I grew up in a small town where everyone used to have a dairy farm. Each tract of land could be linked to family that used to milk cows. By the time I was growing up my family’s dairy was the last one in town. It is interesting to be a new dairy farmer in a town where everyone of a certain age remembers their own life as a farm kid or the heartbreak of selling the family land. Often what people say to me is a proud explanation, “It’s in your blood.” I think it’s true.
My grandfather bought our farm and started dairying in the 1930’s. He bred excellent Holsteins that all trace back to one cow, Chaseholm Segis Pontiac. In 1975 my father took over the farm and began his own legacy of expert herdsmanship that my childhood benefitted from. I grew up in the typical way for a Dutchess County farm kid: showing cows at the fair, fitting contests, 4-H, FFA, milking, fixing fence, feeding calves and making hay.
I always took life with the cows really seriously. I loved knowing each of them and I loved the way that people in our dairy community could share and honor that sense of pride for working hard and appreciating quality cows. In many ways it has been the cows that invited me into a dairy farming life.
I have often wondered who I would be if it weren’t for these animals. Asking made me realize that it wasn’t only the cows. My father retired from dairy farming when I was in college. In that same period he sold the dairy herd and 100 acres of land. Coming back to the farm didn’t mean coming back to chores and the smells of the cows anymore, it meant the land and it meant family. It was hard to lose a part of this property; hard to say goodbye to a herd of cows, hard to feel like our farm – once the last dairy in town – was now just the last one to be sold. When I think of who I am, the first thing I picture is the hayfield across from my parent’s house. I think of the land that I have been so privileged to grow up with, the space and the beauty, the sense of place and safety, and I know what roots feel like. There is no me without Chaseholm Farm and I can tell you that everyone in my family feels the same way.
I took over the family farm in March this year; for the past two years I have been researching, planning, and dreaming about this first season. My goals are to transition our dairy to a grass based system, maximizing our efficiently through Management-intensive Grazing while also making improvements in the land, the plants, the cows and their milk. I provide milk to my brother’s cheese company, The Amazing Real Live Food Co., so I’d like to see my butterfat and protein components rise for him as well as for my future ventures in direct raw milk sales and cultured dairy production. I want to be good to this land and these animals as they have been good to me. I want to build something fulfilling and connected and dairy farming feels like my way to do it.
Thanks to Stonyfield, Profits for the Planet, for funding the 2013 Bootstrap blog series.