By Dan Hust
DEBRUCE January 24, 2003 For many county residents, tending to their piece of earth is a fact of everyday life, be it through farming, gardening, or just mowing the lawn.
But for thousands of children even ones from semi-rural villages on the outskirts of suburbia tilling the soil, raking the leaves, feeding the livestock or just splashing around in the nearby creek are foreign ideas.
But not for much longer, if Barney Zipkins dream comes true.
The 45-year-old Katonah, Westchester County resident has lately been spending more time at his 95-acre farm in Debruce than at home, but when they can, his wife Mary and daughters Kendall, 8, and Caleigh, 6, join him at work on the farm, just a few miles east of Livingston Manor.
And boy is there a lot of work to do.
From spraying water and forming smooth ice on one of the three ponds, to replacing floors in the six-bedroom dormitory, to just keeping all the snow shoveled out of the way, Zipkin has been hard at work since he bought the property last May all in an effort to have the land and buildings ready for a September opening as the areas second privately owned demonstration farm.
But like Apple Pond Farming Center in Callicoon Center, its demonstration in name only any of the thousands of kids and adults who Zipkin hopes come to his Horizon Farm will be actively engaged in every facet of farming life.
I dont think theres anything better than a relationship with the animals and the earth, said Zipkin as he hauled a water hose across his pond during subzero weather Wednesday. I feel thats not being offered to kids right now.
Were bringing our children up in a very sterile environment, he added. They dont have stories about going to the barn. They think lettuce comes from the grocery store.
So if all goes as planned, whole classes of students from schools, 4-H clubs, and Boy and Girl Scout troops around the region and eventually individual children and teenagers during summer camp and internship programs will descend on the farm between the months of March and November. (Zipkin said that, although theres always work to do on a farm, the weather is not terribly cooperative from December through February.)
While at the County Route 82 property for as little as 1-3 days or as much as a few weeks, the young people will learn how to plant and grow vegetables, feed and water cows and chickens, harvest and store hay, make cheese and milk, harvest honey, shear sheep, work with horses, sell products at a farm stand, paint and mend fences and buildings, and otherwise manage a complex agricultural system that has helped sustain generations of people around the world.
This is indeed a labor of love for Zipkin, an Ossining native who worked on a dairy farm during his youth. He gave up lucrative careers in wood recycling, selling childrens play centers, and construction equipment repairs and sales to do this.
Yes, its very risky, he said. But Im tired of waiting for the next customer to buy the next backhoe.
Besides, he said, running a farm encompasses everything. It has all the aspects of any business and you get to make a difference.
But why here? After searching through 20 different old farming properties throughout the county, Zipkin and financial partner/farm director Wendy Percoco found what he called the perfect spot: a 125-year-old homestead in Debruce that had more recently been a training camp for professional speedwalkers.
It had two barns, a dormitory (capable of lodging up to 30 kids), a meeting room with a heavy-duty kitchen, an inground swimming pool, a main house, ample water sources, woods and fields, and even a ski lodge and ski run (minus the lifts).
These buildings would have cost me $100,000 to build, said Zipkin.
But hes still got to raise enough money to open the nonprofit farm, and thats where a $40-a-head Winter Celebration this weekend comes into play.
Actually, the $40 is a suggested donation (kids are free), and Zipkin would be happy for whatever people could give. After blanketing the area with more than 2,500 invitations, he hopes hundreds will come to the farm on Saturday from 12-5 p.m. to partake in skiing, sledding, skating, eating and staying warm either inside or by a bonfire.
Further events are being planned, including a Memorial Day picnic, all of which Zipkin needs to see his dream of an environmental educational facility come true.
Fundraising is very hard, he admitted while wrestling the water hose into position.
But his passion for this all is very evident.
This will be a part of them forever, he predicted. Theyll come here, and theyll really learn. . . . I can take anything they teach in the classroom and do it on the farm.
For more information or to help out, call Zipkin at 439-4901 or go online at www.horizonfarm.net.