Horse farms may be ubiquitous in North Salem, but a little-known alpaca farm on Hardscrabble Road is leading the way in environmentally sound farm management.

Little Creek Farm, which breeds and sells alpacas for the commercial fiber market, has been quietly working to do its part to mitigate climate change through a number of innovative practices that benefit the farm, the New York City watershed and the environment. 
Lynn Edens, head of research & development at Little Creek Farms, said “Our first goal is to be as environmentally positive as possible. Secondarily, we hope to be able to share what we learn.”

Little Creek Farm partners with the Watershed Agricultural Council (WAC), a non-profit that works with farm and forest landowners in the New York City watershed region to protect water quality for New York residents. The town of North Salem encourages its farm owners to partner with WAC as the practices the organization encourages align with the town’s long-standing goals of protecting and conserving open spaces.

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North Salem and much of the surrounding area sit within the New York City watershed, which supplies unfiltered drinking water to over eight million New York City residents. Most of the land within the watershed is owned by private landowners. WAC serves as an intermediary between the city and these landowners. Through WAC, farms like Little Creek get expert agricultural guidance that protects water quality and also makes life better for the farm.

Through its partnership with WAC, Little Creek has implemented forward-thinking practices that protect the watershed while mitigating the farm’s carbon footprint—initiatives that put the farm ahead of most in the area. 

Gibson Durnford, Program Coordinator at WAC, said that farmers who are considering moving towards more climate beneficial practices need only a willingness to partner. “Farmers have so much to do. The guidance we provide should never make their lives more difficult.” He says WAC aims to make doing the right things as easy as possible.

The right thing, in the case of climate beneficial farming, could include things like composting systems, nutrient management and rotational grazing. These are all practices that Edens is pushing to implement at Little Creek. A wetlands restoration project is also in the works. WAC will provide technical and engineering advice that Little Creek will then implement. 

“Wetlands are a good sink for carbon dioxide,” said Durnford, explaining that the loss of wetlands turns a carbon sink into a carbon emitter.
Durnford acknowledges that convincing farmers to change a practice can be difficult. But Edens emphasizes that there’s a cost savings benefit for farms that adopt climate-friendly approaches. Little Creek hopes to be generating renewable energy within the next year and has already achieved climate beneficial status for their alpaca wool products.

In the fiber industry, the term climate beneficial commands a premium price and is sought after among eco-conscious consumers.  “I expect we’ll start to see the climate beneficial labeling extend from fiber production into food production,” said Edens. “You’ll see farms try to actively market their produce to a consumer base who wants this.”

As Edens looks ahead to how her farm and others in town can contribute to the environment in a positive way, she acknowledges that it was the foresight of earlier generations of North Salem residents who set the stage. In 1974, a group of North Salem residents established the North Salem Open Land Foundation (NSOLF) in an effort to preserve undeveloped space in town. The NSOLF establishes land areas that are free from exploitation, development and deterioration by maintaining the environment and ecological integrity of the area. 

“If you look at a map of the Westchester agricultural district, most are in the northeast corner of the county,” Edens said. “That’s your evidence of what these folks accomplished. Hopefully those of us who are here now taking our turn will have some value for generations to come.”