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Getting personal with two New England dairies

Liberty Hill Farm
Liberty Hill Farm
Rachel Greenberger

Perched on a gentle hill by the river in central Vermont sits Liberty Hill Farm. Beth and Bob Kennett’s dairy has been here since 1979. They are only the fifth family to work this land since the farm’s founding in 1780.

Family dairies, like other farms, are disappearing across New England in alarming numbers. “When we came here,” explained Beth. “There were 11,000 dairies in Vermont. Now there are less than 900.”

In the dairy industry, as Modern Farmer points out in its Spring Issue, the price ceiling holds down what farmers can earn for fluid milk while feed and fuel costs have inevitably risen – making it hard, “bordering on impossible, to make a profit on milk.”

Beth runs a magnificent farm stay (complete with swoon-worthy, from-scratch breakfast and dinner) to bolster their income. Bob manages the dairy. The Kennetts sell to Cabot, which sends a truck each day to the farm. “If that truck doesn’t come, we have to pour out the milk,” said Beth. “Our holding tank can only keep one day’s worth.”

Closer to home, Doug Stephan of Eastleigh Farm grew up among family dairy farms and has milked cows since he was a boy. An entrepreneur who earned his bread in other industries, Doug loves the land with all his heart and has fought tooth and nail for years to keep Eastleigh alive— staving off foreclosure as recently as last Thursday.

In February, Eastleigh suffered an additional blow when wet snow and ice collected on one of its buildings collapsed the roof, crushing the cows housed beneath. Several were killed instantly; others succumbed to their wounds shortly thereafter.

Framingham rallied around Eastleigh but the rebuild and recovery will take time and precious capital that the farm doesn’t have available. This Examiner felt called to help in whatever small ways she could and so teamed up – across the dinner table – with her husband’s company Food.Stories.Travel. to organize a half-day farm visit showcasing what makes Eastleigh so special while serving as a fundraiser.

As we shake off the final dregs of winter and dare to step outside to meet the world anew, a journey to a farm – a real farm – right in our backyard can be a Rite of Spring. At Liberty Hill Farm and Eastleigh Farm both, we can come face to face with the people who make it possible for us to eat.

Farms are all too often relegated to the periphery of the food conversation. Family farms of all kinds perform a precarious balancing act to stay alive, many on the brink of bankruptcy, barely fueled by a food system that devalues their work. Many farm families live on food stamps, while their hands touch and craft and deliver our food. Costs of innovation are shoved onto them by the corporations that they have no choice but to serve.

In all of our hot urban talk about health and food access and food justice, where are the farmers?

Many hands make light work, the adage goes. Well, the hands that feed us are fewer than 2% of all the hands in our country. Imagine the labor these few hands must do!

If we want to realize the kind of food system that so many of us cry out for – our farmers need to be more than 2% of the conversation.

Please join us at Eastleigh this Sunday. We still have space but ask that you register in advance to attend.

Whatever you do, please step onto a working farm this Spring. It will shift your perspective on your plate.

Wanna talk about it? Tweet me at @businessforfood

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