We need your ATTENDANCE, SUPPORT & HELP please. . .
Wed September 1, 2021 at 7:30pm, Ridgefield Town Hall
Town Meeting & Public Vote:
Wed September 22, 2021 at 7:30pm, Ridgefield Town Hall
Where are the grazing fields under lease?
We graze 16 acres of the 40 acre McKeon Farm Open Space
On the map you see on that page we graze: the Orchard, Ridgebury 1, Ridgebury 2, Old Stagecoach 1 and Old Stagecoach 2.
So why is your 5 year lease jumping from 30 to 85 sheep?
The original lease was on 10 acres and was set at 30 sheep, because the leased land also allowed for up to 7 cows at the same time. If we roughly estimate 1 cow to equal 6 adult sheep, the 10 acres was handling 72 sheep at that time.
In 2020 we added two more fields to reach 16 acres and were approved for 48 sheep and then for 70 sheep on those same 16 acres for 2021. The increase from 70 to 85 for the next 5 years just allows for the possibility of twins or triplets. When we set the number at 70 this year we were already halfway through lambing so we had an idea of numbers for this year.
There is a certain economy of scale and to do this work full-time with less sheep really is not feasible, both in terms of the positive environmental impact we can make on the land as well as in terms of the amount of infrastructure and labor needed to run sheep whether 30 or 85.
Does Henny Penny plan to increase above 85 sheep?
No, we do not. We have reached our best operating number for the next 5 years.
Who has approved this increase in sheep and acreage?
The additional acreage and sheep have been under an annual license that has been approved by the Ridgefield Conservation Commission and then by the Board of Selectmen.
Why does the Town of Ridgefield have this land anyway?
This land was going to be developed when the McKeon Dairy Farm was sold. The land had already been subdivided and as a result the town paid a large amount of money, supplemented by significant private donations from our community to preserve these 40 acres so that there would still be farmland left in Ridgefield.
Since the town acquired this land it has been farmed with 25 cows that were part of the Stew Leonards cows petting zoo, cows, turkeys, chickens and pigs were farmed by another private individual for almost 10 years and since 2016 we have had our sheep on this land.
Well, isn’t that a lot of land to lease for free?
In other towns including New Milford, Roxbury, Woodbury and Redding, land that does not have infrastructure on it is leased to farmers in exchange for their maintaining the land. Not only have we vastly improved the soils of this land over the last 6 seasons, we have:
- been the recipient of TWO EQIP grants from the USDA-NRCS to install the well, install pipeline to provide water to 4 fields, forage/biomass seeding totaling $15,000. These grants cover 75% of the estimated project cost. Henny Penny Farm contributed over $5000 to the projects
- pay for electric at McKeon which is used not just by us but by Keystone Gardens (awesome non-profit, check them out here) and the Ridgefield Conservation to pump water to the pollinator pathway $45/month (this is base cost even with no electrical usage) (averaging $410/year for 8 months incl. shut down/turn on fee)
- donated 2 gates and their installation to the main driveway of McKeon in 2020 (estimated value $500)
- general upkeep (eg. replacement of GCFI outlets when broken; 2020 $200 for 4 outlets)
- 2021 planted annual seeds for soil improvement in Stagecoach 1 and 2 totaling $550
Total to Date: at least $22,890.00
These numbers are all not adding the monetary number on all of the labor provided by Whitney and her team to mow, graze and maintain these fields, fencelines, etc.
This is full time maintenance to keep these fields looking as they do.
We are currently in last stages of receiving a CSP grant from the USDA for about $20,000 over the next 5 years which will provide money for continuing to seed the feeds with soil-beneficial plants, trees and shrubs for food and habitat for birds and more.
To see slides from the presentation we made to the Conservation Commission on Aug 9 about the Environmental work we have done over the last 6 seasons click here
What happens if Henny Penny is no longer at McKeon?
The Conservation Commission will likely have to request additional funds from the town for maintaining these 16 acres. They will not receive the CSP grant funds of about $20,000 as it is the farmer and their environmental stewardship that earns the grant, not the land itself.
Well, don’t livestock just ruin the environment anyway?
Actually no. We practice Regenerative Agriculture and Adaptive Grazing. We strategically graze our animals while closely monitoring the plant-life and soil health to mimic the herds of ruminants that used to pass through our grasslands long ago. This technique works to restore our soils. No pastures in New England are virgin soils anymore. They all have been tilled or intensely grazed over centuries and now need restoring.
- Adaptive Grazing has the power to:
- improve water percolation and infiltration
- increase carbon-holding capacity of soil
- increase biological diversity of soil
SOIL is the essential building block to facilitate diversity of flora and fauna
Where can I learn more about Regenerative Agriculture?
Well, if you are a rising high school senior or college aged individual you can apply for one of our summer internships and learn hands-on.
If not, have a look at this brief video here.
What community contributions does Henny Penny make?
- Henny Penny Summer Internship program for rising seniors and college age students
- provided high school internship positions for Ridgefield and Bethel high schools since 2015 and a Veterinary student internship for Glasgow University in 2021
- Each year, we teach about 100 elementary and middle-school-aged children in deeper learning, multi-day education programs at our home farm
- Countless families visit the home farm during our twice weekly visiting hours to connect with farm life, something that is becoming more and more of a novelty in Fairfield County.
- The number of visitors to McKeon Farm since the addition of sheep and llamas has increased tremendously. In 2016 we would see no one except one neighbor. Now, people are coming everyday to take a moment or an hour to enjoy the pastoral scene, either from their car or on foot. We regularly have visitors spend time watching us work on the farm. That connection to farming and our food is something so important to maintain.
- Countless community members tell us how they stop on their daily journeys to say hi to the sheep and llamas and then they come visit them at the home farm in the winter, to see the complete cycle of farm and food
So how can you help?
We need your voices of support to be heard. September 1 Public Meeting 7:30PM Ridgefield Town Hall
At this meeting the public (from any town) is able and encouraged to speak and then the Board of Selectmen will vote whether the lease (which was already approved by the Conservation Commission on August 9) will proceed to a public vote on September 22.
The Board of Selectmen need to hear the value and support for Henny Penny continuing to lease the fields.
If you live too far away to attend but would be able to send a letter in support to our board of selectmen we would greatly appreciate it. It can be emailed to email@example.com attn Rudy Marconi
The mailing address would be: First Selectman Rudy Marconi, Town of Ridgefield • 400 Main Street, Ridgefield CT 06877
Then, September 22 is THE DAY
Town Meeting 7:30PM Ridgefield Town Hall.
Whoever is in town hall that night and votes will determine the fate of the McKeon Fields and Henny Penny Farm for the next 5 years.
Please Mark your Calendars and have your voice and your vote counted!
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After a very successful spring session, we are excited to offer this multi-week program again as we transition from summer into fall. Starting in mid-September we will be offering an experience similar to our summer camp programs focused on children age 3-5. Children will get to learn about our farm animals, plants and wildlife on the farm in hands-on activities. They also will get to do craft activities using natural materials to connect with nature in other media. This is…