Tag Archives: Dairy farms

Let’s talk about dairy farms

Join us to learn more about the key role dairy farms play in Maine’s agricultural landscape. See MFT’s new short video about the Dostie Farm, a multi-generational dairy farm in Skowhegan, and hear from a panel of your local dairy farmers that include: Egide Dostie II, Dostie Farm (Fairfield and Skowhegan; Brad Santy, Santy Dairy (Skowhegan); and Jim Hilton, Hilton Farms (Norridgewock). We’ll have light snacks and beer will be available for purchase for those 21+. Free and open to all ages!

Skowhegan’s Community of Protected Farms

Protecting farmland with agricultural conservation easements is a core part of our work at MFT. One thing we consider when protecting a farm property is whether there are other protected farms in the area. Ideally, we aim to create communities of protected farmland to help foster long-term farm viability by protecting the support network that farms rely on. In Skowhegan, a community of six protected farms exemplifies this goal to create clusters of protected, working farmland, and the benefits of doing so.

In 2002, MFT completed its first agricultural conservation easement on Brick Farm, a 130-acre farm in Skowhegan owned by the Hastings family. Brick Farm overlooks the valley of Wesserunsett Stream, several miles above its confluence with the Kennebec River. In MFT’s first newsletter, we stated, “With its prime soils, carefully tended woodlots, and proximity to other working farms, this easement is an important start in protecting the working landscape of the area.”

Today, MFT holds six conservation easements in Skowhegan, totaling 1,253 acres, with additional protected farms in surrounding towns. In 2016, Tricia Rouleau, MFT’s Farmland Protection Project Manager covering Somerset County, worked with farmer Tim Hewett to protect the 329-acre Hewett Farm, where Tim produces beef, hay, wood products and maple syrup. That same year, the Dostie family worked with MFT to protect their 210-acre dairy farm in Skowhegan (and later went on to protect their two farm properties in neighboring Fairfield). Rouleau explains that,  “In this case, the easement funds played a role in helping a younger generation take over operation of the farm, and in helping the farm transition the operation from beef to organic dairy. Dostie Farm was a conventional dairy for many years, transitioned to beef for several years, and is now an organic dairy. This is a great example of how farm families in this region and across the state are adapting to the changing market to keep their farms viable, and how easements can help in that process.”

This year, MFT closed on three more conservation easements in Skowhegan. Oster Farm is a 50-acre hay farm adjacent to Hewett Farm. Tim Hewett hays the fields. Grassland Farm, a 280-acre property owned by Dirt Capital Partners, and Santy Dairy, a 208-acre organic dairy owned by farmer Brad Santy were also protected. Santy is a fifth-generation dairy farmer and sells milk to Organic Valley. In addition to his own farm, Santy also leases Grassland Farm, with hopes of purchasing it in the next few years, and works the fields at Brick Farm. Santy says he decided to protect his farmland because “if we don’t, then who will? I would rather grow food than houses.”

Beyond preserving the land base for farming, creating communities of protected farms fosters a strong support system for farming. These farms are interconnected in so many ways– hay and corn grown on one farm are used by a neighboring farm for feed; farmers manage fields on other properties; they support each other through personal relationships and practical help. Other agricultural businesses thrive in communities with more working farms, providing critical services that further increase the viability of the farms and sustain the rural economy.

“Skowhegan and surrounding towns are part of the larger farm belt of central Maine. There are many long-standing, productive family farms that are very active and important to both the local economy in general and agriculture, specifically. By protecting these farms with agricultural conservation easements and by working with these and other farms in the area, we can support the future of agriculture here”, notes Nina Young, Project Development Specialist and Designated Broker for Maine Farms Realty. MFT hopes to build more of these communities of protected farms in other areas throughout the state of Maine.

Forgotten Farms at Railroad Square Cinema, Waterville

Join us at Railroad Square Cinema in Waterville on Wednesday, May 24th at 7:15 pm for Forgotten Farms, a new film about the important role dairy farms play in New England’s farming landscape.

Dairy farmers remain the backbone of the region’s agriculture but fight for survival in an age of artisan cheese and kale. New England has lost over 10,000 dairy farms in the past 50 years; about 2,000 farms remain. Through conversations with farmers and policy experts, Forgotten Farms reconsiders the role of these vital but forgotten farmers, who will be essential players in an expanded agricultural economy.

Amanda Beal of MFT, Dave Colson of MOFGA, along with the film makers and Maine dairy farmers, will discuss how the themes of the film are present in Maine’s dairy industry today and where we can go from here.

Presented by Maine Farmland Trust & MOFGA

$5 suggested donation.

Forgotten Farms at Johnson Hall, Gardiner

Join us at Johnson Hall, Gardiner on Tuesday, May 23rd at 6:30 pm for Forgotten Farms, a new film about the important role dairy farms play in New England’s farming landscape.

