Monday, September 28, 2009

Northeastern Exposure Part II: Preserving History at Tilley Foster Farm

Part 2- Preserving History at Tilley Foster Farm
By Jeannette Beranger

After leaving Rhode Island, the next stop on the road trip was Putnam County New York and Tilly Foster Farm Museum located in the city of Brewster. The farm itself is a beautiful historic property that once served as a premier Thoroughbred farm for the region. Horses can still be seen on the property, but instead of race horses, most are boarders whose owners enjoy the facilities that were once reserved for the cream of the equine crop in New York.

Through the efforts of George Whipple and The Whipple Foundation / Society for the Preservation of Putnam County Antiquities & Greenways, Tilly Foster Farm has been preserved to and will become a museum and home to an assortment of endangered American breeds of livestock and poultry. The primary goals of the foundation are to keep Tilly Foster Farm free and open to the people of Putnam County while making the farm self-sufficient to reduce the burden on the taxpayer. Whipple plans to build a a world-class farm museum that incorporates rare farm animals that will serve to educate the public about farming, local history, and animal husbandry. George’s personal commitment to rare breed conservation has made him a long-time member of ALBC since the organization’s early years. His relationship with ALBC has recently been broadened with his election to the ALBC Board of Directors.

George grew up in Putnam County and is deeply concerned with preserving the beautiful rural qualities of the area in and around the county. He still resides on his grandfather’s Pine View Farm in the rural town of Kent, not far from the farm museum. Outside of Putnam, George works in New York City and is known to New Yorkers for his celebrity interviews on Whipple’s World, a show he films for NY1 News. I had the pleasure of getting to know George when he first began thinking about livestock and poultry breeds on the farm. He called the ALBC office for advice on appropriate breeds for the farm and to determine where he could find them.

After much brainstorming, George walked away with a breed list. He extended an invitation for me to visit the farm if I was ever in the area so, as I made my way back towards New York City for my lecture, I decided to stop by. Upon arriving at Tilley Foster Farm, I was in awe at the beauty of the old buildings and the fine herd of Randall Lineback cattle in the front pasture. George greeted me by the newly renovated guest cottage that will supplement the farm’s income by being rented out to visitors wanting to experience the farm and enjoy the pastoral setting the property has to offer. We began the afternoon with a walk around the farm. We were accompanied by George’s Parson Russell terrier, Mayfair, who is retired from the show ring and enjoy her new job as master of all she surveys on the farm. (She takes particular delight in making sure the ducks and geese keep in line.)

As George and I visited the farm, we discussed the future of the facility and the development of programs to promote the rare breeds. Plans include utilizing a meeting facility and restaurant for on-farm seminars and classes. As part of the farm’s lecture programs, ALBC Board President Callene Rapp was scheduled to give a public presentation at the farm on raising heritage breed rabbits.

Among the breeds we saw on the farm were Jacob (American) sheep, Blue American rabbits, Guinea hogs, Narragansett turkeys, several varieties of Heritage Chickens and ducks, and their famous American Mammoth Jackstock, Nate. Children’s book author Sheila Mealy recently made him a local celebrity by publishing a lovely book about the donkey and the adventures that brought him to Tilly Foster Farm.

The basement level of one of the barns contains a wonderful display of antique farm equipment. A collection of tractors, valued at over one million dollars, is exhibited in the area. The machinery and displays are on loan to the farm by the Putnam County Antique Machinery Association. Some other assets of the farm include an impressive investment in infrastructure to make the property largely energy efficient through solar and wind power made on the farm. The solar array alone can produce up to 13,000 watts of electricity for the farm.

Beyond the animals, Tilly Foster Farm also serves as a home for a unique rock and roll museum called Avalon Archives. The museum’s collection is owned by a friend of George’s by the name of Ned Moran. Ned is a retired New York City firefighter and an amazing music guru to all that know him. Ned’s collection contains highly prized items and memorabilia that any rock and roll enthusiast would give their right eye for. Ned began his collection while living in San Francisco between 1969-1974, a golden age of rock for many. It seemed only appropriate to take a step into the museum as that day happened to be the 32nd anniversary of the Elvis’ death and the 40th anniversary of Woodstock. Much of the collection consisted of highly coveted concert posters, cards, and artwork. I’ve visited Cleveland’s Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, I can say that in comparison, Avalon’s intimate setting gives visitors a more tangible and personal connection to the history on the walls. After leaving the museum, I had the distinct feeling of just having spent a quiet afternoon with old friends in that building.

By late afternoon, the temperature peaked (90°+!) and it was about time to finish the tour for the day. By then, most of the animals were in their barns or had the good sense to get in the shade and keep cool. Having spent a pleasant day in his company, I said my goodbyes to George and headed towards my next destination.

In the next installment, Jeannette will head to meet Craig Haney at the Stone Barns Center for Sustainable Agriculture.

No comments:

Post a Comment