Dan Tower comes to Saranac Lake Farmer's Market each Tuesday.
"I'm passionate about everything I grow," Dan says. "I like to grow things."
At Sandy Hill Fruits and Vegetables in the town of Bangor, west of Malone, Dan, his wife, son and daughter grow "a little of everything," which includes tomatoes, peppers, zucchini, cucumbers, mesclun mix and lettuce, various types of beans, sweet corn, broccoli, carrots, beets, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, and even some fruit, like raspberries. This past year, Dan and his family started growing strawberries, which take up about half of their five acres of farmland.
(Photo — Yvona Fast)
They also have honeybees and sell honey, creamed honey and honeycomb at Dan's Busy Bees stand on Route 11B, west of Malone.
Dan's love for growing things began when he was a youngster.
"I had parents who grew things when I was a kid," he said. "It's something I did with my folks, and I just stayed with it. It's what I've always done - I've always enjoyed watching things grow. As long as I continue to enjoy it, I'll continue to do it."
Dan even said he grew things for his neighbors before he began growing vegetables as a business.
"What we want people to understand is that our produce at the farmers' markets is local, so it's fresh," Dan explained of his passion for fresh, quality produce. "I'm 40 to 45 miles away. What I bring is picked that day or the day before. We take pride in what we bring to the customer. There is a big difference in flavor and quality.
"There's a lot of produce that comes to us as customers that is traveling from 1,500 miles or 3,000 miles away, or even more. In contrast, we harvest the afternoon or evening before market. If time permits we harvest in the early morning. We were out at 6 this morning. Almost everything that you see here was harvested yesterday or this morning by myself, my two kids and my wife.
"It is a family endeavor - it's an adventure. Once the kids are out of school in June, they get involved picking strawberries. My son likes picking the onions, too. He's involved with the honey extraction: He likes getting the honey from the honeycombs in the extracting room while I'm out picking the beehives. He does that all by himself, it is a big help to me.
"My daughter is the organizer; she makes sure things are put together and organized. She likes harvesting the carrots and she helps me out at the markets during the summer. My wife just jumps in and does whatever needs to get done. They were all out helping this morning - picking, washing, loading the truck.
"My wife was helping before she went to work - she's director of personnel. It is go, go, go. They seem to enjoy it - meeting people, talking to customers. It takes the edge off doing it all by myself - which I'll have to do when they go back to school. We stay busy all the time. On a farm, there is always something to do. In winter we cut wood - we heat with wood."
In farming, some years are better than others. This year has been particularly trying, with the cool rainy summer and the tomato blight. "It puts a strain on you," says Dan, who had to replant some crops that failed to germinate due to weather conditions. "It is discouraging when what you anticipate fails."
Dan is the only vendor at the farmers' market with sweet onions. He describes the growing process: "When you grow onions, the earlier you can put them in the better. Put out your sets as soon as frost leaves the ground. Look in seed catalogs to find specialized onions, because not every catalog will sell them. You can get storage sets anywhere, but specialized onions you have to search through catalogs to find." Dan grows red, white, and Vidalia-style sweet onions.
Dan also sells peaches, which he cannot grow on his northern New York farm. "These peaches come from western New York - the Rochester area near the Pennsylvania border," he explains, offering customers slices of a luscious peach dripping with juice.
Dan either goes down to get them or has someone else get them.
"I always make sure the flavor is there. I don't want to bring peaches to market that are mealy," he continues. "Because they have to pick them so early, the peaches you get at the supermarket are mealy. If that's what people want, it's there for them to take. But I remember as a youngster, eating peaches that run down your chin and you have to use your shirtsleeves to wipe them. Not to say that everyone has the same taste buds I do, but that's what I remember and that's what I want to bring here to my customers."
A customer approaches. "I missed you last week," says Dan. The woman replies, "These berries look like they want to go home with me."
This article is based on an interview with Dan Tower.