Family, heritage, and a way of life

North Harbor Dairy

CowsThere’s the sweeping expanse of fields, woodlands and meadows­—all 4,000 acres of it—which in and of itself is quite remarkable. Then there’s the fact that the farming operation is a combination of North Harbor Dairy, one of the region’s largest dairy farms, the Robbins Family Grain Company as well as Old McDonald’s Farm.

The farm is a significant employer for the area, providing 40 plus jobs and supplies milk to Great Lakes Cheese in Adams, NY.

But even more than that, what often makes the farm stand out is the family’s commitment to inspire the next generation to appreciate what farming, and specifically dairy farming, is all about.

During the summer, hundreds of visitors a day come to Old McDonald’s Farm. “We have been blessed with finding the right mix of real-life farming, interactive educational experiences, and the love of farming and the land to create a place that inspires people who otherwise might not experience a working farm,” said Nancy Robbins.
“But,” she continued, “we don’t take that for granted.”

Conserving the heart of the farm
The farm is owned and managed as a family operation. Ron Robbins, and his grown children, Julia and Brian, manage the farming side of the operation. And Nancy, Ron’s wife, oversees what has become a renowned farm education and experiential learning program at the farm.

“Dairy and agriculture are an important part of our local and regional economy. Our family wants to make sure that the good land we have doesn’t disappear under houses in the future, and selling the development rights is a good way to make sure that doesn’t happen.”

To achieve that goal, the Robbins family will be conserving 1,300 acres of their farm in partnership with Tug Hill Tomorrow Land Trust. To do so, the family will sell the majority of their non-farm development rights on this acreage using funding for the project from New York State’s farmland protection program. It’s the first state farmland protection grant awarded in the North Country.


Robbins Old MacDonald Farm equipment

A family farm and legacy
Ron, Nancy’s husband, explained that when they decided to conserve a portion of the farm it was out of a desire to think about their kids and the community. The NYS Farmland Protection program is the way to make it happen.

New York State’s farmland protection program has grown in recent years to $15 million annually thanks to Governor Cuomo and statewide and local legislative support. Funds are divided by region, based upon a competitive grant application process.

Ron emphasizes that “It’s important for folks to understand that we still own the land, we still pay taxes on the land, manage the land, and continue to invest in the farm. This is a good business decision for us as farmers—and it’s a good family decision because we care about the land and want it to stay in farming. We want our kids and grandkids to be able to farm here and we want do our part to conserve what makes our community special.”


You help conserve farms throughout Tug Hill

Your support is what allows us to assist local farm-families like the Robbins to obtain state funding to protect their land, assist with the land planning, and work with them into the future to ensure their conservation agreement is upheld for generations to come.

Thanks to you, we also are able to work with farmers around Fort Drum through the national Army Compatible Use Buffer (ACUB) program as well as those landowners who wish to conserve their land in other parts of Tug Hill.

These projects take hundreds of hours to complete, often over several years. With your support we are currently working on two farmland protection projects, totaling 572 acres in communities near Fort Drum.

Thank you for investing in the conservation of Tug Hill’s family farms. Together, we are conserving the farms that make our region so special.


Pollinator Fun at the Zoo!


You can help the bees & butterflies right in your own back yard.

How? Come to our Pollinator Heroes workshops to learn what you can do to help save these important species. Each workshop will focus on creating a different project to bring the pollinators to your garden.

Join us for the first workshop on July 1st. These workshops are designed to be family-friendly — so get your kids involved! The second workshop will be held on August 5th.


Pollinator Heroes Zoo

$10 | Non-members
$8 | Members

Reservations are required to participate.

Please call 315-755-0896 or email


Thinking About the Future

Meek Farm

Meeks and SonsThe Meeks & Sons Farm is a dairy farm in our area, that has been in the family for four generations. Greg Meeks and his son Ryan own the 473-acre farm together, and with Greg’s youngest son Jack, they manage all aspects of running the farm.

By protecting their farm, the Meeks are thinking about the future. The grandkids love playing outside on the farm, and Greg hopes that one day they may take over and expand the family business.

That dream took a step forward when they conserved their farm last week, boosted by the pending conversion to an organic dairy operation later this June. The farmland protection funding (where farmers like the Meeks are paid for their non-farm development value) allows them to reinvest in their operations. The Meeks continue to own the land and pay property taxes.

Located in Jefferson County, NY the Meeks farm is near the Fort Drum Military base, one of the premier training sites in the Country.

This farmland project was therefore funded through a combination of Federal and State dollars.  State funding comes from the NYS Environmental Protection Fund through the NYS Department of Agriculture and Markets. Federal funding comes from the Army through the Army Compatible Use Buffer (ACUB) program. This is a partnership between Ft. Drum, Ducks Unlimited and Tug Hill Tomorrow Land Trust.

Meek FarmIt’s a win-win-win scenario: a buffer area around Ft. Drum is created to limit development that is incompatible with the training mission of Ft. Drum, farmers can reinvest in their operations and their families, and we are able to assist local families to conserve important lands and help ensure our local economy and heritage remain intact.

