David Rockefeller passed last week. He was 101 years. This is a write up a few years ago. Photo of David in 1998.
A Living Legacy: Visiting Hudson Pines – Urban Cattleman
The Rockefeller family purchased their first piece of property in Westchester County in the early 1890’s. By the time they were finished, they had acquired some 3400 acres of property. Livestock have existed on the property for much of that time, mostly as needed for the operation of the estate. Throughout it’s history the Rockefeller estate has stood as a rural escape from the city nearby.
Only 25 miles north of Manhattan (a 35 minute train ride from Grand Central Station), Sleepy Hollow, NY is quaint and inviting. Being the home of Washington Irving and his Legend, the best time to visit is around Halloween as the village buzzes with activities and decor to get you in the spirit of the season, but there are things to do here year round. If you want to find out more about the activities in the area, Rockefeller related or not, visit Historic Hudson Valley. Now back to HPF.
Visiting the estate is an experience in itself and provides residents and visitors to Westchester opportunities year round. Comprised of several entities including Rockefeller State Park Preserve, Stone Barns Center for Food and Agriculture, and privately owned land, the estate covers a sprawling expanse of forests, pastures, rivers, streams, lakes, and residences. Much of the estate, including the park and Stone Barns, is public. It is connected by over 20 miles of carriage trails, which are still used by the Rockefeller family and are open to the public, as they always have been. These pastoral trails are frequented by many of Westchester’s residents for running, hiking, and equestrian activities. Noteworthy visitors have included President Clinton and Martha Stewart, who both reside in the county.
Driving up Bedford Road towards Pocantico Hills (and idyllic burg that is fundamentally Rockefeller in nature) you’ll find the entrance to the farm and Mr. Rockefeller’s residence rather subtle. This private entrance, marked only by a small sign, a brick-work wall, and a cast iron gate, bears none of the grandeur of Kykuit and its Playhouse, which lie on the opposite side of Bedford Road. As you continue on driving, you’ll enter Pocantico Hills and encounter it’s landmark Union Church with windows by Mattisse and Chagall.
The entrance with easiest access to the farm is the one shared with Stone Barns. The HPF show barn sits on top of the hill, and this is where they separate themselves. A quick visit to their website, where they breed, “cows with a history…to produce cattle with a future,” provides more than enough evidence of their past and recent success. Mrs. Rockefeller was instrumental in importing the first Simmental cattle to the US from Europe, and that tradition of genetic leadership and innovation continues today. HPF uses an extensive embryo program, and you’ll find HPF cattle in the pedigrees of many champions today. Their “Gallery” page documents champions around the country, including winners at Louisville and Denver. In short, they continue to provide quality genetics, and they compete at all major Simmental shows around the country.
HPF has two major sales throughout the year. Their “Living Legacy” heifer sale is currently held in conjunction with NAILE in November (a move necessitated by Hurricane Sandy 2 years ago), and it has been a tremendous success. The bulls sell each February through the Bulls of the Big Sky in Montana. Worth a note here is HPF’s sister-farm Hudson Pines Hayes Ranch, which is owned by David and Peggy Rockefeller’s granddaughter, Miranda Kaiser. Miranda is a co-owner of HPF as well, and serves as its executive director. Both sales provide a first class environment to invest in proven Simmental genetics, as well as an atmosphere and buyer experience that won’t leave you disappointed.
As many will know, the heifer sale used to be hosted at the estate in NY, and there is nostalgia for this event. I’d encourage a visit to the farm anyway. For those in the cattle business, the experience will be both familiar and foreign. The current farm manager, Ryan Haefner, is from Illinois. In fact, each of the full time employees is a product of the Midwest. The ease and charm of flyover states is evident here. Also evident are the workings of any cattle ranch of this size–tractors, manure, and hay included. However, the trappings of city life and the east coast persist. Feed is delivered from 2 states away in Pennsylvania, and the veterinarian is over 1 hour away. An encounter with someone who doesn’t know the difference between a heifer and a Holstein won’t be uncommon. This adds to the charm of the place, even if it does lead to some seemingly absurd conversations. For those country folks visiting New York City, it’s a must visit and a hidden gem.
Hudson Pines Farm is a place separate from itself. It exists, because someone willed it into existence. It will depart the same way. The future of HPF is unsure at best, especially as it exists in Sleepy Hollow. Mr. Rockefeller is in his late 90’s, and without his support, financial and otherwise, the future of the farm in NY is uncertain. Certainly, HPF will continue to exist as a contributor to the Simmental breed for years to come, but the opportunity to visit this unique place nestled in a suburb of NYC is uncertain. There is no place like it in the US–probably the world. Visiting is an experience unlike any other. It’s Downton Abbey meets Bonanza. It’s the best of agriculture in a place lacking any real connection to actual food production. It’s Hudson Pines Farm, and probably won’t be there forever.