by Bill Batson
In 2004, Marine Matt Saldano was deployed to Iraq, serving as a member of a quick reaction force. “We [were] deployed at the commander’s discretion to reinforce any part of the forward operating base.”
During his military service, he saw “a lot of sheepherders in Iraq” with “not very good-looking sheep.” Today, Matt is a first generation livestock farmer, who provides non-GMO, hormone and antibiotic free, grass-fed poultry at the Nyack Farmers’ Market every Thursday.
Meet veteran, farmer, and entrepreneur Matt Saldano.
Do you wake the chickens or do the chickens wake you?
I wake the chickens, definitely. Sometimes they’ll wake my daughter from her nap though.
Where is Southtown Farms?
We are located in Mahwah, New Jersey.
When did you become a farmer?
We started with chickens in 2010, and we add a little to the operation every year. As a livestock farmer, we raise chicken, turkeys, ducks, pigs, as well as beef cattle.
When did you serve in the military?
Where did you serve?
I assume you mean when did I head to Iraq. It was August of 04-April of 05
Have you received all the services that you have earned from the Department of Veterans Affairs?
Yes. For as much bad press as the VA gets, they do the best they can, in New Jersey anyway. People need to realize that the VA is a government organization like any other. They try to accomplish everything they are tasked with, but they are the equivalent of a very large ship in the ocean. It takes a long time to turn.
Would you encourage any of your fellow veterans to go into your line of work?
Absolutely. The lifestyle and discipline required is very similar to the discipline of military service.
Was there someone in your family who introduced you to farming?
I’m a first generation farmer. Growing up, we were the typical Italian family with a large garden to feed ourselves all summer, but never any livestock. Actually, growing up we were raised vegetarian. Now I only eat meat that I grow myself.
How many chickens are in your coops?
No more than 150 per pen. The pens are rotated through the yard twice daily, allowing the chickens free access to fresh pasture every day.
What is the toughest thing about raising chickens?
It’s more mentally demanding than physical. There is definitely a physical component to it, but I would say the hardest thing about chickens is the daily schedule. Come rain, snow, sleet, or dead of night (like the pony express), all the animals must be fed, watered, cleaned, and eggs collected. Every single day. Livestock don’t take holidays.
George Washington was a soldier, a farmer and a statesman. Any thoughts of running for public office?
The politicians of Washington’s era actually accomplished things. I feel these days, our politicians are no more than figureheads. I can accomplish many more noble tasks as a farmer than I ever could in politics. The people need to eat. We don’t need more politicians.
Can I post a picture taken during your military service?
I prefer a group photo instead of an individual one. It was never about ourselves. Everything we did was for the platoon. We ate, drank, slept, and fought together, 24/7. No one acted as an individual. I was the 3rd truck leader, and am in the lower left of this photo.
Are there any skills that you picked up in the military that help in raising chickens?
Nyack Farmers’ Market
New Vendors, 2nd Day to Shop
Southtown Farms joined the Nyack Farmers’ Market this spring. You can visit Matt at his booth every Thursday from 8a – 2p in the main municipal parking lot.
Starting on June 7, the Nyack Farmer’s Market launched a Saturday market. The Saturday market is open from 8a until 1p.
Each market session includes farm fresh produce, locally prepared baked goods, art and entertainment.
This Thursday, July 3, Susan Nevins-Roues and Billy Roues will offer their original spin on old-time country depression-era duos, featuring guitar, mandolin, banjo, national steel and close harmony.
On Saturday July 5, David Frye will perform his brand of acoustic and electric roots music & beyond.
For more information visit nyackfarmers’market.
What time did you wake up when you were in the military?
That depended on our training schedules. Sometimes 0200, sometimes you wouldn’t sleep at all. The mission dictates.
What time do you wake up now?
0400 on market days, 0500 on non market days.
How did you get the name Southtown Farms?
My wife, Deanna and I purchased our first property on Southtown Road. Hence the name. Southtown Farms now owns, leases, or manages approximately 60 acres of land spread throughout Northern New Jersey.
Did you see any farms where you served?
I saw a lot of sheep herders in Iraq. Not very good looking sheep.
Do you cook chicken as well as raise them?
My wife and I both enjoy cooking. Generally, I’ll cook dinner all week, and she’ll cook and preserve the garden (canning) on the weekend. This time of year, we usually don’t get done with work till 9 pm. Dinner is usually late in the summer, but we make sure to sit down as a family every night.
What is your favorite chicken recipe?
Simply roasted, with salt, pepper, fresh garlic, and tarragon.
Not exciting but it’s simple, easy, and delicious.
Tell me about the buildings in my sketch?
That’s the original barn on our property. It’s estimated that it was built in the late 1700’s. The small building next to it was the original one room schoolhouse for the town of Oakland, which was settled in the 1800’s.
Tell me about the chicken crossing sign?
My mother-in-law loves signs.
Do your chickens cross the road? And if so, do you know why?
Because the grass is always greener!
What else would you like people to know about Southtown Farms?
We are much more than just an egg producer. From chicken, to turkey, to pork to beef; we try to do it all.
You can visit Matt’s booth at the Nyack Farmers’ Market on Thursdays, to thank him for his service and pick up some ethically and organically produced poultry products.
Learn more at SouthtownFarms.com.
Special thanks to Nancy Eisen.
An activist, artist and writer, Bill Batson lives in Nyack, NY. Nyack Sketch Log: “Veteran-Owned Southtown Farms“ © 2014 Bill Batson. Visit billbatsonarts.com to see more.