Farmer protects his rural lifestyle
CLIFTON PARK, N.Y. -- When it comes to dairy farming in this part of Saratoga County, 73-year-old Tom Hicks is the last man standing.
He’s protecting rich agricultural land and preserving a rural a lifestyle that’s all too rare in densely populated, mostly suburban Clifton Park.
His grandfather, Bill, founded Hicks Fruit Farm in 1902 and bottled and sold milk with his brother, James, under the Maplehurst Dairy label.
"They used to peddle it on horse and buggy, door to door, in Schenectady," Hicks said.
Today, dairy is still an important part of the farm’s overall business, which includes apples, asparagus, strawberries and raspberries.
"I raise pumpkins, too," he said. "This is one of the busiest times of year, when we’re planting -- we’re a couple of weeks late because of the cold and wet -- and fall when we’re bringing in crops," he said. "We’re busy right up until November."
In fact, Hicks’ schedule is so tight that his wife barely sees him. He’s up at dawn to feed the animals and doesn’t come home until the sun sets more than 14 hours later, after laboring in the fields to get corn planted and hay cut for his herd of 50 milk cows, the last surviving dairy in town.
Hicks owns close to 30 Holsteins, with a few Jerseys mixed in. He also leases another 25 Ayrshires from Harvest Hill Farms owner Matt Luke, who specializes in hay production.
Vischer Ferry is a historic rural district in southwest Clifton Park. The farm affords sweeping panoramic views, all the way to the northern Catskill Mountains that rise up on the horizon to the south. The Mohawk River, separating Saratoga from Albany and Schenectady counties, is just down the road.
More than 200 years ago, a rope ferry was the main way to get across.
Nicholas Vischer settled along the river in 1735 at a time when the Iroquois League claimed the Mohawk Valley. After the Revolutionary War, Vischer’s son, Eldert, opened a rope ferry across the river in 1790, and a tavern and store were located there.
The Vischer Ferry Historic District was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1975.
Today, it’s a fairly remote part of Saratoga County unknown to most of the countless people who speed up and down the Northway, about five miles east of Hicks’ farm. Thankfully, neighboring farms such as Bowman’s and Lindsey’s Idyllwild orchards have helped preserve this area’s agricultural character, but development pressure is a constant challenge.
"The hard thing in this part of town is finding enough land," Hicks said. "Cows take so many acres. There’s not much land around here."
He owns 330 acres and leases another 400.
Hicks said his daughters, Desiree and Daylyn, play a big part by helping out with milking duties and his wife supplements the family income with a non-farming business job.
"Somebody’s got to pay the bills," he said.
Like all farmers, Hicks is faced with constantly rising prices on everything from fuel to fertilizer.
"Insurance kills you," he said.
Hicks is a hard man to catch up with, especially now when there’s so much to do. Day by day, however, he’s continuing a family business that began more than a century ago.
"I enjoy it," he said. "Besides, I don’t know what else I’d do."
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