For almost twenty years, Tierra Farm in Valatie has been distributing organic, sustainably raised, assorted snacks to independently operated stores around the country by the power of the sun. But they didn’t start out with a dream to roast pounds of coffee, season roasted almonds with savory curry or coat walnuts and dried cherries with thick layers of chocolate. Like many farmers in their surrounding area, the goal was to grow an an array of veggies.
In 1999, Tierra Farm was an organic lettuce farm located in the Finger Lake Region. When the winter months rolled around, the frost and ice made it hard stay financially stable, so the business took an unexpected turn. “[Tierra] started roasting cashews and other nut products so it just kind of built into this business,” the farm’s assistant director Todd Kletter told The Alt.
Driving along Valatie’s winding roads to reach Tierra, welcoming hand-painted signs point to pop-up markets and farm stands with bundles of corn and bright quarts of fresh fruit. On the first day of summer, many of the signs simply read, “STRAWBERRIES,” others advertise seasonal vegetables and other fresh picks of the day. Turning into the wholesale shop and farm of Tierra, the air smells of roasted cashews.
There are no nuts grown onsite at the small Valatie farm. Instead, Tierra sources their assorted nuts, seeds and dried fruits from like-minded organic and sustainable growers around the world. Surrounded by lush pastures of surrounding farmland, their Valatie spot where they roast, season and candy their goods just isn’t big enough to simultaneously cultivate the raw products.
However, there is a fully functioning farm onsite with fresh vegetables and herbs that are used for multi-course employee lunches as well as local bars and restaurants in town such as The Sandwich Shop on Main Street, which makes a mean guacamole, seasoned with the perfect amount of cilantro. The goods are also available at their cafe in Albany, located on Madison Avenue.
Regardless of the outsourced raw goods, Tierra Farm is a destination for locals. At their wholesale shop, Kletter estimates that about 50 to 75 visitors a day come to grind a bag of freshly roasted coffee beans. They can pick up bagels and vegan pastries and grind their own organic unsalted almond or walnut butter. There is a taste testing station with assorted seasoned snacks and treats like their date rolls, covered in crushed coconut or almonds or their maple walnut butter that is just the right amount of sweet.
“Any new product we have, we’ll test it in the store and see if it’s going along,” Kletter said. “It’s a really good beta program.”
Overall, the farm distributes raw, roasted, salted and seasoned combinations of nuts and seeds that Kletter says represents about 250 different products they produce from the roasting room, not to mention their dried fruit variations. “With our spices,” he says, “everything is made on its own so if we’re doing something like a spicy cajun cashew, we’ll throw a few things together to get the flavor right. There’s no added sugars, and these are all small-batch roasted.”
All the roasting done at the farm is done on customer demand and according to Kletter, the roasters will put out roughly 7,000 pounds of product in an 8-hour shift, to be sent off to health stores and co-ops around the country. Locally, small shops like Honest Weight Co-Op in Albany and Healthy Living in Saratoga Springs are their biggest accounts. Since the business opened, Tierra Farm had distributed in a fairly small area, keeping their radius around independently owned shops and organically focused produce and recently they’ve seen a major jump.
“There’s been a cross over, as far as I’ve seen in the last couple of years, where folks who haven’t really been eating organic before have started to do so, it’s become more mainstream,” Kletter explained. Today, larger chains in places like California have started to pick up on the business.
“Organic is obviously something that the more popular it is in a particular state the more likely they are to have us,” he adds. “We don’t do a lot in like, Arkansas, for example. But, California, Oregon, Wisconsin and obviously Vermont and New York–we do as much as we can close to home.”
Behind the conjoined store and roasting facility are two quaint buildings and the vegetable farm. Added five years ago, the rooms include a commercial kitchen–used for making employee meals and initially testing new flavors–as well as the chocolate and coffee room.
As soon as the door to the chocolate room opens, the scent of chocolate is overpowering. Trays of cocoa dusted almonds lay on a rack waiting to be polished and cases of dark chocolate cherries are already packaged up. About 25 different products are chocolate coated here. Chris, who is working on a new batch, rolling over raw almonds as they tumble in the three coating vats, says that he coats “about 2,000 pounds per week. But that picks up in the winter.”
Next door is the coffee room, where selected coffee varieties are roasted in small batches and bagged by hand before being walked over to the store or shipped out to local cafes such as Tierra Coffee Roasters in Albany.
The farm is bustling with activity, churning out sweet and savory snacks that are certified organic and sustainably made. The coffee and chocolate are Free Trade and roughly 70 percent of the energy used on site comes from their several solar panels.
“We’re really proud that we use solar power as much as we can,” Kletter said. “It really does have a huge impact and people who are conscious of that can really understand and appreciate that.”
The number of panels has grown over the years. A panel nestled in the small farm was the first they ever had, today there are panels on the roof of the wholesale shop, two small ones sit near the loading dock and three massive panels welcome visitors along the front entrance.
When it comes to sustainability, Kletter says that working with all organic products makes it easy to maintain waste. “We do everything we possibly can to use everything that we can here so that there’s no byproduct here. Even down to washing dishes, it’s all done with no additives. We’re very conscious of what’s going down the drains here. Our cups, the packaging you see in the store, it’s 100 percent compostable, recyclable.”
Tierra Farm is one of the many responsibly manufactured businesses in the local area with a reputation of distributing all-organic products generated by solar power to independently owned and operated stores and cafes around the country. To Kletter and the Tierra Farm team, the food industry is changing–with customers in search for natural, sustainable products they can enjoy–and they’re happy to deliver.
Photos by author