State Sen. Pam Helming, R-54th District, recently visited three Wayne County farm operations to learn more about the products that each farm produces and how each farm works, as well as to get to know the farmers.
Gary Orbaker, of Orbaker’s Fruit Farm in Williamson, led the tour that included stops at Lagoner Farms in Williamson, Orbaker’s Fruit Farm and Lake Breeze Fruit Farms in Sodus.
Along with Skip Jensen, New York Farm Bureau field adviser; Zack DeBadts, Wayne County Farm Bureau president; and other Farm Bureau representatives, the tour included a meeting with farmers to talk about issues that concern them.
“Agriculture is the biggest industry in the 54th District and one of my main priorities as a New York state senator,” Helming said. “As well as producing our food, farms support our families and communities, create jobs and boost our local and state economy, so they reach virtually every aspect of our daily lives whether we realize it or not. I really enjoyed seeing these three farms, meeting these farmers and seeing what they do up close. This tour helped add a personal touch to my agenda for agriculture in the Finger Lakes region and throughout New York.”
Helming spent time speaking with Dulce Gelina, whose family owns DeMay Labor, a Williamson-based farm labor contractor that provides labor for farmers, food processors and other groups in the northeastern U.S. Together, they talked about labor issues and regulatory burdens such as unemployment mandates that hinder the agriculture industry.
“The meeting I attended with Sen. Helming was an assuring attempt by one of our promising politicians to address the very important matters that the farmers in New York state face in today’s business world,” Gelina said. “I just hope she can help us, and I am willing to give her assistance in these matters.”
At Lagoner Farms, Helming visited Embark Craft Cider Works, the Williamson farm’s on-site cidery and taproom, as well as the bakery where the farm sells various homemade baked goods and the flower shop. Owner Jacob Lagoner told Helming that he would like to see cideries grow as an industry, because there are not as many of them compared to the number of wineries, breweries and distilleries throughout the Finger Lakes region. Embark Craft produces several kinds of cider, including blueberry peach and strawberry rhubarb. The cidery uses steel tanks made by Geneva-based Vance Metal Fabricators, which Helming visited recently.
“The Finger Lakes region is already well known for its various wineries and, in recent years, its breweries and distilleries,” Helming said. “Like Jacob Lagoner, I would love to see cideries as a whole expand and complement these other aspects of our beverage industry throughout the region.”
At Orbaker’s Fruit Farm, Helming checked out the cherry orchard that also grows apples and peaches. She watched the cherry harvester in action as it shook cherries off a tree, and she visited the on-site farm stand and area where the farm packages its cherries for distribution.
“It was great that Sen. Helming was able to visit Wayne County and see three existing fruit farms, each doing something a little different with their crops,” Orbaker said. “It was interesting that on this particular day we were mechanically harvesting our sour cherries as well as handpicking them, so she was able to see all of that up close. It was something that was important to me and important for her to view as something that farmers do with fruit crops or any other crops that they grow.”
“Wayne County remains the top apple-growing county in New York state, and it is also known for its farms that grow and produce other fruits,” Helming said. “Orbaker Farms was a great example of this aspect of the agriculture industry. It was interesting to see not only how these fruit crops are grown but how they are harvested as well.”
At Lake Breeze Fruit Farm, Helming learned about how the farm owned by Zack DeBadts and his father, Bob, delivers all of its cherries to Cheribundi, the Geneva-based producer of different types of cherry juices. She also toured the Sodus operation’s cold storage units that it uses to store its cherries and other fruits. A year-old apple looked, felt and tasted just like new after being kept in the cold storage.
“Helming got to watch local cherries get harvested by a farmer in Williamson and follow them to our handling facility in Sodus, where they were received and barreled then sent to a local freezer in Wolcott,” Zack DeBadts said. “Those frozen cherries will be turned into Cheribundi cherry juice, which is produced right in Geneva, also in the 54th Senate District. The senator was blown away when she learned that the cherries never left the district until they were headed to the consumer.”
“I love hearing about local businesses supporting one another, so it was great to hear about the partnership between Lake Breeze Fruit Farm and Cheribundi,” Helming said. “It is terrific to highlight that business is actually booming in New York state, especially within the agriculture industry. The advances in agriculture technology, especially with the cold storage unit as an example, are simply astounding and truly help the industry continue to be successful.”