Before NYALT existed, Maureen Knapp of Cobblestone Valley Farm already understood the importance of conserving and nurturing farmland. Her husband, Paul Knapp, represents the fourth generation on the land located in Preble, NY which was historically a conventional dairy, potato, and cabbage farm. However, for financial and philosophical reasons, they decided to make the switch to organic farming in 2001. “It doesn’t make sense to spray poison and expect anything good is going to come from it,” Maureen put succinctly when explaining their philosophical perspective behind going organic. Financially, conventional prices had begun fluctuating and were more unpredictable than the organic market.
A few years after going organic, the Knapps entered a conservation easement for 193 acres of farmland plus a 160-acre wetland, to protect a total of 353 acres of their 600-acre farm. The easement was held by the county at the time, until NYALT was formed in 2006 and became the new easement holder in 2019. In fact, Maureen was part of NYALT’s original founding group and would go on to be the board president for some time and serve as interim executive director!
Today, Cobblestone Valley Farm is considered a diversified organic farm offering a variety of products; They have 60 milking cows, 75 head of grass-fed beef cattle, 2 acres of U-pick strawberries, broilers, and turkey, all of which are certified organic. They offer pasture pork as well which is managed organically but not certified organic due to sourcing constraints of the piglets. In addition to their food products, they also compost the organic dairy manure which they sell to the public and put back into the farm as a source of nutrients. Of the 600 acres, about half is tillable and they also rent additional pasture from other farms. The other half consists of the 160-acre wetland and woodlots, which they sell timber from on occasion.
Maureen loves farming because of the lifestyle – what they do is their life, and everything they do is about the farm. Her and Paul have 3 sons who have all been encouraged to experience life off the farm before deciding if they would like to return and presume their place as the 5th generation on the land. So far, their oldest has come back to the farm and their middle son works both on and off the farm.
In addition to remaining on an organic path that honors the earth and keeping the farm in the family, one hope that Maureen has for the future is that they can continue sharing their lifestyle and the importance of farming with others through more direct marketing options on the farm. While they sell their dairy as a commodity through Organic Valley, some of their other products like strawberries and beef bring customers to the farm. Maureen values connecting people to farming and giving them the experience of coming to the farm. When Interstate 81 was built, it cut the farm in half. It may be a bit loud and intrusive, but is also made Cobblestone Valley Farm very visible, with a beautiful view at that, to many passersby. This has helped draw more customers to the farm who may gain a fresh appreciation of where their food is coming from.
The Knapp’s dedication to farming and farmland protection shines bright. From their organic farming practices, to obtaining a conservation easement, to Maureen’s contributions to NYALT, and their mission to connect others to agriculture, they demonstrate a deep care for the land: “In my mind, it’s a given,” said Maureen. If we can do good by the soil, the soil can do good for us.”
Interview and story by Jessie Smith