Our family's farm was established in 1939 by my grandfather, Nicolas J. De Maria, a Bronx native with dreams of one day owning a farm. He was pleased when he found a 120 acre farm that was at the very end of Maple Avenue, in Peekskill, NY. My grandmother, Katherine De Maria was not as excited, being she was from the country, (Yorktown heights) and knew she and her family had a lot of hard work to look forward to. However they moved out of the center of Peekskill to the outskirts in 1939 with their two young children, Dolores and John.
They named the farm Hemlock Hill because of all the countless Hemlock trees. They continued as a dairy farm, with an apple orchard, just as the last owners did. With the help of a few farm hands, they would bring the milk to the Van Cortlandt Dairy on Constant Avenue in Peekskill, and sell the apples to the cider mill on Maple Avenue. During that same time they would plow, bale hay, and plant corn for the surrounding neighbors.
By the late 1950’s most of the neighbors began to sell to developers. My grandfather was determined to continue farming until he became fatally ill. In 1957 my father, John received an honorable discharge from the US Army in order to return home to operate the family farm. With his skills as a farm boy and his knowledge from Cornell University he was ready to take charge. He began raising hogs and selling them to the market. By 1975 he decided to build a butcher shop on the farm and sell his products direct. My parents, Rita and John, had 4 girls (lucky them) Christina, Katie, Lisa and Laura.
My sisters and I grew up on the farm. We spent a lot of time with our grandmother. She had a strong appreciation for the land and all that it had to offer her family. She gave us many chores around the farm and a rhyme and a reason for everything! She instilled in us the importance of family, history, and cooking delicious, wholesome food! When the pressure continued for her to sell, she did everything in her power to hold on to the farm her husband was once so in love with. In 2002 when she passed away my father continued to farm the land just as he did all his life. Constantly facing uncertainties, it was hard at times to keep going. He continued to approach the county with the idea of preservation, something he and my grandmother did in the past, but never seemed to get any interest.
In 2005 it was as if Westchester county along with the state of New York finally realized what it means to have 120 acres of open space in a rapid developing area. One that is also in the nyc watershed district. We got their attention and our farm will be preserved forever. Upove is a picture of Governor Pataki and my family here at our farm taken in May of 2005. Some say we're “lucky” to have such a beautiful farm, however we’re certain it wasn’t luck that got us where we are. I am so grateful for my family before me. Because of their dream, hard work, and faith we are able to continue farming today.
-Laura De Maria
Third Generation HHF