New farmer in Otego sells, donates fresh produce

Allison CollinsRows of tomato plants grow at Tara Hill Farm in Otego.

Matt Oesch, previously of Long Island, said he left the sea for soil, starting Tara Hill Farm at 481 Hell Hollow Road in Otego.

“I worked on fishing boats as a kid,” the 30-year-old farmer said, “and moved up here when I was working on a tugboat in New York City, about five or six years ago. I would work three weeks off, three weeks on and I realized I didn’t want to spend half my life on a metal box.”

Though the business took root recently, Oesch said, he has long loved gardening.

“I have a love of plants, I love books and reading, and I’ve envisioned this,” he said. “It was my dream and I thought it was one of those things I couldn’t do. I was going to school in Delhi for construction management and I started (that) before the pandemic, but it was all the construction knowledge I learned at Delhi that I used to build my own greenhouse.”

After weeks spent readying his 24 acres of land the old-fashioned way, Oesch said, he’s opening his roadside farm stand and planning produce-driven philanthropy.

“I converted my whole house to grow these things,” he said, noting that he started 1,400 vegetable plants indoors earlier this year. “I’ve established 6,000 feet of beds with a rototiller and a pickax — I don’t have any equipment other than my mower and a cart — and my tomato plants are some of the nicest around; they’re just as beautiful as it gets. I have over 1,200 feet of tomatoes planted, over 900 feet planted of watermelon … and I love the farming lifestyle, it’s a beautiful thing. I’m loving what I’m doing, it’s a treat every day and my stand is going to have better prices than the supermarket.”

And, while he has not officially received organic classification because of the pandemic caused by the spread of the novel coronavirus, Oesch said, he follows organic farming practices.

“I don’t use chemicals, I walk barefoot in my gardens and that’s the way it has to be,” he said.

According to tarahillny.com, heirloom varieties of zucchini and cucumbers will be harvested soon, along with kale, bush beans, Cucuzzi gourds, pumpkins, cabbages and more.

Some of that bounty, Oesch said, will help “provide food for the community.”

“I’m going to give away 300 to 500 pounds of produce,” he said. “This is my first year as a business, but I’ve done mega-gardens in the past and I have a history of donating to Saturday’s Bread. I used to volunteer there as kitchen manager, so I’m going to donate 10% of what I grow and sell onsite to the local food bank and medical professionals, all those nice people.”

The first giveaway, taking place at 9 a.m. on July 25 at Oneonta’s Autumn Cafe, Oesch said, will be open to all and double as a fundraiser for local causes. Tara Hill produce will also be regularly available for sale at the 244 Main St. site and upcoming giveaways will likely take place on the third Saturday of the month, he said.

“We’re going to probably try to do it in smaller packages or ask what they’d like,” Oesch said, “but anybody who happens to be walking by can definitely pick up some free produce.”

Though the pandemic forced him to focus his efforts locally, Oesch said, his long-term plan is to target downstate markets while expanding operations at Tara Hill.

“Before the pandemic, I wasn’t even going to sell a single thing up here,” he said. “Because I’m originally from Long Island, I was going to sell produce down there.”

Oesch said, while attending Friends Academy as a child, he befriended an affluent family that “took him in for the summers,” familiarizing him with the Bay Crest area and his planned-on Tara Hill demographic.

“I am going to target that same Gold Coast waterfront community for a CSA program,” he said. “They have all the money, but can’t grow the food.”

“Once I establish a route, I will seek other New York producers who adhere to the same high standards,” Oesch said. “I have a local baker lined up already, and the whole objective is to get trucks rolling downstate and keep them rolling year-round.”

Oesch said he also hopes to build a commercial kitchen on the farm property, eventually manufacturing “value-added products.”

The farm stand will be open from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. daily.

For more information, visit tarahillny.com or contact sales@tarahillny.com.

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