Location Allows Fifth-generation Farm to Diversify

8/17/2013 7:00 AM
By Helen Margaret Griffiths New York Correspondent

About seven miles south of Skaneateles, N.Y., on West Lake Road, one reaches the idyllic location of the 120-acre Lockwood farm. The farm is owned and run by Gary Lockwood and his wife, Karen Wheeler-Lockwood. The farm has been in the Lockwood family since 1854 and Gary Lockwood is proud to be the fifth generation to farm it.

It has always been a mixed farm.

“They shipped milk from the farm until the 1950s, but due to my father’s health, the cows went out about 1956 and dad got a flock of sheep,” said Gary Lockwood, the youngest in the family, who was always the one wanting to work on the farm and assist with the animals.

He is quick to acknowledge with appreciation those who encouraged and guided him in his childhood and youth. The person he gives much credit to is his boyhood neighbor, Ruth Jillson, a shepherd herself and a person who Gary Lockwood said has always been way ahead of her day.

“Fifty years ago, she knew about networking, a word that wasn’t used then,” he said.

Jillson took young Gary Lockwood under her wing, giving him lots of advice and encouragement and introducing him to knowledgeable people in the agricultural world, including at Cornell.

“When I went to Cornell as a student, I clearly remember even now some 40 plus years later Ruth telling me that I was to behave as she didn’t want her reputation ruined,” he said with a grin.

Jillson got Lockwood involved in 4-H, which he said was tremendous and he started taking animals to fairs. He wanted to be able to go to the New York State Fair, but his family didn’t have registered sheep, which was a requirement.

“We didn’t own a truck at the time so after renting a truck we went to a sale at Cornell stock pavilion and came home with registered Corriedale ewes,” he said.

But the growth of the flock started slowly as the three lambs born that first year were all rams. Things did improve and Gary Lockwood still breeds Corriedales as they are a good multipurpose animal. Lockwood Farm currently has about 60 ewes and this last year had over 100 lambs.

“We choose to lamb late winter as there is quite a good Easter market,” he said. Gary Lockwood and his wife feed little to no grain to the animals and are usually able to get them to reach a target weight of 65 to 70 pounds, which satisfies both seller and buyer, a fact that is supported by the number of repeat customers, some of whom have been coming for over 30 years.

At the end of Ramadan, the couple often sell 20-30 lambs. They do all direct sales, selling about 100 animals a year, with buyers mainly from the Syracuse and Ithaca, N.Y. The fleece from the sheep goes to the Finger Lakes Sheep Producers Co-op Wool Pool, an event held each May at the Empire Farm Days site at Rodman Lott and Son Farms in Seneca Falls, N.Y. The co-op wool pool is a volunteer organization, and Gary Lockwood sees this as an opportunity “to give something back” to the community. The couple said they are both strongly committed to helping the community and are anxious to share their farm pleasures with anyone.

Crops grown on the farm include corn, soybeans, wheat, hay and the relatively new addition of lavender. Skaneateles, N.Y., has historically had a large number of horse farms, hence the good market for high-quality, small-square hay bales. But the economic downturn forced many farms to close, making it more difficult to find local hay suppliers. Through word of mouth, Gary Lockwood has been able to sell all of his hay locally.

“This year has been a challenging year to get the hay,” he said, adding that he still needs to get to 28 of the 42 acres he has in hay.

The couple do most of the work on the farm themselves, even though they have a neighbor who harvests the 25 acres of soybeans.

“I have never bought any new equipment and realized that my current equipment was leaving a lot of good beans behind in the field. My neighbor has great equipment and as it fits his schedule to do my beans, it is really worth it for me,” he said. The couple also sell to Sheppard Grain Inc. of Phelps, N.Y.

The farm is within the Skaneateles Lake Watershed Protection Program. Gary Lockwood said it was good in that it made them tidy up their records and take a closer look at their management practices, since some of their land is classified as highly erodible.

Lavender on the farm is relatively new. The couple started the project 12 years ago when they planted just 100 plants. They now have 2,000 plants, including 20 varieties of lavender, and have just hosted the Sixth Annual Finger Lakes Lavender Festival. The festival gives visitors the chance to not only cut lavender and take part in lavender-related classes, but also be on a working farm. This year, visitors to the festival watched Gary Lockwood shear a sheep and learn something of the fleece-to- fiber process.

Karen Wheeler-Lockwood says she sees the lavender portion of the farm as a way for visitors to connect to America’s agricultural roots. The lavender market and fields are open to the public on Saturdays and Sundays from 10 a.m. - 4 p.m., May through Labor Day. The varieties of lavender available for picking change throughout the season, but are posted on the farm’s website.

Just a few years ago, the couple received a gift of beehives and all the necessary equipment, along with mentoring.

“It’s a long story, but it was the result of a connection made during the lavender festival. It is amazing, but this bee colony originated over 50 years ago,” said Karen Wheeler-Lockwood. Gary Lockwood, who has cared for many animals, said beekeeping is one of the cooler things he’s seen.

The couple are clearly not intent on retiring any time soon. With a number of new projects in the pipeline, the one most visible on the farm is a drainage project, which will allow the installation of additional lavender beds.

“None of our kids are currently interested in taking over the farm,” Karen Wheeler-Lockwood said. But the couple are anxious their land stay as a farm and are looking into land trust possibilities.

For additional information and details on visiting, check the website http://www.lockwoodfarm.blogspot.com/.

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