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The King Family and Hidden Camp Farm Origins, Part 2

June 4, 2021

This is the second installment in a series that is meant to share information about the King Family and the history of Hidden Camp Farm. Continuing on, from the first post...

The Search Is On

When John and Ruth arrived in the Mohawk Valley in 2007, they were the 15th family from the Lancaster region that relocated. The King family planned to spend between 2 and 3 years on the farm that they were renting. When John and Ruth could spare the time away from the farm, they would spend it visiting other farm properties that were for sale in the surrounding region. They covered territory within about a 30 mile radius from Canajoharie. 

There were some anxious moments as the number of farms that didn’t suit their preferences began to far outnumber the ones that might work. The experience gave them a sharp eye for quickly assessing a property’s existing structures, the health and viability of the pastures, and the extent to which they could “make it their own”.

Many of the farm properties in the surrounding region have barns that are very near to the road, especially if it were a dairy farm. Given the probability for harsh winters, it is easier for many to shorten the distance between the main road and the milk house. The rental farm had the barn on one side of the road, and the farmhouse on the other side - that was not working well for the family. It was very important to John and Ruth that they find a property that would not require them to continually face the dangers of crossing the road, while going about their day. 

Why This Property? 

John and Ruth “just knew” at first sight, that this property was what they had been searching for - from the moment of their first visit in April 2009. They made arrangements with the previous owner to tour the property with help from someone familiar with the property: Hal Foland - who remains a friend to the King Family today. John and Ruth traveled the existing tractor path in Hal’s pickup truck, in order to access the portions of the property that are further from White Road. When they made it to the upper pastures, they spotted both wild turkeys and several deer. 

The land was a very nice blend of tillable acreage and wooded portions, as well as a stream that feeds into the Canajoharie Creek. Some of the acreage was being used a couple of times a year for making hay. There were no grains being grown, nor were there any animals being raised. Obtaining Organic Certification would be more straightforward, since the land had been “dormant” for so many years. 

There were no existing barns or a farmhouse present, and John and Ruth knew that construction of both would be no small task. However, it represented an opportunity to design and locate the structures according to their preferences. They chose a design that placed their buildings in a central portion of the acreage. This provides a great view of all of the animals on pasture and remains a comfortable distance from the road.

A farm needs a barn…

By early June, the purchase of the property was complete. The family would visit when they had free time, to continue planning construction projects and to allow the children to begin exploring their future farm. During the summer months John was often busy making hay on the land, then began making arrangements to locate a suitable spot for a well and then a crew to complete the work. Later that summer, construction began on a driveway. The first loads of gravel were made level, by several shipments of construction materials being delivered. The family and the existing herd remained on the rental farm, while their new property continued to take shape.  

The family broke ground on the barn that August, and significant progress was made in September - thanks to the help of numerous members of their Lancaster based community. The Amish have a tradition called a frolic, where men and boys will donate time and labor to accomplish a task. John’s brother Cris, that he used to build replacement stalls with - helped to organize the vans full of people travelling from Pennsylvania a couple times per week. Another of John’s brothers - Leroy, worked as a mason before he founded Feather Brook Farm. He brought along a handful of friends that were also trained masons, in order to get the foundation block laid in place. 

The barn features skylights along its peak, they allow far more daylight for the herd in the wintertime and each day while completing chores. The design also called for plenty of open space between their bedding areas, their water, and where they wait to be milked. John did not want to have to tie the cows, preferring them to be able to roam freely (within the barn). 

...and also a house!

Enough progress was made on the barn in September, that during the first full week of October the herd was relocated from the rental property to their new home. The busy week also saw the family relocate to the property for the first time - bringing along a mobile home, in order for them to live in while their new home was being constructed. They also broke ground on their home construction that same weekend. 

It was a long and beautiful fall that year, luckily the very cold weather held off until about December. Fortunately enough progress had been made on the home’s roof, walls, and radiant heat flooring - that the King Family was able to move into the basement level of their new home, on Christmas Eve.

While enjoying the holidays and reflecting on everything that happened during the summer and fall months - they had a chance to discuss ideas for what they should call the farm. There was one surprise feature about their property that seemed to stand out. Daniel and some of his friends that arrived for the frolic, had often played in the woods while the barn was being constructed. One day after clearing some brush, they discovered the remnants of an old stone fireplace. Some long-time residents of the area let them know that there had been many bonfires and 4th of July celebrations at this “camp” site, and they later discovered another stone nearby that was marked 1935. 

Hidden Camp Farm was the fitting and unique name that they decided upon!

More details about the first years on the farm, coming in a future blog post...

John King

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