If you visit Pleasant Valley in the late summer, you’ll likely notice signs beckoning you to an alluring field of sunflowers, planted by the family-run company Hudson Valley Cold Pressed Oils. The gigantic yellow flowers go on for acres, shining in the sun, with the perfect view of the sunset over the Catskill Mountains. Though hidden from the road, it’s no mystery why the destination attracts tens of thousands of visitors every year.
Fuel for Thought
There is a long story behind how those fields of flowers got to be there. The idea for producing sunflower oil stemmed from a rise in fuel prices in the area back around 2012 (sound familiar?). As an alternative to more common fuels, entrepreneur Kevin Haight started the idea of using the land to make biodiesel. After studying oil production, buying equipment, and beginning to produce the oil, he sent a bottle of it to his brother Jeffrey Haight.
Jeffrey was working in food sales in Virginia at the time, and his wife Allison also had a career in the food industry. So naturally, they tasted it, and immediately the two suggested that Kevin switch gears and market it as a cooking oil. This seemed like a natural pivot given that fuel prices had begun to drop again. Multiple tests found that the oil was suitable for most types of cooking, with a smoke point of 387 degrees it could even withstand deep frying. So in 2014, the family incorporated the business.
From that point on Hudson Valley Cold Pressed Oils has grown, evolved, and found success through an iterative process of trial and error, happy accidents, and customer feedback. Kevin’s wife Traci, a registered dietician researched the properties of sunflower oil and found it was high in Vitamin-E, giving rise to a line of skincare products. In 2017, Allison and Jeffrey moved back to the Hudson Valley to join their family, a sweet reunion that coincided with the release of the company’s beloved Sun Sticks.
In 2017, as part of their oil crop, the Haight family planted a sunflower field close to a busy road in Poughkeepsie. As soon as the flowers started blooming, large crowds of people began stopping their cars to look at the flowers and take pictures. “We had planted flowers, where it was very accessible to the public, where people could see it, and just the attraction that it became was overwhelming to us,” says Haight, who along with his family spent that year talking to the public about the flowers and their product, handing out samples. “We had no idea what that was going to do,” Haight continues, “And, you know, we talked about it. We were a small, family-run business, not profitable at that point. So, that’s when we decided to plant the flowers on our farm and welcome the public.”
Every year since, they’ve planted six to 10 acres of sunflowers on the farm that are open to the public for free. People can walk through the fields, take photos, and even cut flowers to take home with them. Through opening the fields up they found a huge audience for their products.
Their path to producing gluten-free flour for baking and baking mixes, is a similar story. Someone in the area had asked the company to press hemp seed for them with their equipment, and later Jeffrey learned that they used the dehydrated meal that was left over from pressing as flour to make pasta. This ignited the idea of using the leftover sunflower meal to make baking flour. Jeffrey says, “We just started doing it because it made sense.”
Currently, Hudson Valley Cold Pressed Oils uses all parts of the flower (besides the stem) to create cooking oils, sun sticks, brownie mixes, cookies, gluten-free flour, pancake mix, sugar scrubs, and other beauty and food products.
Jeffrey Haight and his wife Allison use their impressive culinary backgrounds to design the recipes, cook baked goods sold around the area and oversee all retailing of the products. Kevin is responsible for all of the farming aspects of the operation. The four of them together, along with the help of their children, run a genuine family business and farm that is dedicated to giving back to the community they reside in.
Every year, the Haights donate a portion of the cutting fees from their public sunflower fields to local organizations. Jeffrey, a Poughkeepsie native and cancer survivor, felt compelled to work with the Sparrow’s Nest, a charity based in Wappingers Falls that provides weekly dinners to families undergoing cancer treatment throughout five counties of the Hudson Valley. They’ve also contributed to Miles of Hope and the Children’s Home of Poughkeepsie.
Along with supporting these local nonprofits, Hudson Valley Cold Pressed Oils has found resounding success in hiring local high schoolers, some of whom have been with the company for five years. “What I feel we’re doing is not just making nice stuff, and selling good stuff and doing all that, but on a small scale, helping these kids grow into good adults,” Haight shares, “And I get compliments every day from people visiting the farm, about the kids, and how they’re all great.”
The Haights’ strong community ties and dedication to growing quality sunflowers have paid off for Hudson Valley Cold Pressed Oils. Most recently, in 2021 and 2022 they were finalists for Good Food Awards, an annual competition for the best food production and farming in the country. In a list dominated by California olive oil farms, Hudson Valley Cold Pressed Oil was the only East Coast finalist. Haight says that earning this sought after title gives them, and everyone working there, validation. “We touch in some way, every single thing that we sell,” he says. “So, it’s part of us, and for somebody to come and say, you’re doing it the right way— yeah that’s a big deal to us.”