Our family farm, Philip A. Schmitt and Son Inc., is located on the east end of Long Island in one of the few remaining rural farming communities in the area. We have been growing a wide variety of crops including lettuce, spinach, sweet corn, herbs, beets, cabbage and of course horseradish for decades. In our family, farming is not only a business, but also a way of life. We take pride in providing our community with fresh, local produce and passing down knowledge and family farming traditions from one generation to the next.
As a fourth generation farmer, I have witnessed first-hand many of the changes in the agriculture business and have experienced many of the obstacles modern farmers must face. Gone are the days of growing a quality product, bringing it to market and selling it to the consumer. New technology and a global market require farmers to re-think their traditional practices and find ways to survive and grow in this changed market. My wife and I are determined and committed to doing just that.
As a child, I watched and attempted to emulate my father and grandfather in practically all of their pursuits, especially those involving the farm. In the early spring, one of the first crops harvested was the horseradish root that had wintered over in our fields allowing it to gain the strongest possible flavor. After a winter filled with school, snow and sports, returning to the field to watch this process was my idea of excitement. At that time, the mid and late 1980s, my family grew about 25 acres of horseradish that was sold to wholesale markets to be distributed in time for Easter and Passover.
Although exciting, this was not the only part of the process that interested me. Living in a community with strong Polish and German roots, horseradish was a hot commodity and source of pride for those who prepared it. I watched and assisted, although assisted may be a stretch here, as my grandfather washed, peeled, grated and mixed the root using his own secret method and recipe. Friends and neighbors eagerly awaited their fresh ground horseradish that would show up on their doorsteps each spring. This horseradish, gifted in recycled tomato sauce jars, would become my inspiration years later when trying to help keep my family farm and its traditions afloat.
By 2009, only about a half an acre of our 200-acre farm was being used to grow horseradish. That spring while harvesting the root and helping my grandfather prepare his horseradish gifts, I couldn't help but wonder why that amount had dropped so drastically. With a little research and a lot of conversation, I realized that the skill involved in preparing horseradish was lost to many in my generation and even those in my father's. Many people had very fond memories of their parents or grandparents preparing horseradish but didn't have the time or resources to make it themselves. That summer and fall flew by as they always do when farming, but the following winter I was able to spend some time researching how to go about providing a prepared food product to the public.
We sold our first jar of Holy Schmitt's Horseradish at our family farm stand in the spring of 2010. My mother and my wife operate our stand and found that their regular customers were thrilled about being able to buy the prepared horseradish. It wasn't long before word spread and customers were returning with their friends to buy the horseradish that reminded them of their own childhoods and family recipes.
We have since added several horseradish flavors and blends, as well as pickles and pickled beets and have begun wholesaling our horseradish to other retailers. Hopefully our Holy Schmitt's brand will continue to grow and allow my family to continue farming in this modern agricultural landscape. My wife and I hope to be able to pass down the farm, its traditions and way of life to our own children one day. Despite any changes, one thing remains: I owe all the credit to my grandfather as I still use his original recipe and he continues to help me with any problems or obstacles along the way.
Thanks for your interest,