Based in Fort Ann, NY, Fuller Acres LLC is a farm currently in transition between two generations. While Douglas Fuller continues his dairy operation, daughter Olivia and her partner Tom Hughes are busy starting their own take on the family farm. “Fuller Acres is what my dad has called the farm all long,” said Olivia Fuller. “He was a sole proprietor, and we decided to carry on the namesake and got it registered as an LLC in February. His parents came to this property when he was young. His dad grew up down the road where our neighbor Bill lives now, and Bill helps out on our farm too. He used to be a dairy farmer, and he helps my dad with a lot of the tractor work and the cows. Farming goes back at least four generations for us. My dad’s grandmother, Marion Rathbun, was the person that got the family farming. Dad has been farming here his whole life, he started milking cows as soon as he was old enough to do it.”
While the farm is 300 acres in size, Fuller and Hughes have concentrated their efforts on 20 acres of fields for their animals, and 60 acres of woods where they harvest maple syrup and grow mushrooms. “We’re having conversations with CCE and Farm Credit East about farm planning and potential credit needs,” said Fuller. We’re working on a business plan with CCE right now. We’re still fleshing out what we can do, how much money we need, and what profit we’d need to pay that back. Doing the stuff with the mushrooms means that we’re not taking any land or anything else from the dairy operation. We have an opportunity to grow while my dad is still dairy farming. It’s harder for me to expand to 50 sheep while my dad is doing 45 milk cows and raising heifers. There’s a lot of learning about how do you grow within the existing farm ecosystem. 20 acres give us that opportunity. We’re incredibly lucky to be on this land. We have a leg up that a lot of farmers don’t have.”
Fuller and Hughes moved back to the farm in March of 2020, after her grandmother moved into nursing care. “Everything happened at once,” said Fuller. “My mom had cancer starting in May of 2019, and passed away last March. At the same time my grandmother was getting sick and went into nursing care. After my mom passed, we started living here to be close to my dad and to be here. The farm has been in progress for years. The sheep had been at Tom’s parent’s house. It was a backyard farm on six acres. That March, we brought the animals here and started growing the flock. We’ve put our energy into the farm. Both as a way to distract myself and as something to put energy towards and do something productive.”
Both Fuller and Hughes currently maintain other employment besides the farm, with Fuller working in communications for American Farmland Trust, and Hughes working in construction.
“I was going to the Saratoga office for AFT, but since the Covid pandemic started I’ve been working at home,” said Fuller. “I can look out and see the lambs, and if there’s a problem I can deal with it. I’m here and able to take care of things as I need to, and not having a 50 minute commute is a real bonus. A lot of farmers have to have off farm income. My job is about farmers, and they understand if I have to cancel a meeting because a lamb is being born. There’s a lot of understanding and flexibility which I’m lucky to have.” Hughes has also been focusing some of his construction skills to the farm and the land. “Remodeling is easier than farming, but it wears on you,” said Hughes. “I’ve gotten an Alaskan sawmill that I’ve been using to make lumber, up to three foot wide slabs. It’s kind of hard but the results are cool. The trees have more potential than just firewood. It’s nice to use the resources that we have here to grow the farm.”
Fuller Acres is currently in a land trust to stay agricultural based, and Fuller and Hughes are looking at ways to bring more people out to the farm. “We’re not ready for agri-tourism yet,” said Fuller. “We’d like for people to come here and have an authentic farm experience. To go out and look for mushrooms in the woods when I feel comfortable leading walks and then buy meat, syrup, mushrooms, etc. from the farm store that we’re working on. We’d love to add farm stays for people that want to visit as long as it is permissible under the easement. In the future it would be nice to rent on Hipcamp and have a farm stay. We have beautiful land to share with visitors.”
For Fuller, it is important to keep her family’s legacy moving into the future. “I love this place,” said Fuller. “I can’t imagine it being gone or sucked up into someone else’s field crop. I’d hate to loose the integrity of this spot as it’s own place. The conservation easement is a way to keep this farm together for the future. I’m an only child. I always wanted to be back here, but didn’t know if it would be as a farmer. But I missed it a few years out from going to school. This place has continued to draw me back. You grow up in this lifestyle and it’s really special. It’s something that I didn’t want to let go of. This place has so much potential. I want to honor my dad’s legacy of farming for his entire life. But I want to do it in my own way, build upon what’s been done here, and leave it better than I found it. It’s hard to watch my dad struggle financially with the dairy. We can see how much we’re all struggling. The economics of it are stacked against us. I want my dad to be able to slow down a little bit and enjoy some sense of retirement and take care of himself. I want us to farm together and help each other so there’s more flexibility to take care of himself and ourselves. It can be complicated when we have different enterprises, but we’re working together and figuring out a way forward.”
This project is made possible with funds from the Statewide Community Regrants Program, a regrant program of the New York State Council on the Arts with the support of the Office of the Governor and the New York State Legislature and administered by the Lower Adirondack Regional Arts Council (LARAC).