Written by Kate Morrison
Sarah Sweeney and I spent time together growing up at her grandparents’ house in Scottsville. Sarah is the seventh generation of the Stokoe family in Scottsville, New York. Sarah grew up on her family’s farm that has diversified over the years to include cash crops, heifer boarding and an agritainment business that opens for the fall and Christmas seasons. The farm celebrated 200 years of family farming in 2012 and she is very proud of that legacy and heritage. She personally has an associates degree in agricultural science from Alfred State College and a bachelors in agricultural business from Cornell University. Sarah and her husband Donny met through mutual friends and were set up on a blind date at an Eric Church concert. They quickly discovered that they had the same passions and came from similar backgrounds. Donny grew up on a dairy farm in Parma, New York and went to college at Morrisville where he received an associates degree in agricultural engineering and his bachelors in diesel technology management. Together they have begun building their own farm. They currently have a large, diverse garden which is 30 feet wide and 250 feet long. It began as a way to supplement their summer produce and quickly became their sole source of produce year-round. They can and freeze a lot as well as store squash, potatoes and onions, allowing them to enjoy the fruits of their labor long after the growing season has ended. In the coming year Sarah and Donny are excited to begin their own CSA (community supported agriculture). They keep a variety of produce in the garden, but are going to start by offering a limited number of shares to make sure they don’t bite off more than they can chew as they get started. They’ll be planting; kale, swiss card, peas, green and wax beans, summer squash, zucchini, several varieties of potatoes, cabbage, a mixture of peppers and tomoatoes, cucumbers, beets, sweet corn, and several varieties of winter squash. Sarah and Donny have found many advantages in diversity- in terms of both the garden they keep as well as the poultry they raise. Sarah offers a explains; “It not only allows us to maximize productivity when faced with different types of weather conditions, but it also minimizes the risks of total production failures if one crop is destroyed”. As far as poultry goes, the Sweeneys purposely chose to select a few different breeds for their laying hens. Each breed they chose has its strengths and weaknesses and with that in mind “We hope to maintain a more steady supply of eggs depending on the elements and the environment.” They currently have Buff Orpingtons, Waced Wing Wyandottes, Black Australorps and a Partridge Rock. Their beloved rooster, Athelstan, is a Black Cochin. “We had to hand feed him for the first week of his life, so we have a special attachment to him” Sarah tells me. I’ve consulted Sarah several times to learn about her personal experience with pastured poultry, since I’ll be raising and selling my own this Spring. Sarah and Donny experimented with the traditional Cornish crosses for meat birds as well as the Pioneer. For their first batch they did 5 of each to compare how each breed would perform. While the Cornish crosses grew very quickly, they didn’t forage as well as the Pioneers and were prone to dying from heat exhaustion and at times for no apparent reason at all. By the time they were scheduled for processing they only had two of the Cornish crosses left. The Pioneers, however, were very active and supplemented the feed that was provided with insects that they would catch themselves. They were extremely hardy and thrived on the pasture. While they didn’t grow as quickly or finish as large as the Cornish Crosses, they all made it to the finishing weight in good health. Sarah said that “The quality and taste of the meat was preferred by both Donny and I.” I’m excited for Sarah and Donny and what this year will bring them as they expand; even adding two hives of honey bees to the farm in the coming Spring!