5/4/2013 7:00 AM
By Paul Post New York Correspondent
MALTA, N.Y. — Suzanne Balet-Haight is a prime example of how dramatically agriculture can evolve while getting passed from one generation to the next.
Her mother, Maria, grew up on a Saratoga County, N.Y., dairy farm, a sister of William Peck whose work in bovine genetics is known worldwide.
Then Maria and her husband, Peter Balet, ran a vegetable farm where Suzanne grew up before going to SUNY Cobleskill and Cornell University, where she specialized in horticulture.
“I came back to the family farm and started my own business,” said Balet-Haight, owner of Balet Flowers & Design in Malta, N.Y. “I was fortunate. I didn’t have to pay for much right from the get-go. We had tractors, a tiller, property. Once you get started, you can produce a lot on a little bit of land.”
Today, with help from her husband, David, state director of the American Farmland Trust, she runs a thriving farm with two greenhouses and four acres of flowers under production. Her parents still live on the farm, too, and pitch in with a variety of duties.
Also, Suzanne and David have two young children, Andrew, 9, and Julia, 6.
“They both help out with weeding and potting up plants,” Suzanne said.
In addition, she has a team of eight dedicated Master Gardener employees who advise customers with whatever it is they’re trying to do. “If we don’t know something, we find it out,” Suzanne said.
The next two months, planting season, is her busiest time of year.
Reflecting an artistic side to her talents, Suzanne’s business also features pottery — everything from plates, mugs and bowls to garden sculptures and pots to plant in.
At Christmas time, the farm hosts a holiday show with 10 to 12 local artisans, providing an opportunity for friends to enjoy the season. “It’s a neat get-together,” Suzanne said.
One of her biggest challenges is simply getting customers to visit the site, somewhat off the beaten path, about five miles south of Saratoga Springs, a major tourist destination with numerous other attractions that compete for people’s time and interest.
“Once they find us, they usually keep coming back,” Suzanne said. “You’re so close to town, but it feels like you’re in the country when you’re here.”
She and her husband are committed to protecting and promoting agricultural lifestyles not just locally, but throughout the state and globally, too. The Farmland Trust says that more than one acre of farmland is lost to development each minute of every day.
In New York state alone, 4,500 farms have been lost to real estate development since the 1980s and New York has three of the most threatened farming regions in the country — the Hudson Valley, where Suzanne and David’s farm is located, along with eastern Long Island and the Finger Lakes region.
The situation is especially pressing in Saratoga County, upstate New York’s fastest-growing county, the epicenter of a booming high-tech industry. Their farm is about six miles from GlobalFoundries’ huge new computer chip plant, with 2,000 employees, and plans are in the works for a second facility that would spur even more development by creating more than 1,000 additional jobs.
However, the Trust is partnering with other non-profits, such as Saratoga P.L.A.N. (Preserving Land and Nature) to obtain conservation easements and protect open space wherever they can.
“This is not a situation without hope,” David said.
The bright side for local farmers is Saratoga County’s proximity to a large population base that provides a market for their goods and produce. In addition to on-farm retail sales, Suzanne goes to three area farmers markets.
That’s how she got her start, by going with her mother to sell vegetables at the Saratoga Farmers Market, when it first opened in 1978. Now Suzanne and David are passing the family’s agriculture heritage on to their kids.
Andrew and Julia represent the next generation of local farmers, and there’s no telling what kinds of opportunities the future will bring them.