“It’s definitely important to us that the farm stays a farm and stays in the family like it has for the last 300 years,” said Christine Nellis, of Seventeen23 Farm LLC.
Mohawk Hudson Land Conservancy (MHLC) received a $326,321 Farmland Protection Implementation Grant from the state Department of Agriculture and Markets to purchase the development rights to the 186-acre farm.
“When we buy these rights, it extinguishes them on certain parts of the property. That doesn’t mean they can’t build or expand the existing farm,” said Sarah Walsh, MHLC associate director. “We are protecting the remaining acreage from any large-scale development or many impervious surfaces, and ensuring that it can be cultivated as it should be.”
A conservation easement will be established so that Seventeen23 Farm will forever remain agricultural land. The family will invest the grant in continuing the operation to continue its legacy in accordance with the wishes of former owner John Nellis.
“He would be incredibly proud. John was all about family, the farm and harmony between the two,” Christine Nellis said of her late husband.
John Nellis, who died last January from cancer, developed a passion for the dairy industry while helping his uncle on the family farm throughout his childhood. But another relative took over the operation just as John Nellis was earning degrees in dairy science and agricultural mechanics at SUNY Cobleskill. He then worked on another dairy farm in the area.
When the Seventeen23 Farm came up for sale in 1983, John Nellis quickly gathered his assets to purchase it and keep it in the family. He and Christine Nellis married two years later and raised their family on the farm.
“We spent all our time getting it back to where it is today,” Christine Nellis said. “He would be very excited to know his daughters and I continue to believe in it as much as he does and we are going to take steps and steps to hopefully see that continue.”
Christine Nellis, who now owns Seventeen23 Farm with her daughters Brittany and Erin Nellis, said her husband instilled his love of farming in their three children, including daughter Katie Key. She and her husband previously operated their own farm and they have two daughters who now spend a lot of time on the family dairy farm.
“It’s their dream, as much as my dream, to continue this,” Christine Nellis said.
Although she and her husband have discussed options for preserving farmland in the past, Christine Nellis said the farm located in a rural area of Palatine, in the hamlet of Stone Arabia and six miles north of the village of Canajoharie, has never faced sufficient development pressure to become eligible for such grant opportunities.
This has changed due to increasing demand for farmland from solar companies in Montgomery County. The Nellis family learned last year that they might be eligible for the Farmland Protection Program and worked with MHLC through the months-long application process.
Walsh said it gave her “goosebumps” when she was able to tell the family that they had made it and that their 300-year-old farm would remain farmland forever. She added that the family’s heritage reflects the history of agriculture in New York.
“When you fought as hard as the Nellis family did to retain this land and keep it in the family, staying on this land forever is a dream come true,” Walsh said. “It talks about the history of our state and the importance of agriculture.”
Additionally, Walsh said land conservation is vital to combating climate, protecting wildlife, promoting clean air and water, and preserving the local connection to nature. She said preserving open space in Montgomery County connecting the Adirondacks and Catskills is especially important.
It will likely be at least a few years before the conservation easement is finalized and the grant is paid to the family, but Christine Nellis said it will give them time to decide how to use the funding to ensure the longevity of the farm, possibly by diversifying.
“We want to be prepared for any eventuality,” Christine Nellis said. “The dairy industry is evolving very quickly and margins are very tight. Small dairies are going to face challenges, so this is one of the ways we’ve chosen to address some of those challenges.
Milk from Seventeen23 Farm is sold to a marketing cooperative and remains primarily in liquid form for retail sale. Transportation is a long-term concern for the small farm which cannot fill a truck alone and which generally has its milk collected with that of several other dairies.
Other forms of agriculture could potentially be introduced to the farm, or possibly agritourism attractions providing more opportunities to share farm history and family heritage with the community. The farm was established on 50 acres of land given to William Nellis in 1723 in appreciation for the family’s contributions during the conflicts of the French and Indian Wars.
“These days, people seem to want…to connect with farms and food,” Christine Nellis said.
Diversification decisions will largely fall to Brittany and Erin Nellis to ensure they remain passionate about their work, while maintaining the viability of the farm for years to come.
“We are the custodians of our time and our dream is to do our best to pass it on to the next generation,” said Christine Nellis. “We hope that this grant and our commitment to the industry will create opportunities for all of these to come to fruition.” »