Agritourism is a pretty big deal in the Finger Lakes – and Yates County is at the heart of it all, plentiful with farmlands ranging from Christmas trees, to orchards, to dairy farms. These spots encourage us to take a refreshing break away from the everyday – and you might just leave with a sack full of seasonal harvest and a memory that will last a lifetime.
Sweet Farm offers guests a unique and enlightening experience, standing in its mission of creating a more sustainable planet through a variety of programs including farm animal rescue, regenerative agriculture, and a robust technology program that focuses on planet-saving innovation. When you visit Sweet Farm, you’re in for the feel-good experience you’re looking for – and so much more.
To get better acquainted with this climate sanctuary, we spoke with Nate Salpeter who co-founded the Sweet Farm along with his wife, Anna Sweet, in 2015.
Brittany: As I started my initial research on Sweet Farm, I quickly came to see that visitors are in store for a really inspiring experience – you all are an animal rescue, flower and vegetable farm, agri-tech center and education base all rolled into one! How would you describe Sweet Farm’s overall mission?
Nate: We describe ourselves as a climate sanctuary that engages in high-impact programs ranging from technology programs to grassroots education, to help people make connections with individual ambassador animals and the power of their own choices and voices – and it’s through those programs that, collectively, we can move the needle on the climate.
Brittany: I’d like to key in on the animal ambassadors at Sweet Farm, because I love the idea of that being a way to help visitors connect with the work you’re doing. How many animals are there? And do they stay there permanently?
Nate: We have 140 rescue animals that are living at Sweet Farm for their entire lives.
Brittany: Oh wow, that’s amazing! Could you give some general backstory of these animals?
Nate: They’ve come from all different situations – from abuse, abandonment, illegal rooster fighting operations and skin product testing laboratories. These ambassadors are absolutely essential parts of educating and informing at the grassroots level, but also in helping inspire the next generation of innovators, large corporate CEOs and decision-makers who are just learning about these principles as well, so that they can do the work on a high level. It’s sort of a bottom-up, top-down approach.
Brittany: Very interesting – thank you for walking me through that. What goes into taking care of these animals, and how can visitors contribute?
Nate: Sweet Farm is our animals’ forever home, and they’re here to live their best life. Just like you and me, they need food, bedding and medical care to continue thriving and serving as ambassadors for animals like them who might not be as lucky as they are. So, a great way to contribute is to consider sponsoring an animal, which will help provide these necessities, along with treats, which really does make a huge positive impact toward our larger mission.
Brittany: That’s wonderful, and I love that sentiment of helping these ambassadors live their best lives. Can you tell us a bit about the winter hay fundraiser?
Nate: Sweet Farm was actually located in California before the move to New York in 2022 (this year). This will mark the first winter here, and we really need to make sure the animals will be warm and fed, and hay is a major part of that. With our winter hay fundraiser, people can purchase bales of hay that will go directly toward our ambassadors’ bedding and meals. Our goal is to get to 1,000 bales.
Brittany: We will definitely help spread the word to make sure these sweet animals have what they need in the cold temperatures. I’ve loved reading their stories and learning more about them. Will Farm visitors get a chance to see the animals?
Nate: They certainly will – they’re a pretty big part of our farm and the tours we give here. And even those who don’t visit in person can keep up with the animals on our social media or even schedule a Goat-2-Meeting.
Brittany: Oh yes, I saw that! And with the infatuation and love of goats, I’m sure this was a big hit! How’d that come about?
Nate: In early 2020 when many of our on-site education and corporate volunteer programs were coming to a stop, we had to figure out how to continue meeting our goals and objectives during that time. So, at one of our board meetings, a member mentioned virtual coffee breaks he’d started taking with his team, and he suggested they pay to have Sweet Farm pop in and tell his team about a goat, as well as how the team could make their own personal impact. That same evening, we put a Facebook advertisement up, and the very next day, we had a random booking – I went out into the field with my camera phone for the call, and people really enjoyed it! They were smiling and laughing, and they asked awesome questions. The next day, we had three bookings.
