Sometimes, the stars are misaligned and a farmer or a gardener is born into the wrong city. When it happens, those budding individuals must make their own way to a place where they can become rooted – a place where their passion for plants and agriculture can thrive. It happened this way for Tom Kacalski, Alfred State College ’06, ’09. And now Kacalski is providing specialized growing services for Alfred State’s Dining Services.
Kacalski was born and raised in the Buffalo area, and he knew very early on that he loved plants and the outdoors. He experimented with gardening in the family backyard, but really had no one to teach him how to make his small plot explode with produce.
“As a Boy Scout, I pursued the Gardening Merit badge,” Kacalski recalled. “But I was the only one in my troop who was interested.”
After high school graduation in 2004, Kacalski transplanted himself to Alfred State College in order to pursue a degree in landscape development. Finally, he had found the place where his passion could blossom. He received his AA degree 2006, and then went on to complete a BA in technology management in 2009.
In 2010, armed with his two degrees, Kacalski began his own small commercial gardening venture on a hilltop outside of the small village of Alfred. The plot is owned by a local resident Jude Freschette, who has a passion for gardening.
“I learned a lot about the business aspect of produce while I was in charge of the hydroponic lettuce production at Alfred State College my junior and senior years,” Kacalski explained. “We were growing lettuce in the green house for use by ACES.” Auxiliary Campus Enterprises and Services (ACES) provides dining services to Alfred State College.
“We loved that fresh lettuce from our fledgling Center for Organic and Sustainable Agriculture (COSA),” remembers Karen Canne, director of ACES Dining Services. “Since that first year (2008) COSA continues to deliver fresh produce for us, but we’re always looking for more local providers with unique offerings.”
After Tom graduated, he started to work for ACES part-time, just when he started his small commercial garden. Eventually he approached ACES about its catering needs.
“I worked for ACES catering when I was in college and over the summer and I knew that they sometimes used edible flowers for their dishes. I approached Bron Norasethaporn, the catering manager, to see if he would be willing to buy flowers from me,” Kacalski said.
ACES jumped at the opportunity.
“Edible flowers are one of the most elegant garnishes that we can use on our food. We like everything to be as fresh and as beautiful as we can make it, and Tom’s gardening business helped us to elevate our dishes,” explained Norasethaporn.
Kacalski provided nasturtiums and calendula (also known as pot marigold) to ACES. Nasturtium flowers and leaves are edible and provide a peppery touch to salads and pasta. Calendula provides brilliant yellow edible blooms that are an economical substitute for saffron.
In his first full-blown garden year, Kacalski worked to develop his crop and find markets for his produce. In addition to ACES, he sold produce to Kinfolk, Alfred’s local organic grocery store, and other customers through word of mouth.
“I wanted to make sure that my crop was established before I started talking to prospective customers. I planted things that I knew I could sell eventually: potatoes, tomatoes, onions, and pumpkins.” Kacalski said. “Securing ACES as a customer made the flowers an easy choice.”
As the last crop of the fall, Kacalski also sold decorative pumpkins to ACES.
Now with his BA in hand and some success in the local growing market, Kacalski has bigger plans for next year’s garden. He has also become a member of the college’s Green Team Garden/Greenhouse initiative. That team is working toward developing a community garden in the Village of Alfred that will be ready to plant come spring.
“Alfred State College has provided me with the opportunity to finally start my dream of growing and supplying local, healthy foods. I’m looking forward to continuing to work with ACES and Alfred State and expanding my business in 2011.”
Auxiliary Campus Enterprises & Services (ACES) is a not-for-profit corporation that supports the mission of Alfred State College. ACES is located on campus and provides dining services, campus bookstores, telecommunications, transportation, vending, and laundry services to our customers.