When Chris and Sarah Ficken met as students at Cornell University, she was in her final semester and working all the time. “If I wasn’t at work or in class, I was in the library,” she recalls. “So Chris started hanging out with me in the library.”
Today, the young farmers are equally busy working all the time, but in the very different venue of their 99-acre dairy farm in central New York. Along with caring for the herd of about 40 cows and running a small community-supported agriculture vegetable share program, the couple has two young daughters and Sarah also manages a full-time job with the hops-growing program of the local county extension office.
It’s a lot of balls in the air, but the Fickens couldn’t be happier to be nurturing the old, neglected dairy farm back into vibrancy and raising their two girls on the farm.
Sarah grew up in suburban Long Island with no connection to agriculture although she does remember friends’ grandparents talking about the potato farms that once patchworked the area. Chris came to Cornell from Wisconsin where his family fell into small-scale farming as an outgrowth of the four children’s 4-H projects. Her husband always knew he wanted to become a dairy farmer. “From the beginning, I knew we were going to end up farming,” Sarah says. “Every time he drove past a field, he’d say, ‘I think they cut that too short,’ or, ‘They should really bring that corn in.’”
Sarah’s degree in natural resources and environmental studies makes her particularly aware of issues of sustainability and the couple takes that responsibility very seriously. “Sustainability to me,” Sarah explains, “is using your resources today in a way that leaves as good or better resources for future use.” New Moon uses a technique in their barn that disperses cow manure with the wood shavings used for animal bedding, keeping the herd healthy and simultaneously creating a good nutrient mix to be spread on the fields. They work constantly to minimize energy use with efforts like more efficient milk cooling technology and LED lighting. All field cultivation for feed corn, new hay plantings and vegetables is done without tilling and with cover crops to help preserve the soil.
The Fickens’ own two daughters are a constant reminder of future generations who depend on the care we all take of the earth today. Hannah, 2, is already devoted to the animals, like her father was at a young age. “She absolutely loves going out to the barn,” says her mom. “Chris does chores with her almost every night. On the days when it doesn’t make sense for her to go, he has to sneak out and then she’ll worry the baby cows won’t get fed. I also love the relationship the two of them are developing in the barn.”