POTTER — You would have a hard time finding someone who likes getting their hands dirty more than Christy Hoepting.
Then again, it is her job — and judging by the ever-present smile on her face Monday, it’s a job she truly enjoys.
Hoepting, a vegetable specialist for Cornell Cooperative Extension, led an excursion of what locals refer to as the “Potter muck” during a Yates County legislative agriculture tour. The tour is held every two years.
About 50 people, including county legislators, Extension staff, and other county and municipal officials, got a close-up look at Torrey Farms of Potter, which grows about 1,200 acres of specialty vegetables in a seven-mile stretch from Potter to Gorham in Ontario County. Torrey Farms, which is based in the Genesee County community of Elba, also manages more than 10,000 acres of muck land in Genesee, Orleans, and Niagara counties.
Although Hoepting is based in Orleans County, she spends a lot of time in Potter during the growing season. She and Judson Reid, Extension vegetable specialist in Yates County, said the rich muck soil came from swamp land drained and bulldozed in the 1950s. The soil is ideal for growing onions, carrots, potatoes, and sweet corn used for processed (canned) corn.
While Orange County has the highest volume of muck land in the state, the Torrey Farms area near Elba is second, followed by the Oswego area. There is substantial muck in Potter and Wayne County too.
“This is relatively young muck,” Hoepting said of Potter, noting the rich soil came from decomposed matter — generally trees — in the swamp before it was drained. “This is very fine soil and creates high-value crops.”
While draining swampland was a common practice decades ago, officials agreed it would not be possible today due to wetlands oversight.
Hoepting led a tour into an onion field that will be harvested over the next several weeks. Across a stream was a large carrot field, with Hoepting noting that Potter land is responsible for about a third of the state’s carrot production.
Torrey Farms is the largest onion grower in the northeastern U.S. Hoepting said like other farms that grow more traditional crops including field corn, soybeans and wheat, Torrey Farms was limited by the cold and wet spring.
“We had a late planting this year,” she said. “They simply ran out of time.”
The tour also included nearby Sacheli’s Farm Fresh Foods on West Swamp Road. Lucian Sacheli and his father-in-law, Bill Rohrer, explained how they use onions to make specialty jellies, barbecue sauce, pasta sauce and other items that include cheese spread. Many of the recipes come from Sacheli’s wife and Rohrer’s daughter, Allison.
“I never ate onions until my daughter married this guy,” Rohrer said with a laugh.
The words Sacheli and onions have been synonymous for decades, starting when patriarch Anthony Sacheli — he died earlier this year at the age of 92 — founded Franjo Farms in Potter and ran it for more than 50 years.
Lucian Sacheli, Anthony’s son, said the family stopped growing onions in 2011 to concentrate on its food products, which can be found in Runnings, Indian Pines Farm Market, Milly’s Pantry, Morgan’s Grocery, and on the internet.
The Sachelis make their products with freshly chopped onions — they get many of those from Torrey Farms — and cook them in a commercial kitchen. Rohrer called the business a “mom-and-pop operation” that used about a ton of onions per year and is involved in the “Taste of Yates” program.
The ag tour ended with lunch at Camp Cory in the town of Milo. Camp Cory, a mainstay on the shores of Keuka Lake for nearly 100 years and operated by the YMCA of Greater Rochester, works with Cornell Cooperative Extension on a gardening program for campers to learn the value of fresh food.