“Why are the people making the food on the bottom?” This is the question that Charlie Griskauskas, owner of CBG Farm, has never really had an answer to –and he has been farming since the age of ten. Charlie was born into a family of farmers in Connecticut and began helping with their dairy business from the time he was old enough to do so. As a 3rd generation farmer, he is very familiar with the challenges that small farms face in an increasingly complex market that has evolved to cater mostly to larger farms.
Charlie grew up to become a dairy farmer himself and moved three times – including all his cows and equipment – before he and his family landed on a 200-acre farm in the town of Onondaga, NY in 2002. CBG Farm (named after Charlie and his wife Becky) started off as a dairy farm, but recently Charlie decided to make the switch to beef farming. Milking cows is hard work, and the dairy market has a lot of moving pieces, intensifying regulations, and fluctuating prices, he explained. While there is less money in beef than in dairy, beef farmers are able to better control when to ship their cows in response to market highs.
Since switching to beef, Charlie raises a herd of about 160 head of cattle to finish for market and runs both a cow-calf operation of 50 mother cows and a calf-ranch operation. The hay and corn sileage used to feed the cattle is grown on the farm. He is also trying to start a meat goat herd to further diversify operations; currently they have 4 goats and they are just waiting for them to reproduce.
Charlie’s motivation for protecting his farmland was two-fold; He wanted to ensure that the farm was kept in the family so that his two kids could become the 4th generation of farmers, and for aforementioned reasons he was looking for a way to keep his farm afloat. He always knew about NYALT, and an opportunity finally came along to tap into our services when Governor Cuomo introduced a first come, first served program for dairy farmers who were trying to diversify. Charlie and Becky ended up putting all but 5 acres of their land into a conservation easement – and the money they received from selling the land development rights saved CBG Farm by allowing them to pay off their mortgage and focus on keeping production going.
The land was certainly worth conserving too. It contains a 12-acre woodlot and top-notch soil from the Honeoye watershed. They are able to grow really good grass because of the soil quality, which helps in their efforts to pasture feed and implement rotational grazing practices. Charlie’s goal is to keep getting better at rotational grazing. Not only does it keep the soil healthy, but it is also more financially effective to have the cows harvest the grass than the humans!
The thing Charlie enjoys most about farming is the independence. He has always wanted the freedom to do his own thing, and farming allows him to be his own boss. Of course, he loves the animals and being outside too. Now with CBG Farm forever protected, Charlie has secured such opportunities for his kids as well. He hopes that someday they take over the farm and experience more financial success from the business than the generations before them ever could.
Interview and story by Jessie Smith