In Knox, an old farmer finds a younger farmer to sell his land to

— Photo by Joshua Rockwood
The sun rises over West Wind Acres farm this past winter. In December, the Rockwood family moved their farm from Glenville to Knox.

KNOX — Joshua Rockwood had been renting land in Glenville to raise beef cattle on his farm West Wind Acres for the last decade before deciding to move to Knox. He found the right place in Alexander Gordon’s property on Beebe Road, a working beef farm with a house located on the land as well.

He now operates the farm and his wife, Stefanie Rockwood, owns it. The Rockwoods have two sons: Roman, age 6, and Hunter, age 9, who “spends as much time on the farm as he can,” said Rockwood.

They bought the farm from Gordon who was born into a farming family, growing up on a farm in Broome in Schoharie County. Gordon, now 64, purchased his own farm in 1983, where he grew hay and raised grass-fed beef cattle, having in total over 300 acres certified organic pasturelands and haylands.

After years of farming on his family farm and his own, he put his farm up for sale three years ago before selling it in 2018, saying he wanted to pursue new ways of helping farmers without working on a farm every hour of the day. He now lives in suburban Guilderland near the University at Albany.

The Rockwoods were searching for farmland for sale listed with the American Farmland Trust when they saw Gordon’s property. Rockwood said he was immediately drawn to it and approached Gordon about purchasing it. The two worked on the transaction together, he said. Gordon said he sold a little over 100 acres to the Rockwoods, with a separate sale of cattle, machinery, and hay stock.

The property itself, 103 acres with buildings, sold for $365,000, according to Albany County records.

The sale was made last December, after which the Rockwoods moved their family, animals, and equipment to the property.

Gordon said he knew right away that Rockwood was the right person to take over his farm. When Rockwood came with his two sons to Gordon’s farm, Rockwood immediately wanted to see his cattle. Gordon said he walked right out into the middle of the herd of cows, who responded calmly to his presence.

“You can tell a lot about a person by the thing they first enter into,” said Gordon, adding that, for example, someone who walks first into the kitchen is not going to be as interested in farming.

For Gordon, the most important thing was finding a young farmer who would be able to keep his farm going.

West Wind Acres will be featured on a BBC series called “Follow the Food,” with the section of the series featuring the Rockwoods’ farm focusing on land acquisition. Filming took place on March 12, and the series will air in June.

When purchasing the land, the Rockwoods didn’t go the traditional route of a mortgage. Instead, they worked through the Local Farms Fund, an investment fund that purchases land and leases it to farmers, who over time can buy the land from the investment fund. The fund has purchased land for two other farms in the Capital Region — Red Rock Farm in Columbia County, and Featherbed Lane Farm in Saratoga County.

The Rockwoods raise grass-fed beef and pasture-raised chicken, turkey, and pork. In addition to purchasing Gordon’s property, they also separately purchased Gordon’s equipment and animals, doubling the size of their herd of cattle from 60 to about 120.

The Rockwoods also brought with them about 30 pigs, 100 chickens, four horses, and three dogs, as well as four or five trailer loads of farm equipment, Rockwood said.

“It’s a lot of work to move to a new farm,” he said.

Gordon assisted in transporting equipment, animals, and small buildings. This included a 10-by-20-foot horse shelter and other animal shelters. He has continued to help the Rockwoods at their farm. Gordon said he wants to make sure the Rockwoods succeed.

Joshua Rockwood, who is now 40, said that when he was in his 20s he was diagnosed with a heart condition and put on medication to lower his cholesterol. In doing research on his condition, he said he found that eating grass-fed meat was healthier.

He found vacant land in Glenville and approached the landowners about renting it. The meat the Rockwoods produce can be purchased online and either delivered or picked up by the customer. Rockwood also operates a Community Supported Agriculture system, or CSA, where customers can have a “yearlong subscription” to receive meat from the farm.

Gordon operated a CSA, too, and had meat delivered directly or picked up. But he said Rockwood has the advantage of a younger farmer, being able to market his operation on the internet better, something he said is crucial for success.

“Josh is able to sell his product,” he said.

Four years ago, Rockwood was charged with 13 counts of animal abuse at his farm by Glenville police. The charges were dropped a year later, but Rockwood said that the incident follows him everywhere and that he would like it to be a thing of the past. Many people rallied around him, saying he was unfairly charged. He said he was able to get through it with their support, but that the legal process lasted 18 months and that it took a year to get back his two horses that were confiscated.

Rockwood said that his customer base expanded quite a bit when he moved to Knox, with more customers from Albany County. While he lost a few who used to visit his farm store in person, he said it was easy to keep most of his customers when they primarily order online and have it delivered.

“If you talked to my wife and I two years ago, we never said we would be living where we are now,” he said.

Gordon, who was formerly a county legislator and Knox Town Board member, not only still helps at his old farm, but also will help at his sister’s or friends’ farms.

What he really wants to do now is help farmers in a different way, by addressing issues of farm succession, Gordon said. He volunteers as a guide for an initiative between the American Farmland Trust and the state’s Department of Agriculture and Markets to help with farm succession and connecting new farmers with properties.

Gordon said that it is difficult for farms or farming operations to get loans from banks at times, and that attitudes need to change as far as favoring large corporate farms over smaller farms.