Brittany: Oh, but I have a feeling this gets a lot better…
Nate: Within a week, we were booking a week in advance. By the end of week three, we were in Business Insider – and at that point, it just took off. It took off so quickly that we couldn’t do it all ourselves, in addition to our duties on the Farm.
Brittany: I bet! So, how’d you eventually figure out how to manage this newfound demand?
Nate: We brought in 10 other organizations that were doing important work in sustainability as well, and collectively, we were able to handle all the Goat-2-Meetings that were coming in. But we wanted it to be more than just a paid meeting, because we understood people were going through tough times at that point – in particular, teachers having to figure out how to navigate remote and virtual education in classrooms. Our Goat-2-Meetings helped teachers break up the day for students, but in an educational way. In the end, we did over 700 public school classrooms for free.
Brittany: That’s incredible! Do you know how many meetings you’ve booked in total?
Nate: In the last two years, we’ve done over 8,700 Goat-2-Meetings/virtual events, reaching over 350,000 people – we even reached scientists in the South Pole! To this day, we still have companies calling in.
Brittany: Wow, it really was a smash hit! And can people “meet” with other ambassadors besides goats?
Nate: Yes! We go out and interact with any animal that’s out in their element.
Brittany: That’s really incredible, and what a difference that makes! Can you talk a bit about what visitors who visit the physical farm can expect?
Nate: Sure – we offer public tours by reservation throughout the week where visitors will meet and learn about our animal ambassadors, as well as how we can all work together to create a more compassionate and sustainable world. Private tours are also available by appointment. And if you’d like to stay a little longer, guests can enjoy a more immersive experience by renting the six-bedroom Sweet Farm House across the street.
Brittany: And how about the crops grown on the farm – can guests stop by and take some of it home with them?
Nate: Definitely! We’ll have a produce stand that’s open during the season on the weekends, where folks will be able to pick up the week’s harvest of produce – like tomatoes and carrots – herbs and flowers.
Brittany: That’s really awesome that folks can stop by the farm and pick up some of the veggies and herbs needed to make a climate-friendly, plant-based dish right at home – another great way for visitors to connect with the farm and its purpose.
How about seasonal activities at the Farm?
Nate: This past September, we had an exciting lavender planting clinic, where guests learned all about lavender from David Sweet of Lavender Crest Farms and helped us plant it at Sweet Farm! We also recently had a Moos and Boos Halloween event, where guests could wear costumes and come by to visit with and feed some of the animals. And mark your calendars, because we’re having our first big holiday open house event this December 10, from 10 a.m. to 2p.m.
Brittany: Cool! Let’s wrap up with some ways that visitors and guests can help support Sweet Farm and its mission.
Nate: There are many different ways, and we appreciate individuals’ support ranging from their skills, their talents and their generosity of time. Everything goes right back into the sanctuary and supports our mission. We also have a variety of volunteer opportunities listed on our website, including agriculture field assistant, animal care assistant, education volunteer and also special event volunteers. We’ve also got several fundraising initiatives in place:
As I mentioned earlier, we recently moved from California to New York, so we’re seeking support to continue adjusting to that move. We have brand new barns and facilities and a variety of legacy donor opportunities!
We also have an on-going medical fundraiser. Our farm animal ambassadors that were abused or neglected require specialized medical care, and all of our animals receive regular medical care to continue living their best life here at Sweet Farm.
Sweet Farm is a very agile organization that has outside impact on a dollar-for-dollar basis, so we do very much appreciate the generosity of individual donors that are looking to make their lasting impact, and scaling their own personal impact through the work that Sweet Farm does.
To learn more about Sweet Farm, visit sweetfarm.org, or check out some of the other farm locations in Yates County at fingerlakescountrysides.com/explore/play/agritourism.