LETTER FROM THE CHAIRMAN
The Lands at Hillside Farms is a non-profit organization devoted to teaching sustainable life choices. It is a precious place owned by the community and has the goal of drawing citizens from all over who wish to share in its “wonder”. Our desire is that each visitor takes home with them ideas, products, and understanding that will enrich their lives, nourish their bodies and souls, and direct them to being contributors of a shared responsibility we all should have in creating a better world! Let us discuss the history of this land.
Thousands of years ago, Native Americans wandered these hills as hunters and gatherers. Their impact is not visible today but we know from archeological studies that our valley was at one time a lake. Arrow heads or “points” are found in a well defined topographical line running through our farm fields which would have demarcated the shoreline millennia ago. Notice that they left no signs of their visit. They passed on to us all the resources they inherited. Might we do the same for our posterity? 235 years ago during the Revolutionary War Period of America, settlers from the Wyoming Valley crossed over the mountain and created a series of farms that ran in sequence through this valley. At the southern end of our property exists a remnant of this history. The barns and homes on this edge of our land date back to the 1810 era. One house has a bee hive oven and a primitive brick well within the home. And the barns are original American Chestnut wooden hand hewned masterpieces. 130 years ago, in 1881, William Conyngham from Wilkes-Barre, purchased this valley. He had made a fortune brokering coal and by thus helping to fuel the Industrial Revolution. The original property size exceeded 700 acres. Presently it is 412 acres. He added many structures to the property and created a Gentleman’s Victorian Estate which the family enjoyed mostly as an escape from the City during the hot summer months. He built a “Cottage” on the hill, moved and built Lord and Burnham manufactured greenhouses on sight, added a sprawling Victorian Park, developed a dairy complex, and pursued the breeding of Clydesdale horses from his native Scotland. In 1977, Will and Parky Conyngham built the Hillside Dairy Store in a Pony Pasture along the road by the Greenhouses. It was and is a manufacturing facility, ice cream parlor, and store for dairy products produced from the Hillside Dairy.
In 2005, an idea was developed whereby an attractive venue was needed to draw the public. The goal was to harness an already popular sight that was well known and mission appropriate that could then be leveraged to teach the community “sustainable” life choices. The concept revolved around the idea that in spite of the fact that humanity has been in existence for millennia and organized civilizations for thousands of years, there has never been a coordinated/concerted effort to define a sustainable long term plan for how humans can coexist long term with themselves and within their environment in ways that 500 years from now, people might have all the resources and options that we enjoy today.
Let us look for reasons why this might matter and for signs that we should care. There are trends that may act as warning signs for us all. There are concerns ranging from the quality of our physical and emotional health, national security in an ever (rapidly) changing world, economic uncertainty, population growth that is stressing the planet’s capacity to provide for all of us, energy uncertainty, enhanced job and financial insecurity, changes to the function of the family unit, loss of species worldwide, world resource depletion (fresh water/petroleum/grain/etc), and where we as Americans will reside among emerging economic powers. And there is much more!
It would appear that we need to do some planning. Therefore this property was selected as an excellent venue to draw many folks to an already beautiful location that is close to large numbers of people and has an allure as to provide a back drop to teach. And that is what we have done. In 2005, we met with Bill, Guthrie, and Jack Conyngham to discuss the potential for a non-profit organization to purchase their beloved property in order to accomplish this mission. They agreed! In 2005, the non-profit organization The Lands at Hillside Farms was formed and entered an agreement to take control over the property with the goal of purchasing it within 5 years. We began restoring buildings, returned the dairy cattle to the property, developed an intensive grazing method of feeding the cattle grass in pastures, and began fundraising and planning for the purchase of the property. In 2010 we purchased the property! We were fortunate enough to obtain a 1 million dollar grant from the state along with a 1 million dollar foundation grant. And we borrowed the rest of the 4 million dollar purchase price. We are grateful to God for providing such a magnificent back drop for education our world. And appreciate that the Conyngham family sold it to us.
One of the premises from the beginning was that we could never succeed without a profound “giving” spirit from our community. Our staff members are tremendously talented and work for a fraction of what they might make in the private sector. And our volunteers have poured in by the hundreds. People come and give their time, talent, and treasures. And they do it with nothing received in return but the satisfaction of doing good! Now that is sustainable!! So what does the future hold? Well, we have 38 buildings which all need repair. And that is happening. The Cottage will need its upper 2 stories restored and may ultimately become a bed and breakfast or restaurant or remain as an events facility. We need a restaurant somewhere. We might try to relocate a large barn to a sight overlooking our property which might serve as a restaurant and visitors center. The Dairy Store will continue to grow and offer more locally grown products. We are in the process of moving a barn close to it and it will serve as the beginning of a retail center. The newly restored Greenhouses are close to this and fit in well with retail sales of plants and vegetables. Ultimately, we would like to restore the Springbrook Farm part of our property and thus create a “Living Museum” with real live actors. This sight is so rare and uniquely historic that it would provide an incredible opportunity to step back 200 years in time and thus provide all of us a glimpse of what values fulfilled our ancestors’ lives and worked so well for them but have since been forgotten. The real purpose of all of this is education of course. So it would be great to build upon what we have been doing.
300,000 people come to this facility annually. We want to grow that and have them take home some of the many concepts or ideas or life choices that may help them be better citizens’ or denizens of this planet. We already have thousands of kids who receive tours, talks, or come to our camps where they learn how to work on the farm. This needs to grow. We partner with schools that teach handicapped kids life skills like growing crops and selling them at farmer’s markets thus helping them contribute to society. And we must add to our curriculum of courses that we provide adults as well. There is so much work to do. We endeavor to teach as many people as we touch that we must abide by hallmark concepts like “love thy neighbor” and “do unto others as you would have done unto you”. This brings up a question for each of you. And that is “what are you doing to be a responsible citizen of this world”? I hope you will join us in working together to serve posterity whom in 500 years might look back and say “Wow, thanks to them…….”
Thank you for joining us!