the foster family
Foster Sheep Farm Conservation Easement
Conserving the Foster Sheep Farm took a whole community, from pasturing the flock to shearing the ewes to sorting the wool to spinning the yarn to weaving the shawl. Fortunately, there was an enthusiastic community willing to rise to the task.
The farm’s owners, Tom and Carole Foster, with their children Abigail and Gregory, farm the land once cultivated by Tom’s parents and his siblings. The 128-acre farm, located on the western bank of the Hudson River in the Town of Northumberland, produces sheep, llamas, alpacas, beef cattle, angora rabbits, hay, pasture, and row crops on its fertile soils. Its woodlands and floodplains produce timber and wildlife habitat and buffer the river from pollutants. The former dairy farm once specialized in strawberries and melons, too.
The family farmhouse has been converted into a yarn shop and studio where a community of fiber artisans – spinners, dyers, knitters, crocheters, hookers, and felters – gathers to share techniques as much as friendship. Carole attends fiber festivals and county fairs and hand dyes yarn. Families are welcomed into the warm barn in January to watch the 70 ewes get shorn of their award-winning fleeces; the luckiest come back to see the flock triple with bounding lambs during the spring birthing season.
When the Fosters decided to permanently conserve their farmland, its place as a cherished community asset and the Fosters’ place as well-loved members of the community were immediately evident. The local fiber community rallied and expanded their circles to raise awareness of the project and solicit the necessary private funds to complete the deal. Led by Martha Strohl, volunteers for the “Three Bags Full Campaign” distributed flyers among their fiber networks, taught children how to felt wool at Sundae on the Farm, served lamb stew at Shearing Day, exhibited fiber arts and photography at the “A Thousand Fibers” Art Show, and donated handmade fiber goods for sale at a Fiber Artisans’ Boutique Sale.
The farm’s development rights were purchased through grants from the Saratoga County Farmland and Open Space Fund and the USDA’s Farm and Ranch Lands Protection Program, the first time a Saratoga County farm was ever awarded federal funds. The Fosters continue to own and manage the land, while Saratoga PLAN holds the conservation easement, ensuring that it will always be available to produce food and fiber in the future.
Conservation of the farm fulfills a family desire. As Tom Foster said “I’ve worked hard on this land all my life, with Carole’s help for most of it, and my parents did the same. I know that my children will carry on, as will the farmers who succeed them. As I gaze over our flock grazing on nutritious pasture, it gives me a sense of great fulfillment to have completed this project and knowing that this land will always remain productive.”