Architect, farmer design portable shelters

WATKINS GLEN--Shannon Ratcliff and her partner Walter Adam call life on their organic farm "a different world." That would be an understatement for this former Manhattan couple who met in the city and fashioned the dream of owning a farm.

Ratcliff, an architect, and Adam, a businessman, bought their 130-acre farm in 2011 during the dead of winter while it was still covered with snow.

But the couple not only survived, through ingenuity, hard work and help from others, they thrived and Ratcliff has been finding ways to apply her architectural skills to farming. She has just been awarded her third competitive grant for the design and construction of portable animal housing from Food Animal Concerns Trust, or FACT.

FACT is a small Chicago-based non-profit whose mission is to improve animal welfare by increasing the number of farm animals that are raised humanely.

Why portable shelters? Because ShannonBrook Farm practices managed intensive rotational grazing (MIRG), a way of grazing domesticated animals in pasturelands, rotating different species in ways that mutually benefit the animals and the land.

Ratcliff feels indebted to many people who helped her learn how to farm. Brett Chedzoy, Schuyler County Senior Resource Educator with the Cornell Cooperative Extension, was instrumental in teaching her the theory as well as the practical "how-to's" of MIRG.
Mary-Howell and Klaas Martens of Lakeview Organic Grains in Penn Yan are supportive friends and mentors. But she is grateful most of all, she says, for her next door neighbor, retired farmer Nelson Pratt.

Ratcliff and Adam are feeling more confident than ever their farm will go on being successful in the future. They have 110 breeding ewes, 150 to 200 laying hens, four Scottish Highland cattle, three guardian dogs (and four cats). Each year they raise about 60 pigs, 2,000 broiler chickens and 200 peking ducks.

Within the coming years the couple hopes to expand their operation and use more of the forest land.

Ratcliff says she has not yet found a way to share her architectural inventions with others. She wishes there were a clearinghouse or organization where this kind of information could be shared.

The farm welcomes visitors. Just call ahead for a tour or to buy eggs, chicken, pork, duck, and lamb.