Thank you

Moments like this are milestones. Celebrating this achievement would be impossible without our community members, and local conservation heroes. It takes years of work to assist a local family to conserve their land and we couldn’t do that without your support. Tug Hill Tomorrow Land Trust and the Meeks family would like to thank everyone who has contributed to this project.

Once the land is gone, it’s gone for good. But today, another family farm is conserved and we are one step closer to ensuring that local farmland is here for the long-haul.

To learn more about the ACUB program, and if it may be right for your farm, or call Executive Director Linda Garrett at 315.779.8240.


The hearts and souls of those that stood here before us

venerable folks

Resilient people. Salt of the earth. Resourceful and community minded. Made something out of nothing. Our grandparents were like them.

Those are the words used to describe the everyday people who represent extraordinary lives, community and culture of Tug Hill. The recent traveling exhibit, “Venerable Folks of Tug Hill,” features portraits of 22 subjects by artist, Loretta Lepkowski.

The project—from concept to completion­ took over nearly three years, in partnership with Lepkowski, the Tug Hill Commission and Traditional Arts of Upstate New York (TAUNY).


History and Connection at risk

Portrait of Leona Chereshnoski by Loretta Lepkowski
Portrait of Leona Chereshnoski by Loretta Lepkowski

Too often stories like these end with the generation who has lived them. But thanks to Lepkowski, who drove throughout Tug Hill from Boonville to Watertown to Pulaski to paint people’s portraits and record their stories, they are now accessible for all of us.

“The landscape of Tug Hill is intertwined with the lives and history of those who have been here for many years working in various volunteer and paid jobs,” remarks Lepkowski. She continues, “It’s a pleasure to honor these individuals in a way that captures their stories and preserves this rich heritage for future generations to enjoy.”

The touring exhibit features stories about epic snowstorms, long days in the fields, triumph and sorrow, and days spent hunting in the woods. As a result, the combination of recordings, paintings and video has become one of the first multi-media exhibits of its kind in Tug Hill.

“This was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to capture some of those who have given Tug Hill its core identity” explains Katie Malinowski of the Tug Hill Commission, “many of these people are in their 80’s and 90’s, and their stories and heritage are something that our region treasures as part of who we are today. They are the heart and soul of our community.”

“People can forget how important the history and ongoing culture of everyday experience on the land is to our region and our shared identity,” remarked Camilla Ammirati of TAUNY. “We were honored to get to partner on this project to record and celebrate the experience of Tug Hill people and the distinctive land they live on.”

Part of Tug Hill Tomorrow Land Trust’s focus includes conserving and honoring the cultural heritage of our region. We wish to thank the project partners and those who shared their stories. A special thank you as well goes to Loretta Lepkowski who went above and beyond as she shared her talent, and her heart, in creating a beautiful and compelling legacy to highlight the special people and places of Tug Hill.

Find out where the exhibit will be next


Thank you to those who made this project possible:

Tug Hill Tomorrow Land Trust’s members and supporters, St. Lawrence County Arts Council, NYS Council on the Arts, Northern NY Community Foundation, NYS Tug Hill Commission, Iroquois Gas Community Grant Program, and The John Ben Snow Foundation, Inc. A portion of this work was made possible through two Public Arts Fellowship Grants which in turn was made possible in part by the St. Lawrence County Arts Council from the NYS Council on the Arts with the support
of Governor Andrew Cuomo and the New York State Legislature.


Thank you to those who shared their stories:

H. Douglas Barclay, attorney and NYS Senator and Ambassador to El Salvador (Pulaski)
George Bibbins, Sr., electrician and community official (Pinckney)
Irvine “Dutch” Buchal, farmer and logger (Copenhagen)
Jim Burke, construction, logger and musician (Taberg)
George William Capron, radio broadcaster (Boonville)
Terry Cataldo, community official and volunteer (Greig)
George Cataldo, surveyor and map lover (Grieg)
Leona Chereshnoski, librarian and B&B operator (Osceola)
Ben Coe, Tug Hill Commission, volunteer (Watertown)
John Constable, Jr., business man and historic family (Watertown, Constableville)
Martha Deming, art teacher and artist (Remsen)
Angie Kimball, circuit rider and volunteer (Redfield)
Warren Mathis, logger and community volunteer (West Leyden)
Robert McNamara, wildlife artist and graphic designer (Cleveland)
Edwin “Doc” Russell, family doctor and hunt club member (Rome)
Robert Sauer, forester and community official (Camden)
Benjamin Szalach, paper mill employee (Lyons Falls)
Stanley Szalach, dairy farmer (Houseville)
Elaine Yerdon, town clerk and volunteer (Redfield)
Francis Yerdon, community official and construction (Redfield)
Arsa Weiman, post office employee (Constableville)
Howard Weiman, paper company worker (Lyons Falls)