In 1979 Major Frederick Williams Laing Jr retired from the Air Force after 20 years of service. He and wife Sally then decided to buy his uncle’s property on Whippoorwill Rd in Hillsdale, NY. Fred had visited the home with his parents many times as a child. He always had an affinity for the area and looked forward to the prospect of establishing a farm in Hillsdale.
Financial times in 1979 were far different from today. Interest rates were in the teen’s if money was even available. Fred was able to secure a farm credit loan to put money down on the house and land with terms to operate as a farm.
The family moved to Hillsdale, named the place White Oak Farm after the stand of impressive 200 year old oak trees on the property, and started clearing land and making plans for how to generate income on the farm.
It was decided that apples, blueberries and raspberries would be planted. The apples never thrived through the cool Taconic nights, but the berries flourished. Sally began making jam out of berries with a now loved recipe from a sorority sister in England – Queens Jam.
Sally is from Spencer, Iowa. During a visit at Sally’s Aunts farm, Sally discovered a barbecue recipe that a local farm hand would use when he roasted pigs. Despite other rumors that have passed around farm stand and the farmer’s market, this was the beginning of Pete’s Barbeque Sauce.
Fred reached out to farmers in the area and the Cooperative Extension and decided that sweet corn would be a productive crop. He bought some tractors and equipment and a 1950’s John Deere corn planter and began raising a crop. He planted corn but chose not to spray for the dreaded worms that are laid by moths pushed up from the south in the summer storms that blow through the region.
Before long produce and farm products were ready to sell so Sally setup a farm stand on Whippoorwill.
Eventually Uncle Don’s 34 Chevy Truck was put down on the road. When the truck is on the road fresh Sweet Corn is available.
Fred’s corn crop soon was ready for market, so he began to supply grocery stores and restaurants locally and across the border in Massachusetts. Sons Bill and Mike provided the labor needed to harvest the corn each summer. Fred and Sally also dabbled in flowers. Fred was a market leader in the area growing garlic.
Before long Pete’s BBQ Sauce had become a local favorite. Sally found a number of retailers to carry Pete’s, and the family recipe was voted “favorite bbq sauce” by Berkshire Magazine.
In 2005, Hillsdale was ready for its own farmer’s market and White Oak Farm was involved with establishing the market in the center of Hillsdale. Fred enjoyed playing banjo with a number of his musician friends to entertain customers. More history here: http://www.copakehillsdalefarmersmarket.com/history/.
Fred and Sally spent their weekends serving customers at markets in Copake, Hillsdale, and Philmont. Queens Jam, seasonal fruit jam, blueberries, sweet corn, and many other farm products were sold to a growing number of customers who loved shopping for locally produced products.
Fred was able to attend the Copake Hillsdale Market even in declining health. He loved spending Saturday morning visiting with his many customers. He passed September 15, 2014, leaving Sally to run the farm.
Sons Mike and Bill have also stepped in to continue to keep the farm running. Here they are readying the fields for another year of sweet corn. It has been a great 40 years of farming at White Oak Farm!