It’s Farmer Friday!
Meet Jerry and Dotty Snyder – one of the six wonderful organic farmer finalists in our Grant a Farmer’s Wish Campaign. Get to know the Snyders through their interview with Organic Valley and hear about their wish to build a one-acre pond to serve as water supply for a hydro-electric generator to power his dairy and house.
“If you’ve ever been to Shelburne Farms in Vermont,” Jerry says, “you’d know what we’re trying to do here on Sunny Cove Farm.” Shelburne Farms is a 1,400 acre working farm operated as a non-profit for the purposes of educating visitors about how to steward land in an environmentally, economically, and culturally sustainable way.
Jerry and Dotty and their eight children practice that ethic on this 400 acre grass-based dairy in Western New York State’s Allegany County. Sunny Cove has always been maintained organically though the farm wasn’t certified organic until 2002. “We never saw the necessity for chemicals,” Jerry says.“We grow grass and hay that we fertilize with manure. That’s all we need.”
“Besides,” Jerry points out, “we’re at an elevation of 2,200 feet on heavy, clay soils. With a short growing season and soils like that, it makes no sense to force the land to grow what it could not support naturally. What grows very well here is grass so that’s what we focus on. I’m only 5 foot 9 and 140 pounds and if I tried to muscle my way through life, I wouldn’t get very far. So I learned to use my head and work with the land. ”
Jerry learned this ethic from his dad, Frank, who farmed the land before him. “When I studied agriculture in college,” Jerry says, “they taught me a different paradigm: borrow more money, double your herd size, and plant corn and alfalfa. I wouldn’t be here today if I had tried to farm this land that way.”
Along with the milk from 45 Holstein and Jersey crosses (Jerry calls them “Jersteins”), the Snyders cultivate an organic apple orchard and operate what’s known in New England as a “sugar bush”, a part of their wooded acreage in which sugar maple trees dominate. The kids hung 1,000 buckets last year alone. The sweet liquid they collect is then cooked down to maple syrup in their own sugar house, and they sell the syrup from their farm store where they also sell apples and the meat from the bull calves they raise to maturity for this purpose.
Every aspect of the farm is managed in such a way that is not only self-sustaining for the farm itself, but also benefits and supports the community and builds a future for the Snyder’s children. “This is the pure definition of sustainability,” Jerry says. “It’s not a lot of work because we do it together, as a team.”
Jerry’s wish is to build a one-acre pond to serve as water supply for a hydro-electric generator. The generator will be used to power his dairy and house. The pond will also provide gravity fed water supply for six pastures and help to promote drainage, lengthening the amount of time each year his cows can be out to pasture, grazing.
The Snyders’ project would provide a substantial amount of the electrical power needed to operate their 50-cow dairy, two-story farmhouse, farm shop, and freezers for their on-farm store. At the same time, it would optimize the management of their water resources, supply water for the dairy herd, support pasture drainage, and improve wildlife habitat.
Everything works in synchronous fashion on Sunny Cove Farm. “We produce less milk because we don’t feed grain, but our milk is high quality and we are paid appropriately for it. The cows are healthy so we don’t have a vet bill, and they’re healthy because they’re eating food we raise right here on the farm. I know the industrial paradigm I was taught is useless.
“Everything we do here begins with asking the question: What can we do to make this last for generations? It’s the same question George and the guys at Organic Valley asked of themselves when they started our farmer-owned co-op.”
Meet the Snyders on video, hear the stories of all of our finalists, and place a vote to help us grant wishes and support organic farming on our Facebook page!