.
Sweet corn was always popular at Fall Creek Farm Market, but when Kim took over the task of ordering seed from their father, things took off. Once they started ordering more varieties and keeping track of customer preferences, their reputation “evolved,” noted LaMotte. “We always tried to have fresh corn on sale, a lot of different varieties.” Their most popular varieties are Honey Select, Silver King, Trinity, Accord and Inferno.
The LaMottes buy produce three times a week at the CNY Regional Market, including tomatoes, potatoes, cantaloupes and other melons, blueberries, onions, garlic, peaches, nectarines, berries and apples, as well as pickles, relishes and jellies.
However, LaMotte remarked that even if bad weather wiped out their sweet corn crop, she would never buy sweet corn elsewhere. Like everyone else in the neighborhood, she knows there’s just one place to get sweet corn – the Fall Creek Farm Market.
The author is a freelance contributor based near Ithaca, N.Y., specializing in dairy and organics, but dabbling in all things agricultural. Comment or question? Visit http://www.farmingforumsite.com and join in the discussions.