Sawkill & Starling Yards

Last week our class had the opportunity to visit two family farms with very different operations. Sawkill Farm produces meat and associated value-added products, while Starling Yards is devoted mostly to vegetable cultivation. Both of these farms were great examples of scenic, functional Hudson Valley agriculture.

Sawkill pigs

Sawkill Farm is owned and operated by Kallie and Michael Robertson, a pair with degrees in completely different fields who never intended to begin farming, but now couldn’t imagine life without it. They keep cows, pigs, chickens, and sheep, and two large friendly Maremma guardian dogs. Kallie walked us through the farm, explaining that they also intended to do vegetable farming, but the meat was so successful and the extra work would be so intense that they have decided to keep to meat products and the value-added items they sell in their farm store. The vegetable market is also well covered in the area. She noted that they sell about one pig and half a cow per week; their animals are slaughtered off-site in the only local slaughterhouse. The fruits of their labor are evident as soon as we stepped into the farm store, housed in a picturesque red barn: laid out in neat arrangements were tallow soaps, honey, sheepskins, and more, and several freezers in the back offered up a variety of fresh frozen meat. Sawkill clearly offers quality products that the Hudson Valley eats right up.  

The bounty in a greenhouse at Starling Yards

At Starling Yards, Kimberly told us that she was once an apprentice to Michael from Sawkill, reiterating the connections between these local farms. Starling Yards is successful thanks to the hard work and elbow grease of Kimberly Hart and Thad Simerly, who cultivate the land owned by the Klose family. Starling Yards grows vegetables for CSA shares, restaurants and wholesale distributors. Although it’s still early in the season and not much was growing, Kimberly was happy to talk to us about how the farm runs. She guided us through several greenhouses where green shoots were happily sprouting, explaining that some of the baby plants will be cut off for early harvesting. We then walked outside to where several workers were preparing the fields for planting and arranging an irrigation system for the first brave seedlings poking out of the earth. As we toured the farm, Kimberly talked about the market for these vegetables, emphasizing that they try to sell as much as they can locally before turning to wholesalers.

Our last stop on the tour was a future tomato greenhouse and a glimpse of the chickens. They do produce some meats and eggs. The sheep are raised there for a dual purpose–their manure is used to fertilize the soil for vegetable growth, and when the time comes, they are slaughtered for meat. One thing that both farms clearly had in common was the careful consideration of their animals’ welfare.

In addition to animal welfare, the farms also exercised consciousness through their business practices. At Starling Yards, they stressed that they are an equal opportunity employer and emphasized that they pay their workers a living wage, something that would likely be less common at a larger operation. As we have seen throughout the semester, owning and operating a small farm presents the opportunity to implement programs, like apprenticeships and educational outreach, that benefit the community around them. In a region so saturated with farms that seek to become a part of the “amenity economy,” it is interesting to see how they balance that practical financial necessity with their own vision for the community around them, especially when many of the farmers are not native to the area. That recalls one of our major questions this semester: why are so many people moving to the Hudson Valley to farm? Perhaps the chance to build and engage with a new community is one, especially for potentially disillusioned ex-urbanites.

The class strolling in Sawkill

This also recalls Kallie from Sawkill Farm’s point about how the demand for meat at farmers’ markets is huge, yet so few want to become butchers and open a slaughterhouse, which is critical for livestock farmers like the Robertsons. Perhaps due to the sheer quantity of farms just 100 miles north of New York City, getting in to farmers’ markets and tapping into that unparalleled urban consumer base is competitive. Kallie noted that the farmers’ market just next door in Rhinebeck was difficult to get into, raising the question of how else farmers can sell their goods. In the Sawkill Farm Store, they mentioned that the added value products, such as salsa and hot sauce, were from other farms, making a statement about the potential for collaboration among these innovative young farmers. Although they may be located in more remote areas, farm stores can open up more opportunities for profit and exposing different farms’ products to different local markets.

We were glad to have the chance to make connections between these diverse but similar operations. Both of the farms we visited were beautifully kept, the animals were charming, and the plants thriving. For more about Sawkill Farm, visit: For more about Starling Yards: