Ranchers - Serious About Environmental Stewardship

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What if I told you: a family of ranchers had a hand in not only protecting, but improving the quality of drinking water for nine million people?  Read more here on Thunder View Farms, a true case study in environmental stewardship.


Disclaimer: this post is brought to you by the Northeast Beef Promotion Initiative, a subcontractor to the Beef Checkoff.  As always, thoughts are my own, and my love of all things beef is true.  Thank YOU for your support of Enjoy Food, Enjoy Life!


At mention of the words “environmental stewardship,” what comes to mind?  As a Master of Beef Advocacy, faces of farmers and ranchers I’ve met along the way immediately pop into my head.  Knowing how they’ve reduced their usage of water in the past two decades, work diligently to preserve grasslands, and continually adapt to new technology to minimize the impact of production on the environment, it’s natural to think of them first.

Rick Coombe leading a tour through Thunder View Farms. That’s me in the foreground!

Rick Coombe leading a tour through Thunder View Farms. That’s me in the foreground!


Among all the ranchers and producers I’ve had the pleasure of meeting, Dick Coombe stands out as a model of environmental stewardship.  Along with his brother, Phil, he’s a founder of Thunder View Farms, an Angus ranch situated in Grahamsville, NY, about 100 miles north of New York City.  Among other aspects that make this ranch noteworthy – the idyllic pasture on which the cattle graze, sweeping views of the Catskills, and the sounds of springs bubbling amongst the occasional “moo” – is its precise location.  Situated between two of the largest New York City water reservoirs, the farm has a direct impact on 57% of the city’s drinking water.  This is where the devotion to environmental stewardship plays a critical role.


Though Thunder View Farms has been a family business since 1958, a true turning point came forty years later.  According to Dick Coombe, that’s when the New York City Department of Environmental Protection began investigating farms near the reservoirs.  Eager to maintain its status as an unfiltered water system (New York City is one of the few such systems in the country), officials were ready to impose regulations that would have put farms like Thunder View out of business.  Coombe, already a seasoned steward of the environment and well aware that the Catskill and Delaware county water systems themselves were already home to pristine drinking water, had a better plan.


Coombe and other local farmers and ranchers voluntarily organized what they called a Watershed Agriculture Coalition (WAC, for short).  On a mission to prove that a well-managed farm is ideal for the preservation of drinking water, the coalition proved itself by demonstrating best practices on their farms.  Eventually, the New York City DEP took notice, and partnered with farms like Thunder View on a joint mission of environmental stewardship.  The end result?  Water in surrounding reservoirs has actually gotten CLEANER, and, according to Coombe, New York City saved itself roughly 4 billion dollars – the estimated cost of a filtration plant. 

The practices put into place by the Coombe family were impactful enough for the National Cattleman’s Beef Association, a contractor to the Beef Checkoff to take notice.  This past February, they were awarded the national honor of environmental stewardship. 


 I had the opportunity to learn about some of these practices alongside local farmers.  According to Coombe, the family lives under “strict regulation” as part of its agreement of environmental stewardship with the DEP, but it’s been worthwhile not just for the impact on the reservoir, but the improvements it’s made on the farm.  Some of the best practices in place at Thunder View include:


-Allowing cattle to consume finishing grain in a designated area.  This has allowed for better collection of manure.  And what’s manure great for?  Growing better grass!  Better management of the grasslands has led to a reduction in usage of other fertilizers.  Moreover, the Coombes are diligent in the maintenance of the pasture: mowing it to keep burdock at bay, while also ensuring the grass never gets lower than 2.5 inches when it’s being grazed (this can kill grass by exhausting its roots).

-Zero usage of outside water!  Thunder View operates completely off water from springs providing an unlimited supply of fresh, gravity-based water.  There’s no use of compressors or electric heaters.  As part of their partnership with the DEP, this water runs underground for the cattle to drink so they’re never congregating in the ponds or streams.  This has helped Thunder View with better water distribution and improved grass for rotational grazing.

This little calve was born the night before our tour!

This little calve was born the night before our tour!

-Usage of high-quality, sustainable materials for structures such as the calving corral (where those cute baby cattle are born).  A true believer in the concept of passing down the farm to the next generation, Dick’s son Rick used materials such as locust wood sourced from an area outside of Pittsburgh that, according to him, should last 100 years.  His philosophy?  “Why do something three or four times?”  Do it once and do it right!  Another benefit of using this type of wood is it’s quiet – the absence of rattling and banging in the corral keeps animals calm. 


Do you know someone who’s a model of environmental stewardship?  I’d love to hear about him or her in the comments, below!


Enjoy your food.  Enjoy your life!