Dairy farmers remain the backbone of the region’s agriculture but fight for survival in an age of artisan cheese and kale. New England has lost over 10,000 dairy farms in the past 50 years; about 2,000 farms remain. Through conversations with farmers and policy experts, FORGOTTEN FARMS reconsiders the role of these vital but forgotten farmers, who will be essential players in an expanded agricultural economy.

Amanda Beal of MFT, Dave Colson of MOFGA, along with the film makers and Maine dairy farmers, will discuss how the themes of the film are present in Maine’s dairy industry today and where we can go from here.

Presented by Maine Farmland Trust & MOFGA

$5. suggested donation.

Forgotten Farms at Space Gallery, Portland

Join us at Space Gallery, Portland on Monday, May 22nd at 7:00 pm, (doors at 6:30) for Forgotten Farms, a new film about the important role dairy farms play in New England’s farming landscape.

Dairy farmers remain the backbone of the region’s agriculture but fight for survival in an age of artisan cheese and kale. New England has lost over 10,000 dairy farms in the past 50 years; about 2,000 farms remain. Through conversations with farmers and policy experts, FORGOTTEN FARMS reconsiders the role of these vital but forgotten farmers, who will be essential players in an expanded agricultural economy.

Amanda Beal of MFT, Dave Colson of MOFGA, along with the film makers and Maine dairy farmers, will discuss how the themes of the film are present in Maine’s dairy industry today and where we can go from here.

$5. suggested donation.

Presented by Maine Farmland Trust, MOFGA, and the Portland Food Co-op.

Dairy Farm in Transition: Fletcher Farm

Another in our series about dairy farmers in Maine. In many ways, dairy farms are the cornerstone of Maine’s farming community.  Dairy farmers steward large tracts of farmland for feed and forage, while supporting the feed stores, equipment retailers, and large animal vets that all Maine farms rely upon. Of the 400,000 acres of farmland that will be in transition over the course of the next decade, we anticipate that a large percentage of that land is currently in dairy farming. What will happen to that land, and the infrastructure and communities it supports?
 
While farming in Maine is growing in many ways, Maine’s dairy industry has not seen the same kind of growth. Young dairy farmers are few and far between, often deterred by low milk prices and high start-up costs. Those who have bucked the trend and have decided to become either first-generation dairy farmers or to continue their family’s farm, have an important role to play in ensuring that dairy farms remain the foundation of Maine’s farming landscape.
“Make hay while the sun shines” is something everyone says, but it’s a literal reality for dairy farmers. The first time I visited Walter and Austin Fletcher of Fletcher Farm in Pittsfield, Austin was cutting grass in the fields until dark, racing against the disappearing autumn daylight. Because it’s been such a dry summer, dairy farmers who rely on productive pastures that have been struggling to make a second or third cut before fall sets in, and the hustle for hay (and very few rainy rest days) means that it’s rare to catch father and son Walter and Austin in the same place at the same time.
While Austin cut hay, Walter gave me a tour of the farm. The barn is outfitted with the Cabot logo, easily recognizable with the signature red and black checkered background. While walking around the farm and watching the evening milking, I was struck by how orderly and calm the farm is. All the cows were resting or munching contently in their quiet spaces, each one set up specifically for each group of cows, depending on age, health, and milking/fertility stage of life. The Fletchers take good care of their herd, from the calves up through the older cows, the latter of which are housed close to the barn for comfort and accessibility. Everything on the farm is done without fanfare, but with a tremendous amount of respect and care for the animals that produce the farm’s lifeblood: milk.
Walter and his wife Edna bought 500 acres in Pittsfield in 1980 and started Fletcher Farm. Walter grew up on a dairy farm in Massachusetts and he can’t imagine a different path. “I really think that [farming] chose me,” said Walter. “At first it was a dream that we made real. Than a challenge to be successful not just as a business because farming is more than business it’s a way of life.” He and Edna raised three children on the farm. Austin, the youngest son, left for school and worked elsewhere for awhile but has since come back to join the business. Right now, the father and son team work together as partners in the LLC, from before sun up (morning milking starts at 3:30am) to sundown; the plan is for Austin to gradually take over the farm as Walter slowly transitions away from full-time farming.

Though Austin grew up on a dairy farm, he wasn’t always sure it was what he wanted to do for a living. “There was a time in high school when I definitely wanted nothing to do with it,” he said. “I didn’t hate it, but I didn’t think I wanted to do it.” But after leaving Maine and working other jobs and on other farms, Austin felt the pull pack to his roots. At 33, he’s happy to be back in Pittsfield, working alongside his dad and preparing to continue the family business. “There is a personal satisfaction,” said Walter, “a sense of accomplishment, when your children look at what you have done and see something worthwhile. And when one of them says to you ‘I see what you’ve done and I would like to be a part of it, to build on it and carry it forward,’ it is the greatest compliment that I could receive. It makes me very proud.”

