it’s been 34 years that my friend and neighbor has been opening and closing each day milking his small mixed herd of cows. before he tended his own dairy, he milked his father’s herd. he is well into his 50’s, so milking has defined his whole life. the doors closed on his dairy up the road last week.
i have read countless tales of the decline of the family run dairy. i have cried over stories of families finally succumbing to the pressures of a centralized, industrialized, food system that by no means favors the small farmer. this time, it hit a bit closer to home.
we first met these folks within months of moving to our farm. another neighbor indicated that the dairy farm up the road might be a good source of manure for our emerging vegetable operation. we were both thrilled and disappointed to hear they used their manure. hmmm, we might have found some like-minded farmers around here.
our respect and friendship has grown over the years and we have heard firsthand of the impact of dropping milk prices and ever-increasing cost of inputs. their devotion to their occupation is awesome and often unfathomable, the financial reality of running their farm has long since not made sense, last week, with a looming mandatory flat rate fee imposed by the milk hauler, the scales finally tipped. within days the trailers were there picking up their livestock.
we have been milking here for a mere 8 years (if you include milking goats you can add a couple more ). i have seen countless individuals arrive on the farm committed, dreamy with the lure of daily milking. i have seen just as many abandon that same ritual once reality sunk in. no sleep ins, no sundays off, no snow days.
i am confident on whatever path he chooses, the lessons learned through an unwaivering daily commitment will strengthen him.
i am not sure why i am even writing this post, i don’t have time to do the research, share with you the astounding numbers, fill this page with fact after fact about the direction food and farming is heading in our country. i suspect most of you have some version of that information already. this is just my story and the story of my neighbor. to tell the truth, i suspect these dairy farmers might just be better off. they lean awkwardly in the direction of a far more sustainable and supportive system of agriculture. now, finally released from a system that was hardly nourishing and barely paying the bills, they are free to explore these other options. i hope, once through this transition, they will embrace a community that more truly supports their life’s hard work. for now, i am thankful to know them and to experience the highs and lows of another small farm. for these kind of neighbors are rare, i am truly lucky.