The Future of Zenda Farms

Spring 2017 Newsletter - It begins with a drive through the brick pillars, a simple yet noble entrance. Continuing down the long drive, you’re surrounded by life on each side. A look to your left and you see meadow filled with long grasses and song birds. And on your right, there are Zenda’s rolling hills, encircled by the trail where it’s likely you’ll find a couple walking a dog, and a few people getting their daily exercise. Already you see how many creatures make themselves at home here.

Arriving at Zenda Farms, it feels like a welcome back to a past you may or may not have known, a sense of familiarity, a feeling of peace, a connection with this place. Very quickly it becomes clear that Zenda beckons for activity, for people, for life.

I imagine that Merle Youngs, Zenda Farms’ founder, had a similar realization back in the late 1930s when he first discovered the Zenda estate and envisioned the farm that this property would become. It amazes me how many people have stories to share of Zenda’s heyday— spending summers working there, remembering the taste of milk produced by the Golden Guernsey cows, and even admiration for the silver barns, that still glimmer in the tiniest bit of sunlight.
Through these anecdotes, we have discovered the important role Zenda Farms has played in the Clayton community, from creating jobs within the community to providing a home for many families that worked on the Farm.

Over 75 years later the lessons that we take from Mr. Youngs’ legacy include supporting the development of our local economy, striving to provide access to fresh food for everyone, and offering a place of respite, all while ensuring the conservation and responsible use of our amazing landscape.
To honor this legacy, TILT has worked to bring the community back to Zenda, through the many TILTreks and Events hosted at the Farm, the Zenda Community Garden and the busy LoisJean and John MacFarlane Trail.

Still, the story to be told at Zenda is a much larger one, encompassing educational opportunities surrounding sustainable agriculture and the environment, while honoring the history and culture of the North Country and supporting the work of local businesses and producers; the re-creation of a true community focal point.

TILT began taking concrete steps towards fulfilling this story in 2011 through a partnership with the SUNY ESF Landscape Architecture Department for the development of a Comprehensive Conservation Plan that highlights Zenda’s unique attributes and brings them to the next level. The implementation and formation of future plans for Zenda Farms began picking up from here, including the creation of the Zenda Farms Preserve Advisory Committee, a dedicated group of individuals overseeing the direction of Zenda.

Zenda continues to grow today, with the development of a Strategic Plan that outlines the steps needed to realize our vision, and the formation of partnerships with local businesses, organizations, and universities.

To advance elements from the Comprehensive Conservation Plan and the Strategic Plan, TILT partnered with Clarkson University faculty and the Sophomore Honors Class throughout Fall 2016—Spring 2017 to develop business plans, an overarching marketing plan, and the addition of interactive elements at Zenda. The ideas that the students are exploring include the addition of a new trail system and observation tower, an expanded natural play area, an apple orchard, and a community-supported agriculture (CSA) program. Once these plans are finalized at the end of the semester, we intend to begin taking steps to make them a reality.

In addition to these ideas, we are forming partnerships with local producers who practice locally produced, sustainable agriculture.  As longtime supporters of TILT, Coyote Moon Vineyards recognized the potential in Zenda Farms and has partnered with us to establish a model vineyard at Zenda and to produce two “Zenda Farms” wines that directly benefit programming and expansion at the Preserve. We intend to continue to build partnerships with local businesses and organizations similar to this one, to help grow our local economy, and provide programming and activity at Zenda for all to enjoy.

Of the many paths that we can take to achieve our vision at Zenda, we recognize that we can go further together.  We are excited to involve the community in so many different ways to continue land conservation through responsible use of working landscapes, provide access to locally produced foods, support our community and provide a means to connect with all through education and recreation opportunities.

As we continue our work through the Summer, please visit us up at Zenda to learn about our latest plans and join us for the community-wide discussions we will be holding to continue this discussion on Zenda’s future. Together we can truly make Zenda come alive!

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