In 1916, Peter Ten Eyck opened Indian Ladder Farms in Altamont as a dairy farm. Fast forward 102 years, and this local institution has a retail store, bakery, cafe, brewery, event space, orchard and educational areas where local students learn about agriculture. On the vast 325-acre spread there are also wetlands, woodlands, seven residential buildings and seasonal fields where customers can pick their own blueberries, apples, raspberries and pumpkins.
ACE met with Laura Ten Eyck, the 4th-generation Vice President of Indian Ladder Farms, ahead of the September 5th Mixer on their property. Laura returned to the family business after a career in journalism, and used her writing experience to co-author a book titled The Hop Grower’s Handbook. Laura’s husband Dietrich Gehring runs the Indian Ladder Farmstead Cidery and Brewery LLC along with partner Stuart Morris. Dietrich has a background in photography editing for publications and calendars, but turned an interest in home-brewing into the Brewery two years ago.
Location: 342 Altamont Rd, Altamont NY
Employees: Between 10-100+, depending on season
In business since: 1916
What hurdles and successes do you see after 102 years in business?
Success is to stay sustainable during the transition from my father’s generation to me and my brother, and to pass the business on to the next generation if they are interested. This is a community resource; we can’t just walk away from it. We all live here. We placed a Conservation Easement on the farmland to restrict development; by selling our development rights we reinvested in the farm to protect the future.
We face the same struggles as all agricultural businesses. Weather has been made more intense with climate change, which has brought new pest species and severe weather that is problematic. A hot March causes an early bloom, then a typical April overnight in the 20s brings a killing frost – that has increased in recent years. Also, the labor market is tight and finding seasonal workers for minimum wage level work is a real challenge: we do over 50% of our business in 8 weeks in September/October. Hiring and training people for that short a period is difficult.
Is there still room for growth?
You have to be careful not to grow too fast, and we want things to remain authentic. We don’t do anything artificial. We are in the process of renovating a building as a production brewery and it will include increased event space. Currently, we can’t host weddings in the fall because the space is used for apple cider. Once this structure is complete we can move the apple cider donut production to a larger space since they are so popular. The Brewery and Cider LLC opened in 2016 and should continue to grow. We may do a book about hemp production; we have a lot of plans moving forward to expand the business.
Is there an opportunity for creatives in Farming?
The skillset of the creative mind is a necessity for a business like this. There has to be new and innovative ways to solve problems, and the creative mind is a huge benefit in a business where you have the ability to actually act upon those ideas and not just be a cog in a corporation’s machine. Others hit a roadblock and may not be able to get around it.
We have a large number of creatives here: our cider presser and assistant farm manager are both talented musicians, our Farm Manager does carvings and has a great visual eye. The seasonality works for a lot of creatives, where they have winters free for other pursuits.
What should ACE members expect to see when visiting Indian Ladder Farms for the September 5th mixer?
There will be music in the Beer Garden (Zan & the Winter Folk), a tour of the brewery and of course refreshments. The farm is open, so they can see the hop garden and animals. We want everything to remain real and authentic here; this is a working farm and people really enjoy seeing it in action.