Monday, April 16, 2012


 There is so much going on here that I hardly know where to start. The days are over-full with projects and field work and exciting new crazy happenings. Our crew arrived and began work on April 2nd and we are over the moon with gratitude and excitement about working the farm season together with them. Already, I am finding their confidence, wisdom, flexibility and willingness to dig in and give new things a try a true pleasure and an asset to the farm. Each year, as we work with a new crew, the first few weeks of learning about each other and showing folks around the farm and all it has to offer reminds me why I love what we do. I feel hopeful. But sometimes, I stand in the barn, my wheels spinning and no traction....not sure what's next, who needs me, if the  kids have been fed and whether or not I brushed my teeth before I hosted that morning meeting with someone or other. Either way, its this time of the year we get a call from a former intern, telling us about their new farming venture, the field they just plowed up and the start of their season. It is with these calls and the presence of folks on the farm that want to learn that I am reminded our work is right and the future of farming is bright. I'm an optimist at heart.

Even an optimist has a hard day. We sent our beloved dairy cow to the butcher after many failed attempts to breed her and get her to freshen. This is dairy-speak for getting her to have a calf so that her lactation cycle would restart and we could once again have fresh milk. In the world of food production, even for the parts of the farm that are not commercial enterprises like our family cow, we need to be conscious that we don't spend more than we have to raise food, milk included. Keeping a cow can be expensive, especially if you are feeding her and going to the store to buy a carton of milk. Making the hard decision to move on is hard, heartbreaking in fact, but part of the cycle of our farm.

We woke early and loading our Lucy on the trailer, and said a tearful goodbye. After dropping her off (yes, at the butcher) we headed over the mountains to the Northeast Kingdom of Vermont to Fred Fletcher's farm in the hills of Jeffersonville. The drive was gorgeous, the rain was falling and the mountains were stunning.

 Three across in the pick-up, we sang songs, told stories and wondered all the way there what it would be like, who we would meet and if our new cows would be as lovely as our old one.

Fred's place was nestled in the hills, down a long dirt road. The farm was beautiful. The herd was beautiful and the farmer, Fred, appeared to be one of the hardest working folk I've ever met. Milking at 10AM and 10PM, his days are long. His herd of Jersey and Ayrshire cows where a wonderful site. I think Fred measured in at about 5'2" but I think he was originally more like 5'6". He spoke of being tired. Tired of low milk prices, tired of the dying art of milking a small herd of cows. He had hoped some young farmer might come along and want to take over his business. He had hoped his children and grandchildren might want to farm. Instead, he is selling his herd. Probably, down the road, his equipment, and someday, to afford retirement, his land. This story is real. This is the fate of farms all throughout New England. HE can't find the most effective way to get the word out and bring someone into the fold. It's a good life, farming. But we all want to see our legacy, our life's work continue.

All the work to breed cows for a strong herd, manage pastures for premium grass and develop systems to produce a premium product, milk with a big cream line and for what.

When the cows and equipment are gone, Fred and his wife get tucked in to some other living arrangement, the old place might get lucky: a nice young family comes along and buys the property, renovates the house and barn and buys a few cows to milk.

Wouldn't it be better if someone would come along right now and transition the business, continue milking this fine herd, let Fred ease out of the barn at his pace, and maintain the legacy that has been created?

 I found myself in tears as we drove away. The thought of all that work, all that potential, torn apart before it can  be built up again.

Fred talked to us, introduced us to all the cows, shared his joy and sorrow and gave our new family cow a big hug on the way into the trailer.

(no, not either of these gorgeous ladies...) (the next one... "149")

149, the cow we bought (Fred said he stopped giving them names and went to numbers at about 100 cows) is now called Clementine. Her calf also came with us, but is yet unnamed. (It takes awhile in these parts to decide on things as important as a name.)