Dairy farming is a tough business. Luckily, Austin isn’t starting from scratch; he’s building on the strong foundation laid by his dad. When he’s not engaged in farm work, Walter is involved in making sure that farming has a future throughout Maine, and is an active board member of Maine Farmland Trust, Agri-Mark and Cabot Creamery Cooperative. Though sitting on various boards means adding a lot of travel and meeting time onto his already full farming schedule, it’s important to him to be involved and work with the wider farming community. As Treasurer for Agri-Mark, Walter represents the concerns and interest of over 1,000 dairy farms and farming families. It’s a responsibility he takes very seriously, evident in his measured, respectful tone when he speaks about everything from the way Agri-Mark works to the way they organize their cows on the farm.
There are challenges ahead for Maine’s dairy industry as farmers retire and land changes hands. Dairy farms like Fletcher Farm that are transferring to the next generation and staying in the family, are increasingly in the minority. But despite an uncertain future, Walter and Austin are hopeful, and doing all that they can to ensure that dairy remains a key part of Maine’s farming landscape.

Young Dairy Farmers: Bo Lait

This is another story in our series about young dairy farmers in Maine. In many ways, dairy farms are the cornerstone of Maine’s farming community.  Dairy farmers steward large tracts of farmland for feed and forage, while supporting the feed stores, equipment retailers, and large animal vets that all Maine farms rely upon. Of the 400,000 acres of farmland that will be in transition over the course of the next decade, we anticipate that a large percentage of that land is currently in dairy farming. What will happen to that land, and the infrastructure and communities it supports?

While farming in Maine is growing, Maine’s dairy industry has not seen the same growth. The younger generation who are choosing to be dairy farmers are few and far between, often deterred by low milk prices and high start-up costs. Those who have bucked the trend and have decided to become either first-generation dairy farmers or to continue their family’s farm, have an important role to play in ensuring that dairy farms remain the foundation of Maine’s farming landscape.

While their decision to become dairy farmers was relatively easy, being dairy farmers is anything but. Without a background in dairy farming, their learning curve has been steep, and making it work is a constant challenge. “There’s so much to know when you’re running a farm. You’re a vet, plumber, carpenter, accountant, manager, electrician, mechanic… the list goes on. Most dairy farmers we know still claim to have only learned the tip of the iceberg, even with decades of experience under their belts. It’s no exaggeration to say we learn something new everyday, whether we want to or not.”

Luckily, Conor is no stranger to intense work, and feels uniquely equipped to take on the challenge. He says his experience in the Special Forces set the standard for the type of work ethic and drive necessary to start a farm from the ground up. “The biggest challenge is finding enough hours in the day to get things done,” said Conor. “Also prioritizing work and realizing that the biggest “fires” are the most important to put out first. Managing cash flow is also a big challenge on a dairy because the expenses are very high and the margins are small.”

Conor and Alexis sell their certified organic fluid milk to Organic Valley, a cooperative based in Wisconsin. “We were very lucky in that Organic Valley was looking to add new farms at the time we started, so we were able to sign our contract with them 6 months prior to our first shipment date.”

Right now they’re milking 38 of their 46 cows. “We’ve grown quite a bit over the last year and we think we’ll stay put at this herd size for a while. It feels manageable without being too crazy.” Their milk pool manager at Organic Valley has been a great resource for them as they’ve grown, and a great advocate as well.

The support network they’ve grown around them helps to temper the challenges  running a dairy farm, and the MacDonalds are thankful for the many people that pitch in, in all kinds of ways: “Between our co-op, other local farmers, family, friends and our wonderful, PATIENT neighbors who come over with a smile when the heifers have gotten out again,” said Conor, “I don’t think we could ask for more.”

Young Dairy Farmers: The Milkhouse

In many ways, dairy farms are the cornerstone of Maine’s farming community.  Dairy farmers steward large tracts of farmland for feed and forage, while supporting the feed stores, equipment retailers, and large animal vets that all Maine farms rely upon. Of the 400,000 acres of farmland that will be in transition over the course of the next decade, we anticipate that a large percentage of that land is currently in dairy farming. What will happen to that land, and the infrastructure and communities it supports? Continue reading…

The Milkhouse

Securing a Future for Farming: Meet Andy and Caitlin of The Milkhouse

The Milkhouse, South Monmouth

While farming in Maine is growing, the dairy industry is in decline. Caitlin Frame, Andy Smith and their son Linus are among the few young dairy farming families that are working against that trend, employing new strategies to make small-scale dairy farming viable.

The cost of starting a dairy operation, which requires more land and infrastructure than the average vegetable farm, is a huge obstacle for young farmers looking to get into the dairy business. Caitlin and Andy spent several years working on farms and establishing a successful yogurt and bottled milk business before finding the perfect farm — through Maine FarmLink– to grow their farm business. The 280-acre property included much of the infrastructure they needed, and ample pasture, but was more expensive than they could afford. MFT purchased an easement on the property. This made the land more affordable and reduced the amount of money the couple needed to borrow for their mortgage.

Help MFT close out our Securing a Future for Farming Campaign. Your gift to MFT means that more farmers will be able to access farmland and support services, more local food will get into the hands of Mainers who need it most, and more farmland will be protected for the future as well as available to support the growing local food economy today. Help grow the future of farming. Donate to MFT today!