We have one of the best views in the entire Mohawk Valley from our farm. It’s the biggest reason we bought our farm in the first place. “Everything else can be fixed,” my husband said at the time.
Just north of Herkimer, our farm sits two-thirds of the way up one of the many rolling foothills of the Adirondacks. We face east toward the West Canada Creek and its lush valley, with views of hilltops and windmills as far north as the town of Ohio and as far south as Little Falls. Every 4th of July, we are treated to a panoramic view of fireworks put on by towns and individuals alike. When the crisp air of fall turns our gorgeous green valley into gold, orange, and crimson, the sight takes my breath away.
I know the view from our farm is not particularly unique. I’ve seen similar spectacular views from country roads and fellow farmer’s porches. We live in a breathtakingly beautiful area! But the part I love most about our Mohawk Valley landscape—the part that makes me cherish our little corner of the world greater than any other—is that it is dotted by so many small farms.
From our farm, I can see across the valley to our “sister” farm. Generations ago, our farm and our “sister” farm were owned by siblings who built identical barns. Our good friends, the Lyon family, farm there now. We can see from our back door when Joe mows his first cutting of hay or when one of their sons breaks ground to plant corn. We can see the farm of our friends, the Bouchards, and could just make out their progress on the greenhouse they put up last spring. Former residents of our farm speak of days when they’d look across the valley on a dark, winter morning, when this barn and dozens others like it were lit up as farmers milked their cows at dawn. We farmers are often too busy to socialize, but we keep tabs on one another just the same!
There have been a handful of times when a great cloud of black smoke rose from the trees in our beautiful valley. Each time, we’d fret and check the news for any information, eventually learning of a devastating barn or house fire. Although they may be far away, these farms seem like neighbors to us and we worry about them as though they were right next door.
A super-thick fog rolled in the other morning, completely blocking my view of our precious valley. I could see only the tops of the windmills that snake up to Ohio, lights blinking red. I can’t begin to tell you how lonely I felt, not seeing our neighbors! That wall of fog cut us off from the rest of the world, insulating us from all sights and sounds. That is when I realized how very much I cherish our view.
These days, I worry how much our landscape has changed and will continue to change as small farms blink out of existence. The long-standing mantra of “get big or get out” has exacted its toll on agriculture across the nation, and has affected farmers all over the globe. It was the best advice—or so they thought—that bankers and land-grant universities could give, starting in the 1980s. But if we draw that mindsight out to its natural conclusion, we see what we are seeing today: 20,000-cow dairies and feedlots as far as the eye can see.
It’s hard to see such drastic changes happening here: that same beautiful landscape with its varied topography also make farming on a massive scale rather difficult. (Our own little farm is cut in half by a stream that changes course with the heaviest rains and has been known to wash away make-shift bridges!) But that doesn’t mean farmers in the Mohawk Valley are insulated from global pricing pressures. It means that in order to survive, farmers here need ingenuity, flexibility, and the willingness to venture into new areas…just to keep the farm.
That is why I was excited to attend a meeting put on by the Herkimer County Industrial Development Agency (IDA). An agency that has thus far focused on large projects that boast impressive numbers of new jobs created (e.g. Tractor Supply Company’s new distribution center in Frankfort), the Herkimer IDA has set its sights on helping the county’s largest industry: agriculture. With their expansive knowledge of funding opportunities, training programs and development, they stand ready to help farmers bridge whatever gaps they encounter as they diversify or shift gears. For example, the IDA is looking for dairy farmers interested in growing industrial hemp. With enough interest, perhaps a processor can be attracted to the area and specialized equipment can be purchased through a grant program.
CALLING ALL FARMERS: If you’re a farmer (especially dairy) or in an ag-related business in Herkimer County interested in alternative crops, aquaponics, high tunnels, a solar farm; if you need help finding, training and retaining good employees; if you think you’d like to explore opportunities in agri-tourism—you name it!—the Herkimer IDA would like to hear from you. Please contact John Piseck, Executive Director, at firstname.lastname@example.org or 315-866-3000. There’s never been a better time to start a conversation.
If this sounds like a blatant ad for Herkimer IDA, it is! I’m worried about my Mohawk Valley farming neighbors that are struggling. And, to put it bluntly, I’m selfish: I want to keep this beautiful view for generations to come. We all should.