Story by Sara Paul
One family, two centuries, and an unquantifiable amount of hard work! These things and more were celebrated with love and gusto at the Bellvale Farms 200th Birthday Celebration on Sun., Jul. 14.
The private event saw more than two hundred community members, local officials, and business owners gathered at the farm for a gorgeous day of food, music, and fun, as attendees shared stories from the past and promises for the future.
“The economic impact of one little farm on the community is a big event, and we thank you all for making it happen,” said Bellvale Farms owner Al Buckbee, who will celebrate his 80th birthday in October and his 55th wedding anniversary with his wife, Judy, in November.
With clear skies and a gentle sun beating on elegant white tents, Judy could be found beaming with bliss underneath her playful straw hat.
“I’m so overwhelmed. It’s such lovely weather and lovely people – salt of the earth people – and I’m very, very happy,” she said.
In January 2020, the New York State Agricultural Society will officially recognize Bellvale Farms for 200 years of continuous farming by the same family. Al also announced that any donations made during the event would benefit the Warwick Historical Society (WHS).
The Buckbee’s long-time friend and current WHS President Mary Ann Knight said of the family, “They are just genuine. They love the Valley, they love their farm, and they love their community.”
WHS Executive Director Nora Gurvich was extremely grateful for Al’s generosity.
“What an honor that they decided to give their donations to the Historical Society. We’re truly benefactors of their hard work. It’s very hard to run a farm, and this place is such an important part of Warwick. I love that people actually celebrate agriculture,” said Gurvich.
Warwick historian Dr. Richard Hull was on hand to give a historical presentation to the crowd. He said, “The Buckbee’s have certainly made history. This is one of the last surviving farms, and they have been in the same business for 200 years. That’s just extraordinary. That’s worth celebrating! It’s just in their DNA,”
Town Supervisor Michael Sweeton said, “The Buckbee’s and the Wisners are the leading success stories of the land preservation program. They are great stewards of the land because they’re committed and innovative.”
Since purchasing the property in 1971, Al and Judy have subsequently purchased five adjoining farms, bringing Bellvale Farm’s size to more than 450 acres. Located at 75 Bellvale Lakes Rd., the milk produced on the farm over the years has been used for drinking, and making butter, cheese, and ice cream.
Their son Skip, a former member of the Orange County Legislature, has worked on the farm since he was a youngster and now runs the day to day operations.
Skip said the turn out at the event, “… shows the amount of people that it takes to make this farm work. We don’t just deal with specialists, we deal with multi-generational specialists.”
In attendance were business owners such as contractor Martin Van De Weert and veterinarian Dr. Herbert Mueller who have worked with the farm for more than 50 years.
Al and Judy’s daughter, Amy, and her husband, Tim, have owned and operated Bellvale Farms Creamery, an ice cream store 800 feet up the mountain from the farm, since 2003. Amy and Tim have two children, Jasmine and Will.
Other indispensable hands in the business include Bill Korman, the farm’s early morning milker for the past 15 years, and foreman John Willemse, who has assisted in all aspects of the farm for more than 20 years. The Farm and Creamery also employ more than 40 teenagers and hosts hundreds of visitors each year.
They grow and harvest 50 acres (300 tons) of alfalfa and 50 acres (1000 tons) of corn, all as sustenance for their cows. They also harvest hay, barley, and oats. In 2018, the farm sold more than one million eight oz. glasses of milk, and the Creamery sold many thousands of scoops of ice cream.
Beyond farming, Bellvale Farms has acquired quite a name in show business, with the grounds filmed in many television series and commercials. For example, the popular series “Sneaky Pete” filmed three seasons at the farm. The show’s location manager Mike Hartel was present at the event as he developed a strong friendship with the Buckbees during the more than a dozen shoots.
“We had looked for a location for more than three months, and we chose Bellvale Farms because it’s just beautiful. Al and Judy are really my favorite people on the planet,” said Hartel.
Warwick Judge Peter Barlet said, “This is a celebration for the Buckbees and really for all of Warwick. It’s important for an agricultural community to have such a long standing farm because agriculture will always be a part of Warwick.”