195 ACRES CONSERVED IN SCHAGHTICOKE
Commemorating more than Fifty Years of Partnership between Two Farm Families
Neighbors Ruth Hill and Walter Buck fought off offers from developers to buy their adjoining farms for years. Part of what motivated them was the breathtaking 360-degree view from the highest point on Ruth farm, one of Ruth’s most beloved places on earth. (Just as breathtaking is a toboggan ride down Ruth’s hill in the winter!)
Sandwiched between the towns of Schaghticoke and Valley Falls, the Ruth Hill and Buckland farms are very special, not only to both families but also to many in the community.
Hill Farm Supports a Community
The story begins in 1936 when Ben Hill, Sr. and Agnes Hill, along with their five children, moved from Sunderland, Vermont to the 225-acre farm on State Rt. 67 in Schaghticoke. The family quickly became a part of the community. Ben’s son, Ben Hill, Jr., met Ruth Simon (from Grants Hollow) at a Grange dance when they were sixteen. By 1944, the young couple was married and farming the land alongside Ben’s parents. The Ruth Hill Farm, originally a dairy operation, diversified by investing in pigs, chickens and eventually sheep – a quite progressive approach for that time.
In 1961, Ben Sr. and Agnes decided it was time to pass the farm to the next generation and retired to a gentleman’s farm up the road. Ben Jr. and Ruth, also with five children of their own, continued to farm the land, delivering fresh meat to loyal customers.
Tragedy struck less than a year later when Ben Jr. was killed in a farming accident, leaving his wife and five young children with 225 acres to farm. With help from their local farming community, Ruth, the kids, and the hired man struggled to keep the farm going.
Meanwhile, just over Ruth’s hill, Walter Buck and his wife Carol began renting 242 acres overlooking the Hoosic River on Buckland Farm in 1958. They eventually bought the land in 1962.
A year or so later, faced with a large farm to run and five kids to raise, Ruth made an agreement with Walter Buck to have him farm her 205 acres of fields while she went to work as the town’s tax collector. This agreement, made with a simple handshake, allowed Ruth to pay the taxes on her farm, keep a herd of beef cows, and board a few horses while she supported her family. The land on the Ruth Hill Farm was exactly what Walt needed for his own growing Buckland Farm.
Buckland Farm Provides Critical Support to Neighbor Ruth Hill
Buckland Farm, primarily a dairy and crop operation, has also been home to many horses throughout its history. Walt, former Conservationist of the Year, can tell you about the importance of maintaining good agricultural land. Thanks to the farm’s excellent soils, Walt’s efforts to improve those soils, and Ruth’s additional acres, Walt has been able to provide feed for his livestock as well as sell corn and hay to other farmers. As evidence of this good stewardship, abundant beavers, geese and ducks also enjoy a great lifestyle on the farms.
These two neighboring farms have inspired hundreds of family stories about time spent on the river, playing in the ponds and exploring the woods. The land also holds evidence of Native American and American Colonial life dating back to the late 1600’s, including arrowheads, spearheads, and musket balls.
A Partnership in Conservation
Selling the farmland was never a consideration for either family. For Walt, keeping the land in agricultural production is sacrosanct; he knows the value of those soils and would hate to see his land dotted with homes. For the Hills, the farm is a place for family and friends to come back to and enjoy. More than 40 years after Walt first asked Ruth if he could farm her land, handshake deal still intact, Walt approached Ruth with the idea of conserving their two farms. Unsure of her farm’s future, Ruth began to think about a conservation easement in the early 2000’s. At the time, Ruth’s grandson, Mark, was just 6 years old.
Ruth never thought she’d live to see the day when Ruth Hill Farm would be conserved. Even more thrilling for Ruth, during the years that she spent turning her dream of conserving the farm into a reality, her grandson Mark completed his four-year Ag-Tech degree in three years. Mark is now ready and eager to carry on the family farming tradition.
This summer, Mark incorporated his own business, RuBen Hill Farm Inc., on his grandmother’s land. Mark already has plans to return the family farm, named in honor of his grandparents, back into the diversified, community-centered business it once was. Thankful for Walt’s upkeep of the land, Mark’s focus will be on building the soils to ensure that they aren’t just good for crops, but that they will also be good for the animals he plans to raise there.
The hope for the future of these two farms is simple; keep it local and create a place where people feel connected to the land. It’s the same principles that have steered the Ruth Hill family since 1936. For Walt, the easement will allow him to retire with confidence that the land that he cared for 45 years will remain in agricultural use.
The fulfillment of these conservation dreams was made possible thanks to funding from the New York State Environmental Protection Fund, the Castanea Foundation, the Jeffery Gaess Forever Farmland Legacy Fund and our members. With these two projects, ASA has added another 428 acres of conserved land, bringing the total protected to date up to 14,640 acres throughout Washington and Rensselaer counties.