170 ACRES conserved IN THE TOWN OF EASTON
In today's economy, $13,000 doesn't go very far. It could buy a reliable used car, part of a new roof, an exotic vacation, or if you're a dairy farmer like Cody Thomas, five or six cows. Today, Cody, alongside his parents Lloyd and Tammy Thomas, operates Thomas Organic Dairy, a 169-acre farm in Easton. In 1953, $13,000 was what Cody's grandfather paid for this Route 40 farm.
"We really appreciate that he knew what he was looking for," Lloyd says. The farm has a high percentage of very productive soils and, as a bonus, allows for stunning views.
While Cody is only the 3rd generation Thomas farmer, this land has been in continuous production since the early 1800s. For Lloyd, "It's all I've ever done." He was a baby when his parents bought the farm and he grew up working there. In 1990, Lloyd's mom handed Tammy the milk check, tax and grain bills and the books. "Here ya go," she said, and they sold Lloyd and Tammy the farm for $1. In the early 2000s when most dairy farms started getting bigger, Tammy suggested a different direction by proposing a switch to organic.
Lloyd's first thought was, "You want me to go back to how things were done when we were kids? I just got my pesticide license!" They started the transition in 2004. In the beginning, Tammy said "people would laugh at us and ask 'have you lost your minds?' " While it was tough at first, once the Thomases embraced organic dairy practices, they found the paperwork useful and their animals were healthier, happier and required fewer vet calls. By 2006, the Thomases were certified organic and now sell their milk to Organic Valley. The farm has received several quality milk awards.
Switching to organic allowed the Thomases to reap the benefits of staying small. "I love farming, but I want a life too," Tammy said. "We're not ready to retire, but wouldn't mind a vacation occasionally." When Lloyd and Tammy do retire, Cody will be ready to take over and he prefers the farm's small size. "I can't imagine supervising a bunch of people. I don't think I would ever go back to conventional farming either. It's too much of a roller coaster," he says.
Land is a limiting factor for organic dairies. The cows must be grazed and it takes about an acre to graze one animal. In Easton, there is competition for agricultural land and renting does not guarantee long-term access. Today the Thomases rent 500 acres of nearby land to grow hay, forage, and grains for on-farm use since buying organic hay is a costly endeavor because of shipping. The herd of 70 milking cows is grazed exclusively on the 110 acres right around the farmstead. The farm is a big attraction for commuters and photographers who often photograph the cows out on pasture with a million dollar view in the background.
Reflecting on their reasons for conserving the land, Lloyd, Tammy and Cody each mentioned their hopes for a thriving agricultural economy for future generations. "We used to bale hay where Hannaford and the health center are now in Greenwich," Lloyd said. The farm would be highly desirable to develop into "country estate" second homes or primary residences for workers in the Capital Region. "One of our biggest concerns was what would happen to the farm if times got tough? We didn't want Cody to be put in the position of making a tough choice," Tammy said.
If you gave Cody $13,000 today, what do you think he would do with it? His answer, although unexpected, speaks volumes about his wisdom. "I would invest it," he says.
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.
"I would like to come back 100 years from now and see all of our neighbors still farming. I'd like to see agriculture on Route 40 thriving." Tammy Thomas