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Fiona, in headgear
Fiona, in headgear

Farmers Under 40: Mangles, milk and other experiments

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Bali McKentley grew up in Potsdam. Her parents own St. Lawrence nurseries, a one-of-a-kind provider of cold-hardy edible plants to growers across the country. Bali helps with the family business. But she's also branching out, trying all kinds of agricultural experiments. Sarah Harris visited the nursery and has more.

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Bali McKentley is 27. She came back to Potsdam after college, and has been here ever since.  

“I didn’t really expect that I would be," she laughs. "I kind of thought I’d move on.” 

The McKentley homestead is dotted with barns, greenhouses, and sheds. Their A-frame house serves as the nursery’s office and their own food processing central. The family’s whole livelihood—from their business to the food they eat—all comes from the land.

 “I like being a part of it, I like interacting with my folks," says Bali. "This year I’ve been doing more of the tractor work with haying so my mom has taught me that, and I went strawberry picking with my dad today so.”

Bali’s dad, Bill, is famous among plant breeders. He named a cherry tree after her. Bali‘s reed thin and pale, a little dreamy. She’s wearing a wide brimmed hat, long pants, and long sleeves to protect herself from the sun.  Although she’s a seasoned horticulturist, her real passion is dairy.

“We make our butter and cheese. My mom and I do it together, it’s kind of like our project. I love milking cows and right now it’s just a small family thing, but in the future who knows.”

Bali takes me to see the cows. Philly and Fiona are enjoying the cool of the McKentley’s bar

Most people don’t butcher a steer and set out to use every part of it. But Bali does. She saved the brain, the hide, and a couple other parts too. For her, farming is one big experiment.

The rennet you use for cheese comes from the fourth stomach, the abomasum," Bali explains. "We didn’t know what the fourth stomach was. So I just happened to have this old book that had this pop up diagram of the anatomy of a cow and we found the forth stomach. So I washed it out and cut it into strips and dried it—we’ll see if it works."

It comes as no surprise that Bali’s experiments include plants too.

“I’m growing mangles, it’s essentially a big fodder beat for livestock. I’m hoping to reduce the amount grain I feed them.  We’ll see how it goes. But hopefully they like ‘em cause we planted a lot of ‘em.”

Bali says she’s not the only one who’s home, farming.  

"I think a lot of kids, especially farm kids are doing that, are teaming up with their parents. I mean of course there are some challenges living—I mean working—with your family but overall I think it’s great."

For Bali, that means bringing new ideas  to her family’s already-vibrant agricultural projects. With all her experiments, it’s clear that Bali’s not just pitching in—she’s making it her own.

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