Grand Island’s eggman and other farm tales

One of the issues that I’ve been focusing on as a small-town journalist is agriculture. Grand Island, in the past, was a farming community. In the nineteenth century, Lewis F. Allen, for whom Allentown in Buffalo is named, started an experimental farm on the southern tip of Grand Island, called Allenton Farms. He raised cattle and he planted orchards and vineyards. He became well-known for the work that he did with shorthorn cattle. According to a website called, Mr. Allen planted a large number of fruit trees. The trees that he planted were:

  • 2,000 apple
  • 1,000 pear
  • 600 quince
  • 300 plum
  • 200 peach

He introduced the bartlett pear to Buffalo in 1851.

Over the years, Grand Island became less rural and more suburban. People, however, still like to call Grand Island a “rural community.”

Unfortunately, despite the presence of a “right to farm” law in the town code, Grand Island has been extremely restrictive of farming activities. In fact, Grand Island has been more restrictive of farming activities than the City of Buffalo. Farmers were receiving notices from the town saying that, for them to continue their work, they would have to apply for zoning variances.

One of these farmers is Tom Thompson. He is a retired laboratory technician, who moved to Grand Island so that he could have space to own a farm. He has chickens and, in the past, he had hogs. I buy all of my eggs from Tom. As you can see in the picture above, they are lovely brown eggs. I am happy to buy the eggs directly from the farmer, instead of in the supermarket, where they might have been stored for a long time.

Last year, he also grew sweet corn and field corn in the pasture behind his barn. In September 2015, Tom received a letter from the Town of Grand Island informing him that he has chickens and that he had to pay $100 to apply for a zoning variance.

Tom’s property has been farmed for generations. A previous owner, Carl Kaegebein, who passed away in 1994, had 10,000 chickens on the same property. He owned the land from 1941 until 1969. In 1961, an egg handling device that he invented was patented. The person to whom he sold the farm, Paul McCarthy, raised show horses.

Tom and other Island farmers got together and formed a cooperative. They then applied to join one of Erie County’s fourteen agricultural districts. Being part of the agricultural district would shield members from unreasonable and overly restrictive local laws.

Yesterday, the Erie County Legislature voted in favor of all of the farms that the Erie County Agricultural and Farmland Protection Board had recommended be included in the Amherst Agricultural District. The state will then certify these farms for eight years. 

Tom Thompson’s farm is one of the farms that is to be included in the agricultural district. His work in support of agriculture was recognized by the New York State Farm Bureau. In December, he was given the James Quinn Award for service to agriculture during 2015.

He has plans for his farm and for agriculture in Grand Island. He talked about a farm store or a farmers market for Grand Island farmers to sell their produce. 

Foods that could be sold at a Grand Island farmers market would include eggs, garlic, vegetables (beets, swiss chard, sweet corn, tomatoes, squash, and more), honey, sausage, and maple syrup.

“We could have a little self-sufficient community that provides all of this cool stuff at market,” Tom said.

note: you can find me on Twitter at @alicesbears.

5 thoughts on “Grand Island’s eggman and other farm tales”

  1. So glad he is able to farm again! Nothing better than to shop at a local Farmer's Market. I love the bumper stickers, "If you don't like farmers, don't eat"

  2. That's great! My grandmother kept chickens for as long as I can remember, she always has their eggs in her fridge. I always thought that was so cool.

  3. When I hear of things like this I often wonder if we have our priorities around the wrong way. Farming is a dying art. Communities should be encouraging people to farm and grow their own produce rather than making it difficult. Imagine how much our health would improve if we all had access fresh food rather than processed junk! I am glad that this case worked out in favour of the farmer. 🙂

  4. I agree with all of you. When you know the source of your food, you are better off. It is better for your health and better for the environment. In downtown Buffalo, there is a wonderful farmers market that is held from April until October. It is held twice a week. During the summer, it's fun to go because there is also outdoor musical performances and food trucks! That will be a summertime blog topic!

  5. Hi Alice, I was looking for a connect tab but couldn't find it.

    Congratulations, I have nominated you for the Sunshine Blogger Award because of your excellent blog and outstanding photographs!

    These are the rules Sunshine Blogger Award:

    Thank the person who nominated you.

    Answer the 11 questions you’ve been asked.

    Nominate 11 other bloggers, making sure to let each one know that they are nominated.

    Ask the nominees 11 questions.

    I was nominated by Lee-Anne from UBC and you can read all the info on my blog post:

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