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Democrat Photo by Jeanne Sager

THE SYKES FAMILY opened their farm to visitors this year for Down on the Farm Day. Bonnie Meyer, fiancee of Robert Sykes, was on ice cream duty most of the day, but she climbed in with her calves to greet youngsters who wanted to feed them.

A Saturday Spent Down And Out on the Farm

By Jeanne Sager
NORTH BRANCH — August 10, 2004 – It’s not every day that a kid from Brooklyn goes “down on the farm.”
But the Sykes family of North Branch gave families from as near as the Beechwoods and as far as Cerritos, Calif. a rare chance to take a walk in the boots of a farmer Saturday.
The family played host to this year’s “Down on the Farm Day,” a Cornell Cooperative Extension event that gives non-farmers an inside look at what it takes to churn out the milk you pour on your cereal each morning.
Mother and father Ralph and Antoinette Sykes, along with sons Robert and Tim and soon to be daughter-in-law Bonnie Meyer, gave up a day of work to share their lives with kids like John Coughlin, a 9-year-old from Brooklyn whose eyes lit up at a chance to lean over the metal fence of a pen and slip some hay in the mouth of a young calf.
John’s mom, Mary Ann, said the family makes it a point to attend Down on the Farm Day every year.
“The kids always enjoy it,” said the part-time Sullivan County resident. “Especially because we’re from the city, it’s important so they can learn all the different other ways that people make their living.
“It helps them gain a little more respect for farmers and what they do,” Coughlin added.
Her son was too busy playing with Austin Stanton, an 8-year-old from Staten Island, at the cow pens to form an opinion on the day.
“It’s good,” he said with a shrug.
But Chris Hawk, a 9-year-old from Cerritos, Calif., was more verbose.
Wolfing down an ice cream cone served up for free by Sullivan County Dairy Princess Christine Panos and her court, Hawk said he came to “just look at the animals, the cows.
“And there’s free ice cream!” he said with a milk-laced grin.
Mom Julie Hawk said it’s a good way to tie her children’s childhood to her own.
“Where my sister and I grew up, there were dairies all around us,” she said. “But now they’re all gone - replaced by suburbs.”
The family was in town to visit grandparents Mary Bolte and Herman Bolte, who live on either side of the Sykes farm on Stewart Road, and they noticed the signs for the event Saturday morning.
Although the family was getting ready to fly back to California, Hawk decided to stop and reminisce.
“It’s good for the kids,” she said.
Down on the Farm Day proved to be “good” for people who know a little bit about farming themselves as well.
Marcia and Len Bauer of Hankins were seen wandering through the Sykes’ barn Saturday afternoon – the couple has their own farm a few miles away, so they were visiting rather than looking for a new experience.
“You have to hand it to them,” Len said of the Sykes family. “To give up a day for this, it’s a lot of work.”
Farming is a 24/7 operation, Robert Sykes said, and closing down for a day to show their farm to the public is tough – not only are there preparations to be done, but the day-to-day workings of the farm are interrupted.
It’s worth it, he said a few weeks before the farm day, because “farms are getting scarce.”
Down on the Farm Day guarantees that some people will keep the farmers in mind when they sit down to dinner, or shell out a few bucks for a gallon of milk at the grocery store.
That’s a promise made by people like Amy Dworetsky, who brought 2-year-old Nick from Callicoon Center to play with the calves in one of the family’s barns.
As Bonnie Meyer brought a calf close to the side so young Nick could slip a handful of hay in its mouth, Dworetsky said she wouldn’t have it any other way.
She visits down on the farm day because her son “has a love of cows and tractors.”
“He’s a country kid,” she said.

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