by Rachel Robinson, American Angus Association®

Located a hundred miles outside of New York City, the 1,500-acre Thunder View Farms in Grahamsville, N.Y., lies in the watershed that delivers drinking water through the largest unfiltered surface water supply system in the country.

Like many farmers in this area, Philip (Phil) Coombe Jr. had a vision for a farm that would be environmentally responsible and produce great cattle. Thunder View Farms is the realization of that vision, which he and his brother, Richard (Dick), started in 1958. Innovators at heart, Phil and Dick worked to ensure they were being environmentally responsible while productive as possible on their farm.

The Coombe family’s focus on the environment has been an asset to them and area farm communities. Becoming a model and leader in conservation stewardship began in 1989 when Dick led a group of farmers in early negotiations with the New York City Department of Environmental Protection and upstate New York farming community. This resulted in the formation of the Watershed Agricultural Council. Dick served as founding chairman and CEO for 10 years. Thunder View Farms has participated in the voluntary programs for more than 23 years.

Their innovative approach to environmental stewardship led to Thunder View Farms winning the Region I National Cattleman’s Beef Association (NCBA) Environmental Stewardship award. It’s also one of six finalists for the national award to be given in early February 2019 in New Orleans.

Thunder View Farms’ 144-cow purebred operation now includes Dick’s son, Ric, and his family, as they continue the focus on environmentally sound practices to ensure their operation allows clean water to travel to the New York City population.

“What happens on our farm is in New York City’s water supply in 48 hours,” Ric says. “As much as New York City would like to own the watershed area, they can’t buy it all. They’ve realized we’re good protectors of the land. They recognize that it provides good, clean water while protecting farming communities and family operations.”

The Coombe family is constantly improving their operation through best management practices. To date, they have installed seven feeding pads, developed a nutrient management plan for spreading manure, introduced a gravity-fed water system, set up a pasture rotation and began using wind and solar power. In addition, they also have a forest management plan in place.

“Environmental stewardship is good for our business,” Ric says. “The environmental decisions have paid for themselves. Customers pay for a premium product but get a premium benefit.”

The senior Coombe agrees. “A hundred miles outside the city, we should be out of business, but we’re growing. You can’t believe the bus loads of people who come from New York City to see the watershed. They marvel at our beef, but they also marvel at how we produce it. There’s a symbiotic relationship between producing more beef and using best management practices on our farm. It’s really a great story.”