At one point a few years back, Jeffrey Makusij got to wondering just how much land it would take to feed a man for a year. So he found out.
After a lot of what he described as “planting and growing and then freezing and canning,” Makusij mapped out a 12-month sustainability space that took up roughly 20 by 30 feet. Quite a bit smaller, in other words, than the yard that most people mow on a weekly basis. “I was amazed by how much food you could get out of it,” he says.
That crusade for maximizing the potential of the land is a governing part of the way Makusij and his family run Penn Yan’s White Oak Farm & Woodcraft, which opened about six years ago. “The money’s not super great, I’ll be first to admit it,” he says. “But it’s such a terrific way of life that the need for money just isn’t great. In our experience, this is the ultimate way to have a family working together.”
Makusij started out as a woodworker, and White Oak’s diverse offerings — “We try to take a shotgun approach and bring a lot of different things to the markets” — include his hand-crafted wood cutting boards alongside grass-fed lamb and well over a dozen fruits and vegetables. For those who have more ambitious plans for their kitchens, the second half of White Oak’s name alludes to Makusij’s skill in fabricating and designing everything from countertops to cabinets to built-ins.
“Maybe I’m shooting myself in the foot sometimes in terms of spreading myself too thin,” he says. “But I’m the kind of fellow who doesn’t like to put all of my eggs in one basket. In New York, the taxes are very high and the growing seasons are very short.”
Not too short to plant a year’s worth of food, apparently.