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SAVOR THE SEASON: Retired, the Johnstons keep evolving at DaCy Meadow Farm

June 20, 2019
By ANDY FLYNN - Editor (aflynn@lakeplacidnews.com) , Lake Placid News

WESTPORT - Early Monday morning, June 17, retired Keene Central School Superintendent Cynthia Ford-Johnston sat at the family-style table in her farm-to-table restaurant at DaCy Meadow Farm, sipping coffee, when a rooster crowed in the yard.

"This is what retirement looks like," she said. "Seven o'clock in the morning, let the chickens out, and game on until 9 o'clock at night."

In the early 2000s, Johnston and her husband, Dave, were living in Keene Valley, and they owned a hostel while she was still the Keene Central superintendent. Thinking about their future, they began looking for property to build a retirement home. They envisioned 10 to 15 acres, somewhere in the Champlain Valley close to the interstate so they could easily travel to Plattsburgh and Burlington.

Article Photos

Cynthia Ford-Johnston and her husband, Dave, feed the chickens at the DaCy Meadow Farm in Westport.
(News photo — Andy Flynn)

"We came across this field and fell in love," Cynthia said. "It was 76 acres, and it was a great big huge hay field with a falling down barn."

They bought the land on Route 9N, between I-87 and the hamlet of Westport, constructed a small building "to hang out" and took the barn down. In order to maintain the pasture, they needed animals.

"So we started getting animals," Cynthia said, referring to a small herd of cattle. "Then we said, 'What do we do with this meat that we have from the cows?' ... We'll sell meat."

Before long, the Johnstons were selling USDA-inspected beef.

"Then we said, 'We can do value-added if we added a restaurant.' So we added the restaurant," she said.

So they built a small restaurant on the farm. It's currently open for private dining, by reservation only, and they serve family-style, farm-to-table meals.

"It's basic fare, but the food speaks for itself because it's so fresh and so good," Cynthia said.

Then more buildings went up, and they began offering agritourism activities: special events, meet the animals (pigs, goats, sheep, chickens), and farmstay opportunities such as glamping (camping with amenities). They make their own maple syrup; the sugarhouse is about a half mile to the east next to their roadside farm store and a Champlain Area Trails trailhead.

"So it's just sort of evolved over time," Cynthia said. "We're now kind of shifting towards lodging and more agritourism."

One of the current building projects is a large chicken coop.

"I joke with Dave and say it's the Taj Mahal of chicken coops," Cynthia said.

The Johnstons received a microgrant from the Adirondack Council that is helping them put solar panels on the chicken coop. Yes, solar panels on a chicken coop. It's all a part of the farmstay activities.

"The little chicken coop is in the back, and then there's a clean room on the side so that our guests can walk in, open the back of the nesting boxes and collect the eggs without having to go into the chickens," Cynthia said.

That first building at DaCy Meadow Farm is now Cynthia's office and art studio and will soon be turned into more lodging. She was an art educator before working as Keene Central's superintendent for 16 years.

After retiring from Keene Central in 2012, Cynthia spent the next two years at KCS helping with the transition to a new superintendent. Then she took a little time off.

"I was actually retired for a few months," she said.

Then the Westport school district called. She worked there for two years as the interim superintendent.

"Then Peru called me and asked me if I could fill in for six weeks," she said. "Six months later, I finished."

Then she began working for the Adirondack P-TECH program (Pathways in Technology Early College High School), where she is the principal, helping with the transition while the program is being phased out.

"I think it was definitely to our advantage to have an outside income and have retirement income," Cynthia said. "I'm not the typical farmer."

Dave is currently the "feet on the ground kind of guy" at the farm - maintenance, digital work (social media, website), communications, etc.

The farm continues to be a work in progress, but that's just how the Johnstons like it. They didn't continually expand because they saw the need for extra income.

"The reason we do this is more creativity," Cynthia said. "It's definitely not the money. It's definitely the experience."

When they have an idea, they pursue it. When they have another idea, they pursue that. And so on. Over time, the projects pile up. And so does the cost. Without the income from retirement and interim jobs at local school districts, they would not have been able to afford the constant expansion at DaCy Meadow Farm.

"I'm not sure how young farmers do it without an outside income," Cynthia said. "A farm is like a giant money pit, and maybe it wouldn't be if we didn't keep adding things. We get excited about something new, and we build another building."

With the school year winding down at P-TECH, Cynthia is once again looking forward to more time on the farm, establishing the farmstay, cooking meals at her restaurant, maintaining the Localvore Gallery in the restaurant, raising egg chickens, baking quiche for the farm stand and looking after the small herd of Dexter and Scottish Highland cattle.

"We don't have any pigs right now," she said. "We find we've gotten emotionally attached to pigs, so we've partnered with Mace Chasm Farm to provide our pigs. We buy them from them and have them butchered and with our label, we sell the meat."

So this is retirement for Cynthia and Dave Johnston. That original piece of land they bought for a retirement home is now a farm, and they are currently looking to buy a retirement house in the hamlet of Westport. They're also looking for someone - maybe a couple - who would be interested in taking over the farm one day - when the Johnstons decide to retire for good.

"Dave and I both get a lot of satisfaction from both being educators," Cynthia said. "The idea of giving of what we have and sharing that is important to us. Both of us are ready to transition. Our families really don't need or want a farm."

DaCy Meadow Farm is not finished evolving, and based on the Johnstons' passion and creativity, it may continue to evolve, even after they're gone.

"We're looking for somebody who might want to come live on the farm," Cynthia said, "grow the herd a little bit more, maybe bring pigs back, goats back, whatever their vision is and kind of build from what we've started."

 
 

 

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