In the Field: Weiss Farms
To a farmer like Tony Weiss, empty land is a blank canvas waiting for his inspiration and intention. His fields, dotted with greens of asparagus and beans, and reds and purples of berries, evolve through the desires of the farmer and the tastes of his customers. Weiss finds farming hard work, but satisfying in its honesty.
“I always liked that with farming, you have the freedom to do what you have in mind,” says Weiss. “You know, when you work for someone, you can only go so far on the ladder. With farming, there’s no end to it.”
Weiss has been in agriculture since he was old enough to hold a pitchfork. Located in Eden, Weiss Farms originally belonged to Weiss’s grandfather, who bought the farm in the 1920s. Throughout Weiss’s high school days, the property included a dairy, and Weiss took care of forty-five cows, milking and cleaning them before and after school each day. In the 1950s, Weiss’s family sold the cows and went into vegetables. In the 1960s, Weiss took over the reins.
Every Saturday market, Weiss wakes at 2 a.m. in order to get to the Clinton-Bailey wholesale market. Following that stint, he brings his produce to the Elmwood-Bidwell Farmer’s Market in the Elmwood Village, where he holds prime real estate adjacent to Caffe Aroma. Most know the Weiss stand for its red and white checkered tablecloths and friendly service.
Weiss Farms’ main crops are strawberries, peppers, beans (green, lima, and pinto), and melons. The farm also raises many heirloom varieties of tomatoes, potatoes, sweet corn, asparagus, and sweet peas, but the strawberry offerings—which include the farm’s you-pick offering—are causing the most excitement among Buffalo-area locavores. The start date of the picking season varies between June 1 and June 15, and, at times, reaches into the beginning of July.
“Their growth is initiated by the length of day, not the heat,” explains Weiss. “When the sunshine gets to the point where they wake up, they start growing.” The farmer admits to having a hard time choosing which crop he likes best, but one of his favorite desserts is strawberry shortcake. Weiss says store berries are not like homegrown because the former are grown for longevity.
“You cut theirs in half, and they’re white,” he notes. “You cut ours in half, and they’re all red. But I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with either one of them.”
Customers can also purchase Weiss Farms’ offerings at the Lexington Co-operative Market on Elmwood Avenue in Buffalo and Market in the Square at the Southgate Plaza in West Seneca. In addition, a number of roadside stand owners often carry products from Weiss Farms.
Weiss’s property includes about 150 acres, but he doesn’t use the entirety at once. Calling upon years of intimate knowledge with the land, Weiss utilizes a tried-and-true rotation that alternates which crops are grown in which plots. “You can’t keep planting crop after crop, as you need to let that ground rest, and plant a crop that will put nitrogen and nutrients back into the soil,” he says. Weiss estimates that he potentially uses seventy to seventy-five working acres every year.
When Weiss plants strawberries, he keeps them a maximum of four years—after that, he plows them down and puts in a cover crop in to let the land rest. Since strawberries take so much from that ground, Weiss says he won’t go back into that spot with strawberries for eight years.
“That’s why I need to have enough land to keep rotating,” he says. “Asparagus, on the other hand, will last twenty years in one spot. Some people grow it longer, if they can keep the weeds out.”
At seventy-two, Weiss is looking to retire. “I was hoping some young interested party would take an interest, and I would coach him and mentor him or her into taking the business over,” says Weiss. “It would be a wonderful opportunity for a genuinely interested individual.”
But the farmer cautions that dreamers need not apply. The combination of persistent hard work and hands-on management required will undoubtedly weed out the casually interested. Weiss also hopes that whoever buys the property will continue to use it for fruit and vegetable farming.
Marketing professional Nina Barone writes about food at buffalofoodie.com.