When Harold and Anna Sullivan purchased their dairy farm in 1947 on Roberts Road in the Town of Denmark, in Lewis County, they carried with them a dream to raise their family as part of a vibrant farming community.
With fertile soils, ample water, a mix of woodlands abutting the Deer River, and extraordinary hard work, the “home farm” grew to more than 700 acres over two generations.
Their son, Charles, and his wife Shirley purchased the farm from his parents in the 1980s where they raised five sons: Mike, Jeffery, Kevin, Gary, and Scott.
Mike and Joyce Sullivan, as third generation dairy farmers on the family land, have decided to conserve their 494 acres of farmland. Known as Flat Rock Farms, and a “Dairy of Distinction” due to the family’s commitment to excellence, the farm is currently home to 135 milking cows, young cattle, and a mix of fields growing alfalfa, corn, and grain.
Their recently awarded NYS farmland protection grant, written and submitted by Tug Hill Tomorrow Land Trust on behalf of the Sullivan’s, will help them continue to diversify the farm to allow for greater economic resiliency. Mike’s brothers, Gary and Kevin, have already protected their farms, and Jeffery hopes to conserve his farm, too.
Farmland conservation is a priority
According to the USDA 2017 census data, New York lost over 2,100 dairy farms between 2012 and 2017. Joyce notes “Dairy farmers are increasingly looking to diversify their operations to withstand the dismal milk prices. We plan on diversifying more into grains.”
New York State is responding by investing in farmland protection, with $50 million in funding statewide committed to purchase development rights via farmland protection grants over the next year.
“It’s no secret that the dairy industry is stressed by erratic milk prices as part of a national pricing structure,” explained Mike Sullivan. “This grant is a win for our community. It would be tragic to see the farm get developed. We have so much of our family history in this farm. My grandparents would be proud of all we are doing to keep it as a farm. It’s part of their legacy.”
The farmland protection program allows farmers to diversify operations, including establishing home-based businesses and ‘value-added’ products like cheese and cider. Given the commitment to farm viability, the farmland conservation agreement also allows the installation of solar panels on barns and a portion of the land in a manner that is compatible with farming and healthy soils.
The demand for these farmland protection grants is high. Nearly 40 farm families in and around the Tug Hill region have asked for our help. After extensive evaluation based on the state’s grant criteria, this year we will submit nine projects to NYS Department of Agriculture and Markets for funding consideration.
It takes over 50 hours to prepare one of these grant applications, including working with the relevant county, town(s), and farm families. If a farmland protection grant is awarded, a project can take two to four years to complete, necessitating well over 250 hours of staff time.
We couldn’t undertake this effort without the support of people like you. Thank you.
“This grant is a win for our community. It would be tragic to see the farm get developed. We have so much of our family history in this farm. My grandparents would be proud of all we are doing to keep it as a farm. It’s part of their legacy.”
— Mike Sullivan, Flat Rock Farms