Model Farm Sold to Next Generation of Dairy Farmers in the Catskills

DELAWARE COUNTY, NY — February 17, 2009 — Deerfield Farm, a successful dairy farm that is a model for watershed protection, has been passed on to a new generation of farmers, proving that farming can remain both environmentally sustainable and economically viable in New York State.

The Open Space Institute (OSI) announces today the sale of this 388-acre Delaware County dairy operation to Kyle and Bonnie Rockefeller, a young couple who grew up in the area and have been around farming all of their lives. The sale to the Rockefellers, who have renamed the farm “Rockycrest Holsteins,” represents the third and final stage in a landmark farmland preservation project.

“I’ve done quite a few other things, and this is what I want to do,” said 30-year-old Kyle Rockefeller, who attended the University of Maryland on a baseball scholarship, but returned home to pursue life as a dairy farmer. “I like my one-lane dirt road traffic when I come home at night.”

In July 2007, OSI’s land acquisition affiliate, the Open Space Conservancy (OSC), acquired the Deerfield Farm from Jim and Barbara Robertson with funds from the Lila Acheson and DeWitt Wallace Endowment, a permanent fund that was transferred to OSC in 2001. Not only a successful and active dairy operation, the farm was also one of 10 original pilot farms in the Watershed Agriculture Council’s (WAC) Whole Farm Planning program, which aims to manage a farm’s economic and production needs while balancing environmental sustainability. WAC is a nonprofit organization that supports sustainable agriculture and forestry in the New York City watershed region. 

“New York is an agricultural state. With almost 25 percent of our land devoted to more than 37,000 farms, there is no denying the rich and viable agricultural heritage of New York,” said Jennifer Grossman, OSI’s vice president of acquisition.

“We rank third in the nation for milk production and our 6,000 active dairy farms have made milk New York’s leading agricultural product. The courage of the Rockefeller family to continue honoring this way of life at a time when milk prices are dropping and the economy is failing is to be lauded. Kyle and Bonnie epitomize the strength and conviction necessary for this generation of dairy operators to learn, grow and succeed in challenging times.”

As a pilot farm, Deerfield Farm was the site of a long-term study by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) to quantify the benefits of Best Management Practices (BMP)—conservation practices meant to prevent or reduce pollution and protect water quality. The Robertsons participated voluntarily when they learned that their land was ideally situated to be part of the pilot program due to its topography and drainage.

The DEC study proved that effective management of water quality threats on farms located within the watershed can be a viable and cost-effective substitute for regulation or filtration. Data collected through elaborate monitoring stations concluded that the implementation of BMPs notably decreased total dissolved phosphorus by 43 percent and articulate phosphorus by 29 percent, substantially decreasing harmful impacts on water quality without compromising the viability of the dairy operation.

“We follow a plan so the runoff is minimal,” Rockefeller said. “Up here, it’s basically all natural.”

After many years of working with Deerfield Farm, WAC purchased a conservation easement on the property in 2008, permanently protecting the agricultural land from incompatible development, and opening the door for the final stage of the project—the sale of the land itself to the Rockefellers.

“This was a win-win situation for everybody,” said Fred Huneke, chairman of the board for the WAC. “It was vitally important for us to continue the operation of this farm so we can continue to make sure the best management practices work the way they’re supposed to for water quality.” 

“Because of OSI’s ability to work creatively with organizations like Farm Catskills and the Watershed Agricultural Council, we were able to find farmers to purchase the property who wouldn’t have been able to otherwise,” said Amy Kenyon, the president of Farm Catskills, an organization working to build a sustainable farming community in Delaware County. “OSI really acted like a critical bridge to keep this property in agriculture. It was very important that they realized the special value of giving a farm family the opportunity to own their own farm.”

What You Can Do

Donate to support OSI’s work

Become a part of our mission to safeguard at-risk places through your tax-deductible gift.


Subscribe to our newsletter

We get in touch once a month with our most important news, stories, and updates.