Fred was anxious to sell Clementine, or 149, as a family cow (or as he put it, "house-cow") because she is tiny. She was a runt to start out with but then she got loose with a bull a little too early. Far and away the scrawniest cow in the herd, Fred knew that she would bring the rest of the herd down in value were he to show some prospective buyer 149 alongside her kin. So she had to go, if not to us then likely the rendering truck or the butcher for low quality burger. It kind of reminds us of our hard decision to send Lucy off... and maybe "saving" Clementine-- and witnessing the priorities of a real dairy farmer, eases our minds about sending an infertile cow away.
And all of it-- this ending, and beginning, the difficulty and grace of transition keeps me thinking of Fred, and his business... can't some young landless farmer find him; make the connection? Someone who will help him
 milk his cows, take over his business, offer him a gentle, dignified exit from all his hard work. Back at our place, the old Meserve Farm, now Broadturn Farm, our crew of interns greet us with the new addition. Fred raised a sweet cow, and though she's small, Clementine-149, still makes plenty of tasty milk and has the calmest temperament of any cow we've milked. Great for learning how to milk. Thanks Fred Fletcher for all you've done.

Blessings on the meal-


  1. heartbreaking but so beautifully told.
    we see the same thing here but we're the young, enthusiastic farmer's, chomping at the bit to apprentice and take over the old timers farm. so far nothing has been the perfect fit but one day soon, i'm sure we'll find it.
    thank you for sharing this story!~e

  2. I agree, so beautifully told, it brought a tear to my eye. Clementine looks like a sweet girl.

  3. Beautifully told - I hope someone continues Fred's legacy.

  4. thank you so much for sharing, as hard as it was to read & not start crying...we so need to hear more of these stories, what farmers are going through, right now. i hope someone special does continue this farm ~

  5. That last photo, together with the story - just so so sad. A classic tale of trading locally-grown foods made with care by our neighbors and friends for cheap, low-quality, anonymously-produced crap. We're fighting a good fight, those of us who are farming and selling foods locally. An uphill battle, but so worthwhile. Thank you for sharing, and helping to educate people about the far-reaching impact of their edible choices.

  6. So sad that he doesn't have someone to take the farm over and learn from him...

    Congrats on the new cow!

  7. My family farms in central Maine and I've seen this story play out so many times, even in my own family. It's heartbreaking. This was so beautifully written!

    There needs to be a community service organization that helps aging farmers transition their farms to new and well-matched owners because I know there are families like yours who value the farming way of life, all over the place, and they just need to find the right farm for them and receive the benefit of some guidance for a few years.

  8. Such a beautiful profession. I know at some point we'll get a milking cow and I will now forever have this story etched in my mind. Clementine sounds wonderful!

  9. This afternoon my daughter was telling me how stuck and frustrated her good friends are because they cannot afford to buy a farm and they are dying to get there. Why can't the young couples be interns until the farmer is ready to opt out? Then the banks could see that loans to those folks are based on good training, commitment and have a community at their backs. It is just not enough these days. Seems like the best collateral to me.

  10. Thank you so much for sharing Fred's story. We shed a few tears throughout because we grew up on a dairy farm, and witnessed our dad going through much of what Fred is going through. At that time, it was better for him to take a government buy out than to continue to struggle against low milk prices.
    We are blessed that we have been able to keep our fifth-generation family farm in our family, and in the past few years transitioned to sheep.
    We hope that Fred and that special someone find each other and his legacy continues.
    Thanks, again, for sharing his story.

  11. Such a sad and lovely story all at the same time Stacy. My heart aches to be back in VT and now I am dreaming of Fred's farm being my own...wouldn't that just be perfect. So glad to have found your blog here as I miss seeing you smiling face in a different "life"

  12. As many of the other comments have said, heartbreaking story, beautifully told. My husband, children and I began a small family goat farm last year. We are one of those "young" families who would love to learn and be able to continue the legacy of a life built on the land and its husbandry. Perhaps, in time, we'll leave our children with a legacy of their own. Thank you for writing your blog. It is one of my favorites.

    Sonja Twombly of