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NYC Transplants Learn the Art of Farming - Happenings Magazine — Happenings Magazine

NYC Transplants Learn the Art of Farming

Spanning 50 acres in rural Hancock, NY, Mountain Dell Farm is filled with natural beauty. The property owned by Mark Dunau and Lisa Wujnovich consists of fields, woodlands, swamps and areas devoted to farmland. In addition to its peaceful atmosphere, the farm serves an important purpose in the region. For 28 years, Mountain Dell has provided specialty crops for farm-to-table restaurants in New York City and Northeast PA.

Before moving to Hancock, Mark and Lisa lived in New York City. Mark was a playwright and Lisa was a performance artist. They frequently traveled across the world for work. Though neither had much farming experience, they were drawn to the tranquil region of Hancock and decided relocate in 1990. They renovated an old dairy farm and settled down to raise their family, make art and grow organic crops. Since Lisa was familiar with the New York restaurant business, they were confident they could make a living selling their goods.

While Mark and Lisa grow a variety of fruits and vegetables, their specialty items are cooking and salad greens. Their crops are grown from June to December, and nothing is ever grown in a greenhouse. They are committed to growing crops without the use of synthetic fertilizers or pesticides. In 2003, they signed the NOFA-NY Farmer’s Pledge, promising to uphold organic practices beyond the USDA’s National Organic Program.

The Settlers Inn in Hawley was one of Mountain Dell’s initial clients. “The Genzlingers have been nothing but supportive of us,” Mark says. “They were one of the first to have ‘farm-to-table dining,’ even before it was a term.” Mountain Dell has enjoyed similar relationships with many clients; most have worked with the farm for 20 years. The farm’s initial business model for picking and selling is still used today. Both Mark and Lisa believe in the value of protecting small farms and the natural world. Mark was New York’s Green Party Nominee for U.S. Senate in 2000, and today he is an advocate for small farms and the self-employed. Lisa’s anti-fracking poems were published in multiple anthologies, and she now directs the Hancock Community Education Foundation After-School Garden for elementary school children. Why are farms—and farm-to-table dining—important? “Knowing who grew your food is the best protection,” Mark says. “And it just tastes better.” He adds that farms are good for area employment, and the chef’s high expectations for farm-to-table fare results in delicious food. Additionally, thanks to Mark’s business model, nothing is ever picked out of the field until it has been sold, drastically reducing the amount of product wasted.

In the future, Mark and Lisa plan to replace their 75-year-old veggie washroom with a newer deluxe model. Beyond that, they plan on continuing to enjoy the farm—something, Mark notes, that only a few people get to do. “For many urban people, farming is a virtuous dream of people who live in a virtual reality,” he says. Over the past quarter-century, Mark and Lisa have succeeded in making their dream a reality. Visit www.mountaindellfarmny.com H -Megan Kane