A Chance at the Auction: A Washington County Love Story
“Yiiiiiip” the bid spotter called out, raising his fist into the air to signal the auctioneer that he had the high bid. “Going once, twice, three times…sold,” the auctioneer announced as the hammer struck the table. Dan Richards was at the auction to buy a few cows. What he wasn’t planning on, was falling in love. “When we were married,” Erin Richards jokes, “our commitment to farming was practically in the vows.”
Dan and Erin’s farming operation started off small, a few pieces of machinery, 40 milking cows and of course, a bunch of debt. After renting for a few years, they ended up purchasing a 110-acre farm on State Route 40 in Argyle in 2008. But as their business grew, so did their desire to get off the main road and away from the traffic.
On their occasional free afternoons, Dan and Erin would drive up to Bunker Hill in Greenwich where there was a beautiful 164-acre farm for sale. They loved it. Erin could imagine a small farm store and renovating the farmhouse. Dan had ideas about how to fix up the farm and to eventually own it. With the help of interim buyer Iroquois Valley Farms, LLC (IVF), a farmland investment company focused on providing land access opportunities to young farmers, they started renting the farm with an option to own. In 2013, the Richards purchased 29 acres of the farm that contained the farmstead. Dan and IVF decided to pursue selling the development rights on the entire farm as a way to transition the remaining farmland to the Richards at its agricultural value, which was a first of IVF. Everything was a first with the Richards, according to Sally Dodge with IVF. “The Richards were the first organic dairy farm for IVF, the first farm project in the northeast and our first to convey a conservation easement.”
As many young farmers do, Dan and Erin have struggled. Switching from a conventional dairy to organic allowed them to stay in business when times got tough, but now the organic price of milk has dropped, too. “Dan has this ‘I have to make it mentality’,” Erin says. “It’s hard to be the first to do something, but he is always stretching his comfort zone and we think it’s important that our kids see how hard we work for this life.” Dan and Erin have four young children, Mason (5), twins Jack and Randy (4) and Olivia (2 months). “Everything we do is with their future in mind. We hope that someday they will take over the business,” she says. For now, the boys are happy to help with chores and are good at bedding calves and shoveling the barn.
They are currently milking 120 cows at the Bunker Hill Farm and another 60 at the Route 40 farm. As soon as they sell the State Route 40 farm, they will move all the cows up to Bunker Hill.
Dan took a chance at the auction when he approached Erin for the first time. Now they are excited to take another chance this summer when they start bottling their organic milk under their own label, Bunker Hill Creamery. The first product they’ll be offering will be half-gallons with a cream top. Dan explained, “Conserving the land on Bunker Hill makes the farm affordable for us and will help ensure our long-term viability.”
“Conserving the land on Bunker Hill makes the farm affordable for us and will help ensure our long-term viability.” – Dan Richards
Funding for this project was provided by New York State through the Hudson Valley Agricultural Enhancement Program administered by the Department of Agriculture and Markets.