A Milestone & The Frisbees

Willard and Lucile Frisbee have a vision for their farmland. They see Riverdale Farm in Delhi continuing as a working farm through the next two generations, at least. When their son, Ronald and his son Gideon Frisbee expressed interest in taking over the family business, Willard and Lucile got serious. The Frisbees took action, put their vision into play, and placed a conservation easement on 107 acres of working farmland adjacent to the West Branch of the Delaware River. “By protecting farmland, we’re guaranteeing that the family farm business will continue without interruption or hindrance,”, says Lucile.” It’s just good stewardship of the land that’s been in the Frisbee family since the 1800’s.” In June 2011 the Frisbees achieved their goal. It was a turning point in their family history.

It was a turning point also for the Watershed Agricultural Council which now holds over 20,000 acres in conservation easements. “How fitting that the Frisbees’ decision to place Riverdale Farm here in Delaware County into farmland protection also marks a new milestone for us,” noted Executive Director Craig Cashman. “Willard and Lucile share our common goals, to protect working landscapes and to keep farming alive and profitable throughout the watershed. We work with funding from New York City Department of Environmental Protection earmarked specifically for farmland protection to address three key issues. First, the easement allows the family to continue working as a farm and forest enterprise. Second, the easement allows the family to remove capital from the property and put it to work somewhere else, like investing in a retirement vehicle or new equipment or livestock for the farm. Lastly, the conservation easement protects water quality and the working landscape. We need clean water and clean food, and protecting farmland through this land-use approach serves multiple purposes.”

The Frisbees’ decision to place a conservation easement on their land took a lot of time and a lot of thought. “We learned about farmland protection and land stewardship at an American Farmland Trust seminar in 2005,” noted Lucile. “We started thinking about how we could be stewards of our land and provide for the family’s future in farming.” Willard agreed: “Anyone interested in an easement should think it out and determine whether or not it’s a good fit for the farm business now and in the foreseeable future.”  Working closely with their Easement Program Specialist, the Frisbees explored their conservation easement options and considered the farm’s expansion possibilities, housing needs and future composition. They then set land aside within the easement boundaries, called an ADA or Acceptable Development Area, where future development such as a new pole barn or other agricultural-related building can occur in the future. “You have to take your time and make sure it’s right for you,” added Willard. “Think and plan ahead.”

The Frisbee farm has a long history with the Watershed Agricultural Council, starting back in 1997 when it enrolled in the Council’s Small Farms Program. The family is also working with the Forestry Program by working with a qualified watershed forester (their son Ron) on a forest management plan that supports the family maple syrup enterprise. In turn, the maple business is also a Pure Catskills member and received an Agricultural Development grant last year to improve their maple syrup quality. Now the farm will enter the Council’s Easement Program. “We’ve worked for over a year with Amy Lieberman, our easement specialist,” said Lucile. “We’ve been around and around on a few things, but in the long run, it’s all worked out. We’re reinvesting in the farm, and the boys, starting with a new tractor to replace the 1946 Allis-Chalmers.”

With a long farming legacy, Riverdale has seen farming generations come and go. Originally a dairy, Willard’s father, Wyatt, sold the cattle in the 1950s and transitioned to beef. Similarly, Willard and Lucile have experimented with alternatives to keep the farm going, such as turning the farmhouse/boarding house (Riverdale Inn) into an apartment complex. Willard juggled farm work with full-time work at SUNY-Delhi as Food Service Manager and Assistant Professor in the Hotel Division.  Lucile also worked at the college and as a church organist. “Keeping the farm going was difficult; we had to have a second income. Our most rewarding experience here on the farm has been raising our three sons.

After 50 years at the helm, Willard is passing the agricultural enterprise on to his son and grandson who are diversifying the farm profile.  “Gideon just expanded into a pig operation,” noted Willard. In a strange twist of historic fate, Gideon is raising feeder pigs for Jay Wilson of Maple Shade Farm across the river, the same farm Willard’s forebears started over 150 years ago. But that’s the way it is with small town farming. “Ron and Gideon are both passionate about farming and making the business work. They’ve diversified the beef farm, bringing in pigs, chickens, even ten thousand bees. They’re continuing and modernizing the maple syrup production. I’m truly honored that they wanted to return to the family farm.” For Willard, the greatest feeling is coming full circle, working alongside his son and grandson as he did with his father. “Now I wish that I could just keep up!”

The couple entered into the conservation easement for a variety of reasons. Willard jokes it was about time he got paid. “You put in and put in, always investing in your farm, replacing equipment and livestock.” Now, in their 80s, it was time he and Lucile took a little sweat equity out of their nest egg. The couple, married 56 years, have raised three kids on the farm and hope that the next generations will continue to enjoy the farming lifestyle.