Don't Doubt Duryea: An Agricultural Comeback in Rockland County
Zero in on Monsey, New York, a lower Hudson Valley town bordering New Jersey. There, you’ll find Duryea Farm, one of the last five working farms in Rockland County. Currently owned by The Fellowship Community, an intergenerational community focused on elder care, the 33-acre farm was originally owned by the Duryea family and sold to the neighboring group by John Howard Duryea in 1997. After 20 years of maintaining and growing on the land, The Fellowship Community and Duryea Farm are the closest dairy farm to New York City. Carol Avery, events and volunteer coordinator at The Fellowship Community, notes that in the 1920s, there were over 1,000 farms in the Rockland area.
John McDowell, president of the Rockland Farm Alliance, noticed the shift away from agriculture in the area many years ago and now works day in and day out with his team to preserve the agriculture industry in Rockland and support farms like Duryea.
“Think about how cheap pasture land is upstate compared to land closer to the city like Rockland,” he said. “The comparison is $2,000+ per acre upstate to $100,000+ an acre in this area. And even upstate dairies are struggling financially. If the decision to have farms is solely based on profit then farms will continually be pushed out as urban sprawl continues. And farmers are not being paid the real value of food. The other relatively unknown fact is that every time a farm gets turned into a development, the development costs 15% more in municipal services than the tax revenue received from the development. Yet developments are built and farms are pushed out.”
It is McDowell’s words that The Fellowship Community acts on. In continuing to grow Duryea Farm, the members demonstrate the importance of agriculture to a community. Often opening the farm for public visits and tours, The Fellowship Community also teaches amongst their own group an appreciation of the land they work and the animals that they raise. The farm consists of a small herd of dairy cows, sheep, chickens and honeybees. Of the 33 acres, 10 are dedicated to growing vegetables alongside 250 apple trees and a vast number of gardens that produce herbs, flowers, berries and grapes. The Fellowship utilizes much of what they grow to feed the community’s members, workers and visitors. They also provide produce to the neighboring Hungry Hollow Co-op.
Duryea Farm is also a completely biodynamic operation. The Fellowship Community abides by the teachings of Rudolf Steiner, an Austrian philosopher and social reformer, who developed much of the discourse that exists about biodynamic farming. Very simply, this mode of farming encompasses entirely natural processes in growing produce and raising animals. The system is primarily based around creating a variety of high-quality composts, as well different preparations using natural ingredients (like a cow’s horn) to form pest deterrents. The Pfeiffer Center, which is adjacent to The Fellowship Community and Duryea Farm, practices, teaches and promotes biodynamics through courses, workshops and internships while also conducting research to expand and improve upon Steiner’s ideals.
Ann Scharff, co-founder of The Fellowship Community, summarizes the group’s purpose in farming through biodynamics very simply: “In our day and age it’s so important because the way land is treated is so poor. Biodynamics is really bringing new life to the earth. The whole idea is to renew the earth,” said Sharp.
And in that mission to renew the earth, The Fellowship Community is proud to share their work with the residents of Rockland County.
“I think that one of the most interesting parts about the Fellowship and biodynamics is that you are bringing people in and creating a community, whether that is creating it through an elder care model, a school model or a farming model,” said Avery.
Throughout the year, The Fellowship Community holds a variety of festivals, workshops and lectures that are open to the public, inviting the people of Rockland and surrounding areas to learn more about the importance of keeping an active agricultural presence in the community.
McDowell couldn’t agree more. “We constantly talk about the ‘value’ of farms existing within and around suburban areas. You can’t put a price tag on the positive experience people of all ages have from the existence of a local farm: educational opportunities for all, learned skills, community building and kids learning where food comes from and hopefully how to eat real food,” he said.
The Fellowship Community’s website houses information on upcoming events and general information. And be sure to head to connect with the Rockland Farm Alliance to support agriculture in the lower Hudson Valley area.