Recruiting farmers: ‘Come farm with us’ in northern New York

SALEM, Ohio – Shannon Brown is about to be a full-time farmer – land, vegetables, greenhouses, the whole shebang.

Brown and his wife, Brenda, started out small, growing a few vegetables back home in Lancaster County, Pa.

But when they decided to really make a go at farming, they knew they’d have to move. Land was expensive in their county and Brown said it wasn’t practical to start farming unless it was “industrial agriculture.”

So the couple looked in Virginia and Minnesota and basically anywhere east of the Mississippi.

What they found was Crary Mills, N.Y.

And helping them find it was a program called Come Farm With Us, created to entice farmers to come to a four-county region in northern New York.

Recruiting. Lewis, Oneida, St. Lawrence and Jefferson counties were individually trying to recruit farmers to come to their counties, but two years ago the four areas made it a joint effort and formed Come Farm With Us.

Like many other parts of the country, farmers were aging, the next generation wasn’t interested, and the area was losing its farms.

But there was still a strong agricultural infrastructure, and the way to preserve it was by encouraging other farmers to take a look at upstate New York, said Michele Ledoux, Lewis County extension agent.

So they put together some marketing material – highlighting reasonable land prices, state ag tax programs, open spaces and community farm support – and headed to farm and trade shows along the East Coast and into Ohio.

Ledoux hears stories about farmers who can’t get out of their driveways because urban sprawl is too close. And about communities who turn on farmers when they want to expand or when they spread their manure on a breezy day.

But they’re wanted here, she said.

Agriculture is the backbone of these counties and the No. 1. industry. Dairy Today even named St. Lawrence the third best county in the United States to have a dairy farm in 2000.

Holmes County, Ohio. Since Come Farm With Us started, approximately 35 farm families have moved to the four-county area.

This doesn’t include the 15-18 Amish families who moved to St. Lawrence County from Holmes County, Ohio, said Bill Van Loo, St. Lawrence County extension agent.

But these families aren’t just farming, Van Loo said. They’re making and selling furniture, carriages and crafts.

They joined approximately 150 other Amish families that also moved to St. Lawrence from Holmes County 30 years ago, Van Loo said.

‘Traditional farming.’ Although most farmers come to the area to dairy farm, the Browns are set on a vegetable operation.

The couple officially moved to Crary Mills a few weeks ago and are already planning how to run their farm.

The land is good, four area universities are a good outlet, and the community emphasizes locally grown products, Brown said.

“It’s a more traditional farming community,” Brown said.

“The people are here because they want to be,” he continued, laughing that otherwise no one would want to face the winters of the North Country.

He’s only been a New Yorker for a short time but he already knows it’s not for everyone. In addition to the brutal winters, many people wouldn’t be used to the land: On Brown’s 4 acres, he has 15 types of soil.

It takes an adjustment, he said, but the community is the best he’s ever seen.

They welcome farming and support locally grown products, Brown said.

“If you’re serious about community-type farming, this is definitely the place to be,” he said.

(Reporter Kristy Hebert welcomes reader feedback by phone at 1-800-837-3419, ext. 23, or by e-mail at

*      There are more than 1.1 million acres of farmland in the four counties.

*      Farmers are moving to northern New York from Maryland, Delaware, Pennsylvania, Ohio and New Jersey.

*      Land averages $800-$1,000 per acre for tillable property with buildings. Some sells for as little as $300 an acre.

*      Average precipitation varies by county and ranges from 30 1/2 to 44 inches. Some areas of Lewis County can get more than 300 inches of snowfall.

*      Most farmers relocating to New York are buying existing farms and adapting or expanding them to meet their needs.

*      There are more than 200,000 dairy cattle in the four-county area. Most farmers coming to northern New York are dairy farming.

Get the details

* Come Farm With Us

      Arlene Hall, coordinator

      Cornell Cooperative Extension, Lewis Co.

      P.O. Box 72

      Outer Stowe Street

      Lowville, NY 13367



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