The story of Skip and Vicki Watt’s small farm outside of Greenville, NY is something of a love story. When the two fell in love just a decade ago and bought the property off of West Road, there was a small log cabin and nothing more.
Today, this small farm in the heart of the Catskills dreams big, boasting a beautiful hand-crafted barn, several outbuildings, an on-site farm store, workshop, and a host of livestock including a guard llama, Huacaya alpacas, a Nubian goat, Merino and Finn sheep, miniature donkeys, broad breasted white turkeys, meat and egg-laying chickens and Pekin, Indian Runner, and Rouen ducks.
Skip had worked as a master craftsman and had a long-standing career with New Holland, retiring in 2005. Vicki, who had grown up in an Amish community, had always wanted a farm, but her career as a nurse kept her too busy to pursue that dream. They started their farm endeavor small, with a flock of chickens and ducks, offering a few items for sale off the farm, including eggs, meat, honey and maple syrup, but soon several products were beckoning a larger space and a wider scope.
“It just kept blossoming,” said Watt. “We now rely on chickens, turkeys, eggs, honey from our bees, the resale of maple syrup, artwork, fiber, roving, yarn, spinning wheels and related processing tools (mostly made by Skip),” along with several other items including a large assortment of artifacts made by both Skip and Vicki related to Native American culture, including sheepskin drums, deer toe rattles, and beautifully-woven dream catchers.
It wasn’t the Watts intention to farm outside of a hobby, but in 2009, a trip to the Dutchess County Fair introduced the Watts to their first fiber animals. “We saw Angora bunnies and fell in love with them,” said Watt. However, Vicki discovered she was severely allergic to the Angora fiber. Later in the fall, the Watts attended the Sheep and Wool Festival in Rhinebeck and “our future was determined,” said Watt.
At the latter festival, the Watts met some friendly alpacas and llamas and later visited an alpaca farm to purchase their own stock. That decision fed Vicki’s desire to work with fiber. “Being interested in homesteading and self-reliant lifestyles, spinning, weaving, and knitting was a great interest to Vick. It naturally evolved as we gathered fiber animals.” They soon added Merino, a fine-wool breed of sheep, along with Finnsheep, a medium-wool breed and continued processing roving for sale on the farm, as well as Vicki’s handspun yarn.
Said Watt, “Once you have fiber animals, it’s not enough to just love them; you also must handle the sheared fiber.”
With the high cost of fiber processing, Vicki turned to her husband for help. Skip recalls, “I fell back on many years of experienced woodworking and antique restoration to begin making fiber processing tools for her and repairing old spinning equipment.”
This broadened the revenue stream for the farm. What started out as a post-retirement hobby quickly blossomed. Skip transitioned from making tools for his wife into launching Watt Heritage Fiber Tools, a business garnering much attention in the fiber world. Today, Skip’s workshop is filled with antique wheels, including a rare pendulum wheel, awaiting the skillful crafting of missing parts.
As Watt’s business unfolded, Vicki was able to pursue her fiber work and the duo soon constructed and opened an on-site store. “It became a way to dispose of the overload of fiber, artwork, hobby and craft work of Vick’s and gave me a place to market my excess fiber tools and spinning wheels. It was also a great way to augment the farm and move toward the farm being self-sufficient.”
Watt said, while they continue to pour a lot of their own money into the project, “We are finally beginning to generate enough revenue from the farm to actually support the farm.”
He added, “We are constantly working to supply what the farm store needs and count on everything we do on a daily basis as a collective way to make the farm continue to move forward as a successful endeavor.”
Watt’s advice to would-be farmers, “One thing I would suggest to anyone wanting to begin a farming business is to make sure they have enough acreage and check with their township office to move toward getting a soil survey and securing farm status for tax purposes. It is hard enough to make a go of a new farming business and the tax credits are a must to survival in the first 10 years.”
He adds, “As I always say, if you’re going to do this, you’ve got to love it to do it.”