Kim Brayman comes from a long line of farmers. She has a deep, multigenerational connection to the land where her family owns and operates Fesko Farms. Nestled in the rolling hills between Skaneateles and Otisco Lakes, her family settled there in 1922 –and just celebrated 100 years on the land.
The farm was “a little bit of everything” until the 1940’s when her grandfather decided to switch to dairy farming. Today, Fesko Farms consists of a modest 2,000 acres of working land and 1,400 head of cattle –800 of which are milking cows. Via Dairy Farmers of America, Fesko Farms provides dairy products for brands like Chobani, Kraft, and Hood. They also produce corn, hay, wheat, and the occasional soybean. The majority of these crops go back into the farm as feed for their cattle, with the exception of wheat which they use for cover crops and sell for flour or feed.
That being said, Fesko Farms is so much more than a place where dairy products come from. The farm is located in the Skaneateles Lake watershed; A large red barn is perched atop a picturesque hill overlooking the fields and the lake below, and swatches of wooded areas including three waterfalls are scattered throughout the extensive property.
The agricultural and environmental richness of the land is not something that Kim or her family has ever taken for granted. Kim’s mother, Chris Fesko, was a dedicated educator and ran a popular Discovery Center to teach kids about the farm and the land. Chris also held open houses and gave hay rides up to the dairy farm for community members to learn more about what they do. Kim wanted to continue her mother’s legacy of connecting people to agriculture and the environment while also diversifying what the farm has to offer, and found a way to do so by working with NYALT to put sections of her farmland into conservation easements.
By selling the development rights of two land parcels on the farm, not only did Kim ensure that roughly 500 acres of farmland are forever protected, she also received the necessary funds to start the next evolution of community education and land stewardship at Fesko Farms –the Happy Pastures Campground. With a projected soft opening in the summer of 2023, Happy Pastures Campground is a place where families will be able to stay for a day, week, month, or even a season to reconnect with nature and agriculture. The campground will have an on-site barn and a mixture of animals in pastures that visitors will have the opportunity to care for and feed at designated chore times. The tradition of hay rides will continue as well with guided tours offered between the campground and the dairy farm, where campers will be able to engage with farmers and staff about their agricultural practices.
Another motivation to forever conserve some of her farmland was the increasing development pressure that Kim has seen over the years in the area. As do many farmers, Kim has a love for the land and liked the concept of entering an easement to protect it. She appreciated that during the process, NYALT took into account her beliefs of not putting all her eggs in one basket. She did not feel pressure to protect more land than what she was comfortable with, and NYALT was always there to answer all of her questions and help her maneuver through the process.
Kim’s commitment to running a farm where the land is loved and respected does not stop with the conservation easements and campground initiative; some environmental strategies they implement to reduce soil erosion and increase soil health are strip cropping, using cover crops, no-till practices, buffer strips, and drainage swales. They also have solar panels which produce 80% of the energy the farm consumes.
It’s no question that Kim and the rest of the team at Fesko Farms is dedicated to fostering a healthy relationship between agriculture, environment, and community. When asked what her hope or vision for the farm was 100 years from now, Kim put it simply: “ I hope that it [the farmland] is still in agriculture and still farmed by someone who loves agriculture and the environment, and [who] is trying to be a steward of the land and a great farmer.”
Interview and story by Jessie Smith