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Fruits of their labors

MMiM honors farmers Nicklin, Porpiglia, Weed

by Megan Labrise
May 30, 2011 11:00 AM | 0 0 comments | 12 12 recommendations | email to a friend | print
(L-R): John Nicklin, Joseph Porpiglia Sr., Charles Weed Sr., Jessica Caradonna and BJ Mikkelsen accept awards at the MMiM Farmer Salute on May 28.
Photo by Megan Labrise.
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Once again, the Marlborough Agricultural Alliance has raised a glass to men outstanding in their fields. The eighth annual Meet Me in Marlborough (MMiM) Dinner and fifth annual Farmer Salute was held on Wednesday, May 18. John Nicklin, Joseph Porpiglia Sr. and Charles Weed Sr. were honored for their commitment and contributions to Marlborough’s rich agricultural heritage. The celebration was dedicated to the late Maria Conte-Mikkelsen of Willow Tree Flower Farm, and held in memory of Joseph Caradonna of Caradonna Farms.

Approximately 150 farmers, family members and friends attended the evening reception at the Ship Lantern Inn in Milton. Guests witnessed personal tributes to the farmers, dined on a three-course meal and enjoyed interlude entertainment by keyboardist Nick Catania.

MMiM president Sheila Mannese lauded the three honorees’ dedication as stewards of the land.

“They are hardworking, extremely talented, educated. Every day they’re dealing with [obstacles beyond our comprehension]. We’re looking forward to the bounty that is to come,” she said.

Honoree John Nicklin was presented by Marlborough Town Board member Dr. Anthony Pascale. Born in 1930, Nicklin is a 1948 graduate of Marlboro High School. Active in the family farm since childhood, he started a full-time farming career at age 21, and was soon joined by wife, Carol, who became the Nicklin Farms bookkeeper. From a 63-acre family farm on Mount Zion Road that had been in his mother’s family since the 1850s, John grew the business to 133 acres across Marlborough’s rolling hills.

“All the land he owned and sold is still being farmed today, and [he has the distinction] to be called a good farmer by other farmers,” said Pascale.”

Pascale relayed some memories from cousins Bill and Eddie Nicklin, who shared enthusiasm for hunting, fishing and the stock market with their farmer cousin -- who was the “strong, silent type.” Owner of a spotless white Chevy Corvair convertible, “John was the one who put the cool in farming,” said Pascale. He belonged to state agricultural oversight boards, Cornell Cooperative Extension and the Town of Marlborough Volunteer Ambulance Corps (TOMVAC), and served as elected Town Assessor.

“John was a hard worker -- and that was cool,” said Pascale.

Honoree Joseph Porpiglia Sr. was presented by son Peter Porpiglia, who commended his father for adapting and flourishing throughout a long agricultural career.

“[You’ve] lived through a lot of changes in farming, [from] when the apple trees were so big, we had to climb them to pick them. You’ve trained a whole generation of farmers; they’re out today teaching their children... farming is tough work,” he said.

The elder Porpiglia’s legacy is immense. Today, his sons own and oversee hundreds of acres of orchards throughout Marlborough, collectively known as Porpiglia Farms, Inc. -- and Joe Sr. still exhibits an indomitable farmer’s spirit.

“It’s okay to slow down, dad. Enjoy life a little bit -- and please don’t make it a contest of who can get up earliest in the morning to spray,” said Peter Porpiglia.

Joe Sr. expressed thanks for the recognition, a successful career and the many rewards of a long life.

“To be a good friend, and to be married to the same woman for sixty years, is a wonderful thing,” he said.

Honoree Charles Weed Sr. was presented by granddaughters Erica and Nicole Weed. Nicknamed “Sunny,” Weed graduated Marlboro High School in 1949 and went on to study pomology at Cornell University. He married Shirley in 1954; the couple have two sons, Charlie and John. The family farm evolved and expanded, ultimately generating a successful pick-your-own business on Mount Zion Road -- a proud achievement for “Papa Weed,” said Erica Weed.

“He has taught us strength, hard work and love for farming but, more importantly... love for his family,” said Nicole Weed.

Charles commended his fellow honorees and thanked family and friends for their support.

“It’s kind of unique that Joe, John and myself have been friends forever -- they’re two of my best friends,” said Weed. “I also want to thank my wife for helping us along. There have been a lot of changes [in farming]: my first job was to go out and pick up brush. [We’ve lived through] high-pressure sprayers [aimed at] trees that were 30-40-feet wide. Things have really changed. Through it all, I’ve enjoyed it. It’s always been a challenge, but it’s been worthwhile,” said Weed.

BJ Mikkelsen honored wife Maria Conte-Mikkelsen, who unexpectedly passed away on March 31, 2011. As owner-operators of Willow Tree Flower Farm in Milton, the Mikkelsens became founding members of the Marlborough Agricultural Alliance and MMiM.

“The common denominator that binds us all together is [the land’s] crops. Maria has an incredible love for her crops [and] her smile created quite a bond between her and her customers. To lose a soulmate, a lover and one’s best friend... life will never be the same after her... Maria is sorely missed,” said Mikkelsen.

Jessica Caradonna remembered grandfather Joseph Caradonna as a kind, gentle, capable man who shared his love of farming with family and customers throughout a 42-year career. His lessons were not lost on his granddaughter, who carries on the Caradonna Farms legacy alongside parents Bernie and Linda Caradonna.

“I think we farm because we love it. It’s that incredible feeling of producing something from nothing and striving to do better than the year before,” said Jessica Caradonna. “My grandfather would have been overjoyed [by this recognition].”

Ulster County Legislator Mary Beth Maio (R-I-C) presented the honorees with the Pride of Ulster County Award. MMiM Vice President Barbara Gephard read New York State Senate Article J1843-2011, proposed by Sen. William Larkin (R-New Windsor), adopted May 17, 2011, to “commend the efforts of our farmers as they continue their hard work of cultivating the land, facing the many challenges of nature, such as flood, drought and heat, in order to grow our food.” Copies of the legislation were presented to all distinguished honorees.

“Maybe my wife will find some place to put this on her office wall,” said John Nicklin, hoisting the award high.

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