Grown and produced on the Hickory Ridge family farm in Pleasant Valley, the sunflower-based oils, skincare products, and baking mixes are healthy and delicious.
It takes a family to keep a farm.
At least, that’s the case at Pleasant Valley’s Hickory Ridge Farm, otherwise known as the home base for Hudson Valley Cold Pressed Oils. It’s here where two brothers – and their wives – have carved out a very unique corner of the Hudson Valley. After all, Hickory Ridge isn’t just any old farm.
It’s a sunflower farm.
It all started with Kevin Haight, a Poughkeepsie native who had an idea to grow sunflowers to produce biodiesel. During the early 2010s, when diesel prices were extremely high, alternative fuel seemed like a surefire hit. So, he learned the farming process and started production, only to watch as diesel prices dropped lower and lower. Forced to pivot, he touched base with his brother, Jeff, and Jeff’s wife, Allison, about finding a way to loop a food component into his new endeavor. Both Culinary Institute of America graduates, Jeff and Allison soon realized that the quality and nutritional benefits of Kevin’s sunflower oil were just the thing to market to consumers and restaurants in the area.
In 2014, Hudson Valley Cold Pressed Oils made its official debut in the region. A true family operation, the brand is led by Kevin, the farmer and owner, along with his wife Traci, a co-owner and nutritional consultant, and Jeff and Allison, who manage operations and sales. The brand resides upon what was once a free-range egg farm which, over the years, has turned into an Insta-famous location for sunflower photo ops every August and September.
“While our fields are in bloom in August/September, we have become a destination for both locals and tourists with a spectacular view of our sunflower fields and a great location to watch the sunset,” Allison explains.
During the COVID-19 crisis, the farm has been open only for special events. Yet that doesn’t mean all is quiet onsite. On the contrary, the farm is a hub for sunflowers and pumpkins, the former which it uses to produce Hudson Valley Cold Pressed Oils’ signature oil, truffle sunflower oil, skincare products, gluten-free sunflower flour, and gluten-free baking mixes. And did we mention it also prepares freshly baked breads and hummus with its sunflower oil?
When asked about why the family settled upon sunflowers as the crop of choice, Allison is quick to respond.
“Sunflowers have the highest yield of oil per acre of any oil-producing crop,” she notes. “[They are] drought-resistant [and produce] a heart-healthy oil…[and] there is nothing more beautiful than a field full of sunflowers.”
In regard to the brand’s decision to cold-press the oil, it all comes down to preserving the integrity of the product. Hudson Valley Cold Pressed Oils not only smell like sunflower seeds, but they taste like them, too. While the process is more expensive than one involving heat and chemicals, it allows the brand to maintain the oil’s nutritional value and produce a healthy, high-quality product.
Unsurprisingly, owning and operating a farm and production center is far from an easy operation. Each day is different, since the family hops from producing oil and making flour to baking bread, preparing hummus, working markets, building relationships with consumers and retailers, and managing sales. When the fields are in bloom, it’s all hands on deck to welcome visitors in search of sunflowers, sunsets, and Hudson Valley Cold Pressed Oils’ rotating roster of products and recipes. It’s a tough gig, to be sure, but the Haights wouldn’t have it any other way.
“We love talking to people about the farm and the sunflowers,” they enthuse. “It’s great to have a place for people to just relax and enjoy the flowers. It’s also very rewarding to give back to local organizations, which we try to do for most of the events on the farm.”
During the COVID-19 crisis, Hudson Valley Cold Pressed Oils faced a particularly challenging time. Its entire restaurant business disappeared, so it had to pivot to take on more local grocery markets, which performed well during the pandemic when people sought to support local. At the same time, it also ramped up online sales, since it put a halt on attending farmers’ markets out of concern for health and safety.
Nowadays, locals can find Hudson Valley Cold Pressed Oils at Adams Fairacre Farms in Poughkeepsie, Locust Hill Market, Fishkill Farms, Big Rock Market, and Hackett Farm Supplies, to name a handful of spots. The brand’s online store is a treasure trove for all its products, a number of which are also available through distributors like Red Barn Produce.
Looking ahead, Hudson Valley Cold Pressed Oils looks to expand distribution across the region and debut a few new products. Its outdoor holiday market in December 2020 was a hit, so the Haights are discussing the possibility of future events at the farm as well.