JORDANVILLE, NY — Arabeth Farm is a postage stamp-sized farm in western Herkimer County, perhaps the smallest one around.
Aaron Hardy, 27, and his wife, Sarah, 26, purchased 30 acres only two years ago and are still getting settled.
They own just 10 beef cows and don’t have space to house them. Luckily, they have pasture at Aaron’s parents’ farm down the road.
Thanks to $50,000 from New York State’s New Farmers Grant Fund, the Hardys will be expanding the farm, but it will be far from becoming a goliath. They want to keep their farm a manageable size.
Arabeth Farm (from their names, Aaron and Sarah Elizabeth) is one of two farms in the Mohawk Valley region owned by a young farming couple to receive a state grant. Falls Pride Dairy of Oriskany Falls/Augusta in Oneida County, owned by Brian and Tracey Poole, received $32,765.
Governor Andrew M. Cuomo announced in May that the state will provide more than $610,000 in grants to support new and early-stage agricultural businesses. The fund, enacted in the 2014-2015 budget, is designed to encourage young people to consider farming as a career. An additional $1 million was added to the fund in the 2015-2016 budget.
Empire State Development, in consultation with the Department of Agriculture and Markets, is administering the fund and received more than 100 applications for the program. Projects were scored competitively based on specific criteria, including demonstration of project readiness.
Grants have been awarded to 20 farms thus far and will be used for costs associated with the expansion of production, construction of farm buildings, purchase of equipment and seed or upgrades to increase efficiency and boost production.
Arabeth Farm’s No. 1 priority is to build a barn for a herd of 25 certified organic beef cows. The Hardys were already committed to farm life before the grant came through and they only had to look at their neighbors, Aaron’s parents, for inspiration.
David and Susan Hardy milk just 100 pasture-fed Holsteins, so Aaron is familiar with how to run a successful, yet compact organic farming operation.
“I’ve always liked everything about farming,” he said. “I never wanted to do anything else.”
He works fulltime on his parent’s farm, in contrast to two younger brothers. One brother works as an RN and the youngest is in college.
In between milkings, Aaron is clearing the rock- and tree-strewn land on his own farm and arranging for the installation of electric fencing for the future pasture. He will be seeding the pasture with clover this fall. During the winter, the cows will get hay balage grown on his parents’ farm.
Sarah was raised on a beef farm in Angola in western New York, where her parents also had sheep. She is now employed as a 4-H educator by Cornell Cooperative Extension of Oneida County.
The two of them met while attending Morrisville College and got married two years ago.
“This land had been fallow for a few years,” said Sarah, while walking up to the overgrown pasture, festooned with high grass and wildflowers, to greet her horse “Shadow.” This farm consisted of just seven acres, but Aaron was able to purchase adjoining property for a total of 30 acres.
The Hardys bought their sturdy Charolais at a cattle show in Cobleskill. “They’re pretty docile,” Sarah explained. “They’re unique because everybody else has Holsteins.”
Sarah takes the responsibility for breeding and selecting the semen for her cows. This type of cattle is large and muscular, so she sometimes hand-picks the bulls to enhance the cow’s characteristics and occasionally cross breeds the Charolais with Angus.
“We’ve done some A.I. already because there are so few Charolais and we want to get high-quality genetics,” she said.
Several calves born this spring are grazing peacefully alongside their mothers and the accommodating Holsteins at the senior Hardy farm. It takes about five minutes for Sarah and Aaron to either walk to or take an ATV to check on their herd there.
David and Susan Hardy were originally from the Boston area. In the early 1980s, they moved to central Massachusetts. David spent 15 years as a herdsman on a dairy farm, while Susan worked in the agricultural industry as a pasture management and nutrition specialist.
They considered buying a farm in Vermont, “but the prices were too high,” said Susan. In 1992, “we saw this property advertised. It was a good fit.”
The elder Hardys set up their organic dairy farm in 1999. Although they rent additional land nearby to grow hay, they still abide by the small-is-beautiful philosophy. Just three years ago they doubled their milking herd to its current 100 head.
Back at Arabeth Farm, Sarah talks about raising sheep and pigs in the future, and starting a small flock of chickens.
A new generation of farmers is definitely up and coming, but not without input from the past. Susan Hardy has taken the opportunity to pass along words of wisdom to her son and daughter-in-law since they started their farm.
“The best advice I can give them is to take time to make decisions and to keep a positive attitude,” she said. “Also, work hard and work together.”
Meanwhile, trusses from Sarah’s grandmother’s barn in North Collins, NY, sit alongside the driveway longing for the day when they’ll be blended into the new barn too.