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Suzanne Hunt
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From Jon regarding sustainability efforts at Hunt Country: Due to the short nature of the interview I tried to keep the answers concise. I could go on for pages about the steps we have taken to improve our sustainability. We have been doing many things on the farm that are steps toward sustainablity on every level. In our cars we run Green Diamond tires, made in the USA (Pennsylvania I believe) out of recycled materials and distributed by small family owned businesses. We have been experimenting with making biodiesel and using it in our vineyard tractors. We work very hard to conserve electricity both in the house and winery. We are installing a small 1.2KW wind turbine as an experiment and a demonstration to see how economically viable it is on our site. If that goes well we will hopefully be putting a larger one up (still very small compared to the commercial ones.) We have always been a minumum tillage vineyard. Unlike conventional commodity farming (corn/small grains) vineyards require very little tillage once established. The biodiversity of both plant and insect populations within the vineyard is hundreds of times greater than that of the average golf course. This diversity encourages many native pollinators such as solitary bees, and helps encourage many species of native birds including predatory birds such as a variety of hawks, kestrels and owls. Our vineyard manager regularly scouts the vineyard and applies the latest IPM research and techniques to our pest control program, thus minimizing our potential environmental impact from pesticides while maintaining healthy vines. We have been running low growing ground cover trials directly under the grape trellis for many years in hopes of reducing bare soil in the vineyards and the potential for erosion. I produce around 200 tons of compost a year with our grape pummace and yeast lees (leftovers from pressing grapes and fermentation) by mixing it 50/50 with certified organic cow manure from a local dairy. This is done in the fall, and the resulting compost is used following year in both the vineyards and the gardens. There are many other things we do that are environmentally friendly. How to make ourselves more sustainable is a frequently held discussion. We love to think that someday we will be able to say we are totally sustainable, I just personally like to be cautious when using that term. We are a fairly diverse farm as far as wineries go. We own 173 acres and manage another 123 acres of adjacent land, of that there are about 70 acres of grapes total. We sell a small portion of our grapes to other local wineries and we buy a portion of our grape needs from other local growers. In addition to grapes we also sell hay to local livestock farmers and horse owners. In the mid 1980's we began to turn former grazing land into forest. We heat several of our buildings (including the house) with firewood harvested from our own woodlot and have done so since the beginning of the farm (1850's). Generally the wood harvested is from dead or severely diseased trees. Wood heat is ideal in our situation because we grow the wood ourselves and do not burn enough to deplete the forest, so it is about as close to carbon neutral as possible.
That's all great to hear. They've definitely been shy about talking about our sustainabilty efforts. I've been emailing with Jon about the video and I'll paste what he wrote for you below (he's working on some blends at the moment) but will hopefully get online soon to respond to the VM comments. And I promised Morgan and Evan that I'll keep closer tabs on your blog!
My family was being very humble in your interview and, as you pointed out, hesitant to claim to be “sustainable.” There are two reasons for this. First, although we’re continually working to be more and more sustainable, we see these as just small steps towards sustainability. And second, because the term “sustainable” has been used and abused and can mean different thing to different people. That said, there is an effort to define what sustainable viticulture means in the Finger Lakes. In 2003 I spent the summer working for Environmental Defense in northern California on endangered species preservation on farm land and met Dr. Cliff Ohmart and some of the other creators of the Lodi Sustainable Grape Growing workbook. I brought a copy of the workbook back to Cornell Cooperative Extension (CCE). In the past several years, CCE has created a sustainable grape growers workbook for the region (the effort was lead by Jamie Hawk a family friend and former employee) and we’re engaged in that effort. “Sustainability” got it’s foot hold in common lexicon in the 1980’s thanks to the Bruntland Commission (also known as World Commission on Environment and Development) by defining sustainable development as development that “meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” Jonathan and Caroline are the 6th or 7th generation of Hunts to live on the farm (depending on whether you believe the stories passed down, or the historical records we’ve been able to find). While as a farm and family we seem to meet the Bruntland definition, we are not and island, and to be fully sustainable would have to produce our own energy, recycle all materials, etc. For me, sustainability is an evolution. As Jon said in the video, we are working to continually become more and more sustainable. Jon talked about composting and my Dad talked about the efficiency of the winery and our goal to become energy self sufficient (with wind, geothermal and solar power), but they could have also talked about the Sustainable Agriculture, Research and Education (SARE) grant we received from USDA several years ago to study the use of ground covers (we chose a vetch variety and an ivy) under the vines instead of herbicide (as is the standard practice in NY), the windmill base that they installed on the hill for a small vertical axis wind turbine (we’re still waiting for it to arrive) from Mariah Power (, or the biodiesel processor that Jon built to make biodiesel from waste grease to use in the tractors, or the integrated pest management work that Cornell researchers have done in our vineyards over the years and the bat boxes that Dad built and installed. Caroline could have talked about her masters degree in entomology from Cornell and how she is bringing her enormous knowledge and passion from her family’s organic farm in Oregon (Ayer’s Creek Farm, often featured on NPR, supplies the finest restaurants in Portland and the local community with the most incredible fruits, vegetables, and grains you’ve ever tasted) to Hunt Country. She mentioned the organic vegetable gardens that she and Jon are developing but didn’t mention that she’ll be experimenting with organic grape growing practices to see what is possible at Hunt Country in the future. “Sustainability” in academia and in the business world is generally talked about as having three pillars: environmental, social and economic. My family’s community engagement has always been enormous ranging from leadership on the local wind committee, to the Keuka Lake Association, to the town planning board, to the Yates Country Arts Council, to founding the Keuka Lake Winery Route years ago, to organizing fund raisers for the local animal shelter, to creating the annual Community Gourmet Harvest Festival (we buy as much local food as possible – this year Caroline and Jon will be growing the produce – and a portion of the proceeds go to the local churches, FFA, and other organizations). Economic considerations are also critical to sustainability because you could have the most environmentally friendly farm around, but if you go out of business, you’ve not sustained your operations. In my own work (Hunt Green, LLC) one of the projects I’m currently engaged in is looking globally at the impact of agriculture on the climate (according to the IPCC – Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change - the ag sector produces about 14% of global greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs) directly and another nearly 20% of emissions indirectly by driving deforestation in the tropics, making agriculture as a sector the second largest contributor to climate change after fossil fuel use). We’re in the process of developing new strategies and financial tools to help reduce the ag sector’s green house gas emissions. In the temperate climes, the wine industry has been way ahead of many of the other ag industries in trying to understand climate change and what it might mean for the wine industry and how the industry will have to adapt. More work is needed on all of these fronts and I hope that the Finger Lakes wine region can help lead the way.