Ask any farmer to list his or her major challenges and the issue of who will take over the farm when it’s time to retire will no doubt feature in the top 10. According to government statistics about 40% of U.S. farmers are 55 years old and up, raising real concerns about exactly who is going to fill their shoes. The sad fact is that there are fewer young people getting involved in farming than ever, and many young people see no future in the family farm. As a result, countless family farms are being bought up and absorbed by larger industrial operations. In my opinion this is one of the greatest tragedies of our generation. This is why Shelby Grebenc of Broomfield, CO, is such an inspiration. Shelby is founder of “Shelby’s Happy Chapped Chicken Butt Farm,” located about 20 miles outside of Denver. And at just 12 years-old, Shelby is also the youngest Animal Welfare Approved farmer to date. Shelby represents a beacon of hope for the future. Her dedication to high-welfare farming is an inspiration to all of us – regardless of age.
Carol Clement and John Harrison raise Certified Animal Welfare Approved by AGW lamb, goats, laying hens and pigs at Heather Ridge Farm in Preston Hollow, NY. In addition to being Certified Animal Welfare Approved by AGW, the goat herd and flock of sheep at Heather Ridge Farm is also Certified Grassfed by AGW, the first—and only—food label in the U.S. and Canada that guarantees food products come from animals fed a 100 percent grass and forage diet, and raised entirely outdoors on pasture or range.
Stretching up and over a small peak in the Catskill Mountain Range, the 160 acres of hill land have been farmed for over 200 years. Originally a dairy operation, Heather Ridge Farm is now a multi-species, pasture-based livestock operation, offering a wide range of products to local customers.
Carol was raised nearby in Saugerties, learning the importance of serving healthy food at her family’s resort and restaurant. She remembers the pride she felt seeing raw ingredients transformed into beautiful, nourishing food. She has been an active beekeeper since the 1970s, dabbling in the art of raising pigs and lamb along the way. Her husband, John, was first exposed to farming during the childhood summers he spent in Ireland. They decided to establish a full-time, diversified livestock farm together many years ago and never looked back. They currently lease an additional 100 acres of pasture and a barn on an adjoining farm to supplement their own 160 acres of land.
Carol and John demonstrate a strong commitment to sustainable and pasture-based animal husbandry. “We believe a grass-based farm is better for the animals, better for the farmers, better for the environment and better for the consumers,” Carol explains. “It’s a sustainable system of agriculture that offers you the healthiest, leanest, tastiest products we can raise.” The couple also farm without the use of a tractor in an effort to minimize the everyday use of fossil fuels. Riddled with streams and ponds, the land is the perfect for their gravity-fed livestock watering system, which avoids the need for electric or petrol-driven pumps.
Heather Ridge Farm is home to Icelandic and Dorset sheep, raised for their meat and wool. Both breeds are well suited for the cold climate and mountainous terrain. According to Carol, “having two very different breeds gives us a range of sizes of finished animals, suitable to extend the harvest schedule. The variety of wool gives us more possibilities to market it. We have 35 breeding ewes and a couple of rams, producing and 50-60 lambs a year.”
The Boer goats on the farm are raised for their meat. Their ability to browse on shrubs, brambles, young trees and vines has enabled the goats to play a key role in restoring old, overgrown pastures on the property. The pigs, purchased from a nearby Certified Animal Welfare Approved by AGW farm in Delhi, NY, are usually of the Tamworth or Gloucestershire Old Spot varieties. These traditional breeds thrive out on pasture and provide high-quality pork for Heather Ridge Farm’s customers.
The laying hens at Heather Ridge Farm are a mix of Barred Rocks and Black and Red Sex Link breeds. These breeds are well suited to pasture-based management and known for their hardy nature and high-quality eggs.
Following the rotational grazing model, the farmers allow the animals to graze one section of pasture at a time, before moving them to the next area to graze a new paddock. This process lets the grass recover before the animals return to graze again; it also keeps the soil naturally fertilized and minimizes the build-up of internal parasites, avoiding reliance on chemical treatments. The pigs and goats are also highly effective at removing weeds and brush. “The combination of species we graze has greatly improved the quality of our pastures, providing for better nutrition available from the plants and greatly helped with parasite control,” says Carol. An additional benefit of moving multiple species through a continual pasture rotation is the constant, hands-on interaction the farmers have with their animals, and Carol and John take every opportunity to monitor the animals’ health and behaviors.
The old farm house (circa 1820) at Heather Ridge Farm serves as the location for the farm store and the Bees Knees Café, offering visitors an opportunity to purchase and enjoy the varied goods produced on the farm. On weekends, customers can also enjoy lunch made with High Ridge Farm’s meat and other locally raised foods.
Carol and John believe their Certified Animal Welfare Approved by AGW and Certified Grassfed by AGW certifications provide customers with real assurances on how the farm is managed, particularly those who live further away from the farm. “When we started, customers would visit our farm and we would show them our practices,” Carol and John explain. “We run a very transparent operation. However, as we grow and sell to different stores, restaurants and through our website, we want those customers to have the same assurance that we are doing the best possible job raising our animals. That’s why we applied to the AWA and Certified Grassfed by AGW programs. Those labels tell those distant customers we are doing things the right way. These leading certifications are highly regarded in terms of animal welfare and sustainability and we want to be, too! We know that gives us and our retail outlets a marketing edge.”
Looking to the future, Carol and John want to further develop their sustainability efforts. They aim to make some of their systems (like their gravity-fed irrigation technique) more efficient and ecologically positive, which will inevitably make their operation more profitable.
Heather Ridge Farm’s products are available from their on-farm store, the Bee’s Knees cafe and through their CSA. The couple is also launching an online mail order website. Customers can also purchase their Certified Animal Welfare Approved by AGW and Certified Grassfed by AGW products from the local Medusa General Store, Mohawk Harvest Coop in Gloversville, Catskill Country store and the Winter Saugerties Farmers Market. Visitors can also enjoy tours at Heather Ridge Farm, which run weekly from Memorial Day through Columbus Day weekend, and monthly during the winter. For more information, visit the farm’s website, call 518-239-6234 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.