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Conservation Stories

Since its inception in 1990, ASA has helped landowners protect a variety of working lands throughout Washington and Rensselaer counties.
Cannon Cattle Ranch

391 ACRES PROTECTED IN PITTSTOWN

“I was supposed to go to Yale and become a lawyer,” admits Matt Cannon, who grew up in a non-farming family in a suburb of Boston. “But I liked cows and the farming lifestyle and it was never a question what I wanted to do”. When he was 15 he spent a summer working on a local chicken farm and the next summer on a dairy farm in Lowville, NY where he developed his love for cows. From there he got a job at a dairy farm in Tunbridge, VT and went on to receive his degree in dairy herd management at Vermont Technical College.

Within a week of graduating, Matt bought 18 Holsteins and rented a farm in Royalton, VT. His landlord took him to an Agway dinner where he remembers “the cutest little red-head sitting at my table”. Peggy, whom he married six months later, had grown up one of eight children on a dairy farm in Sharon, VT and she certainly knew her way around the dairy business. She recalls, “I didn’t know how we were going to make it, but we had the cows and heifers, $1,000 and a pick-up.” They farmed in Vermont for five years, had their son Charlie, and started saving up to buy their own farm.

In 1979 they found a dairy farm in Pittstown, NY they could afford and Matt says “We’ve just been milking cows ever since”. They chose to name the farm “Cannon Cattle Ranch” in honor of a homemade postcard Matt’s first employer, the Massachusetts chicken farmer, had jokingly addressed to him after he graduated from the dairy program.

A lot has changed since then. A daughter, Stephanie, was born in 1980 and over the years they’ve made many improvements to the farm and grown the herd to about 115 milking cows and 90 young stock. They’ve purchased additional acreage and for the past 30 years have rented land from their neighbor, Theresa Baum, to raise feed crops. They’ve put a lot of hard work into building a successful family dairy farm and it’s clear they love what they do and the life they’ve created.

While both their children love the farm, they have moved away to pursue other careers. Matt and Peggy aren’t sure what will happen to the farm when they can no longer work it but they want to make sure it stays a farm. Matt explains “I’d already heard a lot about conservation and have had it in the back of my mind for a long time. It’s a good fit for us. We worked hard to build this farm, our retirement is in it and we don’t want to see it go down the drain. We want to see another farmer here someday.”

The Cannons and their neighbor Theresa Baum, who was also determined to protect her property from future development, decided to work with ASA. Both were awarded funding through the New York State Farmland Protection Program in 2007 and though state budget cuts made the process slower than anticipated, ASA was able to help the Cannons protect their 358 acres and Baum protect her 33 acres in October.

Not only will conservation satisfy their shared desire to see the land remain in farming, but it has also given the Cannons the opportunity to purchase the land they’ve rented from Baum at its reduced, agricultural value. The Castanea Foundation provided funding to cover some of the transaction costs.

Peggy says, “I drive a school bus for the Hoosic Valley School and every day I see beautiful farm fields. Now there are houses in many of them and I think, ‘Why are they ruining perfectly good farmland? It’s never going to be productive again.’ At least now I don’t have to worry about that on our land.”