VOORHEESVILLE, N.Y. — Why is local agriculture important? You often hear that we should support local farms, but why? Does it really make a difference, and what exactly does that do for me and my family, and the local economy? Why should I care where my food comes from?
There are dozens of reasons to engage in local agriculture, but one I find especially important was written by the University of Vermont. They write, “Local food builds community. When you buy direct from a farmer, you’re engaging in a time-honored connection between eater and grower. Knowing farmers gives you insight into the seasons, the land, and your food. In many cases, it gives you access to a place where your children and grandchildren can go to learn about nature and agriculture (University of Vermont 2010).”
Cornell Cooperative Extension Albany County is partnering with multiple local agencies and business sponsors to give you that insight into the seasons, land, and food at our Second Annual Family Farm Day. Hosted at the CN Tommell Cattle Company, you and your family can discover the diversity of New York State agriculture and enjoy its bounty. Get hands on with maple, learn how cows are cared for on a regular basis, and see what type of technology is used on the farm.
One farm that will be joining us is Helder-Herdwyck Farm, a holistically managed family farm located in East Berne, New York. The farm raises poultry for meat and eggs, heritage breed pigs, and has a family milk cow, but the jewel of this farm is their flock of Herdwick Sheep, a rare breed from England. Extremely cold hardy, the ewes are excellent mothers, and besides sporting beautiful fleeces, they also boast premium, delicious and lean meat. This flock of sheep is ideal for the sustainable operation the Bradt Family is striving for. Small in stature when purebred, and thriving on little input, they have minimal impact on their environment. With a long history in England, Herdwick lamb is favored by Queen Elizabeth, and, the Herdwick breed was once raised and shown by the famous author Beatrix Potter who had over 1,000 animals!
The Herdwick breed of sheep is considered a “primitive” breed. This means they are more resistant to parasites, hardy, and need less intensive care. The trade off to this is a smaller, slower growing animal, who may only have one lamb compared to other “improved” breeds which may more often have 2 or more each year. This slower growing, carefully managed sustainable breed however, creates an artisanal product in demand by local chefs and customers. In addition to the dogs that guard the flock, the farm uses an electrified netting to create mobile paddocks that are moved frequently to fresh forage.
Because the Bradt Family lives in coyote, bobcat and bear country with their sheep flock sometimes up to ½ mile away from the barn, they employ two Akbash livestock guardian dogs. These guards take their jobs seriously and approach 140 pounds. They stay with the flock night and day, 365 days a year. The 100 acre farm hadn’t produced anything other than some poor quality hay for over 40 years when the Bradts began their business, and the land had been neglected. The combination of sheep, poultry, cattle, horses and pigs is bringing this previous productive farm back into production. When I went to visit, the sheep were busily grazing, eating an invasive plant called Knapweed, which is being reduced through the farm’s use of rotational grazing.
What began as a flock of 6 animals has grown to 78 in just a few years’ time, with a concerted focus on improving the genetics of the entire flock. Helder-Herdwyck Farm sells chicken, turkey, eggs, pork, fiber (yarn, roving, and fleeces), and lamb both on the farm itself and at a local farmers market. The farm will be joining us at our Second Annual Family Farm Day on September 9, 2018 from 11:00pm-3:00pm. This is a FREE family event that will be held rain or shine. More information can be found about their farm on their website at www.helderherdwyckfarm.com or by calling 518-872-9081.
Farms like Helder-Herdwyck help preserve our open spaces, revitalize our environment, provide unique, nutrient dense foods for our families and neighborhoods, and help boost the sense of community that is so important. At Family Farm Day, you can talk with the farmers, feel the rare Herdwick fiber, and can even leave with some fresh frozen meats if you choose, so come prepared with a cooler.
We very much hope to see you at Family Farm Day this year. Let the kids sit on a tractor, feed some baby calves, and experience a working farm. This is an interactive day where you and your whole family can really feel what it is like to be on a farm, meet local producers, and build those community bridges and connections that are so important and fulfilling. Family Farm Day will be at the CN Tommell Cattle Company on September 9, 2018 from 11:00am-3:00pm at 142 Rock Road, Berne, NY 12023. If you have any questions, please contact Ashley at 518-765-3500 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Join us for a beautiful fall day as we connect with our food, enjoy our vibrant Albany County landscapes, and learn a little about agriculture in the process.
–Cornell Cooperative Extension Albany County
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