DERUYTER, NY – When Central New York meteorologists reference the wild weather extremes in the hills of Madison County, they often talk about Brookfield, Lebanon, Cazenovia and a patch of hill country in DeRuyter that don’t reflect “normal” weather predictions.

For those who farm in those areas, they laugh regularly – a defiant laugh, as they see the valley blanketed with precipitation knowing full well the temperature change can bring them copious amounts of snow, sleet or a heavier, colder rain. It makes for a hearty, resilient farmer. One such farmer (and his family) is Ted Fuller.

For generations, Mariposa Heights Farm, founded by the Fuller family, has milked cows, made crops, produced beef and raised equally hearty children on land resources that rise up to 1,800 feet of elevation and feed communities downstream. It wasn’t an easy journey for Ted and Becky, whose life’s journey was cut short by cancer in 2020.

The legacy of dairy farming started in 1974 down Mariposa Road in Chenango County. In 1983, the former Richard Moyer dairy farm was annexed higher up the road into Madison County. Running both properties and making a profit in a challenging dairy market came to a difficult conclusion in 2003 when the milk cows were sold. The home farm was sold in 2004.

Part of living in a harsh environment is adapting to change. Like many dairy families of that era, working off the farm became a necessity for the Fuller family, with Ted driving a school bus full-time since 1996 and Becky having a teaching assistant career in area schools.

Since farming was in their blood, they called their smaller, Madison County 60-acre sod farm with its abundant water resources and rolling topography home.

In 2012, the couple began raising hearty, registered Red Angus cattle to complement their work schedules, selling breeding stock and freezer beef and teaching the next generations the nuances of beef production while filling the family’s freezer with homegrown meat.

With over 40 head of cattle on the ground, Becky knew improving soil health would be paramount for their resiliency and slowing runoff atop the Tioughnioga River Watershed.

She worked extensively with Jessica Heim, Madison County Soil & Water Conservation District’s CCA-accredited nutrient management planner, to get soil sampling done and lay the groundwork in decision-making for applying manures and fertilizers to enhance the hay and pastureland and in turn the health of the animals and water-holding capacity of the soil.

Becky’s legacy of learning started a six-year journey of improvement for the land and farmstead.

Ted worked with district staff using the Agriculture Environmental Management (AEM) planning framework to build common-sense conservation measures in a smaller farm context. The first projects focused on establishing and constructing a rotational grazing system that gelled with Ted’s daily workload off the farm. A secure perimeter high tensile fence and complementary paddock subdivisions were attached to a laneway for ease of people and cattle movement.

To facilitate the nutrient management goals on pasture, an above-ground water source was piped throughout the system to keep the cattle happy in the paddocks and secondary hay fields, nourishing the microbes.

Mariposa Heights: Madison Co. Conservation Farm of the Year

Grandpa Ted Fuller with some of his many grandchildren, sharing the award. Photo by Troy Bishopp

The farm’s soil health systems and watershed were further enhanced by a five-acre, SWCD-planted riparian forest buffer and stream/pond exclusion fence for the resident wildlife population. Recognizing the importance of cattle manure for the land, a new barnyard with associated stoned walkway, reinforced stream crossing and vegetated treatment area was built in 2022-23 to ensure proper collection of valuable nutrients to be land applied at the right time.

Funding to implement these soil health projects was provided by the farm, the Upper Susquehanna Coalition’s Water Quality Program, NYS Trees for Tributaries Program and the NYS Environmental Protection Fund.

“I appreciate the labor savings, healthier cattle, improved forage quality, the longer growing season up here and less mud to deal with,” said Ted. “Working with the district to improve our operation has been easy while also contributing to water quality coming off our ‘mountain’ delivered to my watershed.

“It’s important to work together and have a level of trust that gets the job done for our community. It’s a story that resonates well with my beef customers and downstream neighbors.

“As the cows begin to calve for another season and the trees mature, receiving the Madison County SWCD Conservation Farm of the Year is a kind of testament for local folks working together on behalf of our children and grandchildren’s environment. It’s something I feel good about as a farmer,” Ted stated.

“We appreciate working with the Fuller family to enhance the natural resources for all Madison County residents to enjoy while supporting the farm’s endeavors for a sustainable future,” said Steve Lorraine, Madison County SWCD district manager. “We love seeing all the grandchildren connected to the farm. It brings us pride in helping another farm family.”

“As the district’s 43rd awardee, we appreciate Ted’s commitment and Becky’s legacy in supporting our mission of enhancing wise use of county soil and water resources,” said SWCD District Board Chair Rick Barnes.

To learn more about the positive attributes of conservation planning and implementation, contact the Madison County SWCD at 315.824.9849 or visit

by Troy Bishopp