Black Sheep Hill Farm: Forever Wild
Story by Brian P.J. Cronin
Photo: Courtesy of Black Sheep Hill Farm
It started with the alpacas, which, for Irene Banning, was not the ideal way to start a farm.
“I think Jack was watching a little too much CNBC,” she teased, referring to her husband. “He thought they could be a huggable investment. But I told him that whatever we raised, I needed to be able to wrestle it to the ground.”
The Bannings made the transition from Dutchess County weekenders coming up from New York to full-time residents in 2004, a few years after their son was born. For Irene, who grew up in a rural area outside of Munich, Germany, the move was inevitable. “I’m not a city girl, and I needed to get out,” she said. “And then one thing led to another.” The “one thing” was a house in Stanfordville, and “another” was about 200 acres of land in Pine Plains that the couple bought so they could one day pass it on to their son. For a year and a half, Irene used the land as a place to walk their dogs, which didn’t seem like the most effective use of the land. As to what was the most effective use of the land, the Bannings were able to deduce that at some point, past owners had already figured out which parts of the land would be conducive to farming and raising animals and had cleared out about 60 acres of pasture scattered throughout the property. The rest of the land had been left wild for various reasons, either because of marshes, wetlands or dense undergrowth.