Ellen and her husband Rich moved to the area in 1995. Soon after their passive solar house was built, Ellen began gardening.
"It's rooted in my interest in the environment and my desire to be at least a little self-sufficient," she said.
Rich and Ellen were college sweethearts; they met at Vassar in the Hudson Valley.
(Photo — Yvona Fast)
"When we married and decided it was time to settle down and look for some land to build a home, we were drawn to the Adirondacks," Ellen said. "Rich had roots here. He was from Canton; his family has camp at Lake Ozonia. We also had friends here, including Nancy Bernstein. We love the Adirondacks. It's a different world living within the Blue Line. In Saranac Lake, there is real community cohesiveness and so much going on."
Ellen and Rich have long been interested in the environment. Inspired by Pete Seeger's vision of people working together to foster better communities, Ellen volunteered on the Hudson River Sloop Clearwater during her senior year at Vassar.
This environmental organization, started in 1969 in an effort to clean up the Hudson River, works to inspire, educate and activate people in the river corridor towards environmental action. "I fell in love with sailing and environmental education," she said. "I spent four seasons as crew member on the boat, filling every position from engineer to first mate. I made many friends; this is where I met Nancy Bernstein."
Ellen and Rich bought the land in 1993 and started building their passive solar home. While Rich worked long distance for the University of Washington as a research meteorologist, conducting fieldwork in Antarctica and in the Arctic, Ellen raised kids and grew a large garden.
"I wanted to know how to grow at least some of our food for ourselves," she said. "Gardening and farming is a bit of an outgrowth of my hands-on temperament. I find it endlessly fascinating, always learning new techniques, tweaking methods to get my land to produce just a little more. I love my garden, and kept expanding it. Today it is a small quarter-acre plot on a hillside."
Their kids were growing and in school. After a brief stint at a local nonprofit, Ellen decided to devote more time into pursuing her love of growing things, so she looked for opportunities to sell what her garden produced.
"Coincidentally, a new farmers market was forming at Paul Smith's College," she said. "They needed vendors and also needed a manager. I became both during my first season in 2006. Later on, I shifted my focus to Tupper Lake, where I now manage and sell at a market at The Wild Center."
As a market manager, Ellen noticed a lot of turnover.
"Farming is hard work, and this isn't farming country," she said. "The soils are rocky; the season is short; the climate is cold. People come fired up with high quality produce, but it's hard to make a go of it on a small scale. That's why there are so few farms growing vegetables in in the Tri-Lakes. "When I went to the (Northeast Organic Farming Association) conference in Saratoga Springs, all the farms represented were outside the Blue Line - all around, nothing on the inside."
Ellen wants to encourage everyone to try backyard gardening and experienced gardeners to think about expanding to sell some of their produce.
"Season extension without added heat is being pioneered in other cold climates," she said. "I've read Elliot Coleman's books. He farms in Maine and can harvest vegetables all year round. I think it can be used here, even in our inhospitable local area, to provide fresh veggies for more than half the months of the year. And while backyard gardening can't compete economically with the massive farms in California and the Midwest, it does provide a quality that cannot be duplicated, and a small hedge against food insecurity."
When Ellen learned there was interest in a community garden, she put her efforts into organizing that endeavor.
"I wanted to see it happen - make it happen," she said. "It's another way people can work together to improve their own lives while creating community. We had a few false starts. Then the Adirondack Medical Center generously offered us a location on Old Lake Colby Road. We started there in 2009, and started the second site, Goose Hill, on village land on McKenzie Pond Road in 2010. We have 21 plots at the Colby garden and 20 at the Goose Hill site. Currently, we have 20 members. There are still plots available at the community gardens.
"In neighboring counties, the community garden project is more developed. For example, Hamilton County has a Cornell Cooperative Extension employee dedicated to organizing community gardens and growing food for local food pantries. Volunteers from the community and food pantry recipients help with the project. I would like to see something like that happen here. Last year, the presbyterian church had a couple plots and donated the produce to the local food pantries."
In another effort to support North Country's gardeners, Ellen will be reviving The Garden Plot blog on North Country Public Radio. This project started as a collaboration between Traditional Arts in Upstate New York, NCPR and local gardeners. The blog encourages gardening conversation, tips, maps, photos and resources shared by gardeners in the region.
An environmentalist, community organizer and gardener/farmer, Ellen is working to bring wholesome, local food to the Tri-Lakes, providing quality and food security.
Based on an interview with Ellen Beberman. Yvona Fast can be reached at www.wordsaremyworld.com.