The 66th annual New England Green Pastures Awards are set to be presented to six dairy farm families this Friday at the Big E in West Springfield, Mass.
Most of this year's winners are from families that have kept the New England dairy tradition alive for generations. They're diversifying into value-added products; selling through small, branded-milk cooperatives; and starting retail markets. They embrace innovative environmental practices. They volunteer in their communities. Here's a quick peek at each state winner:
Connecticut: Arethusa Farm
Arethusa Farm LLC, Litchfield, Conn., made its name by raising championship show cows. Owners George Malkemus and Anthony Yurgaitis bought the farm in 1999 to save their view, with a plan to bottle milk and make cheese.
Management of their 200-head herd impressed the Green Pastures judges. Arethusa emphasizes cow comfort in its modern facilities through tunnel ventilation, mattresses and high-quality feed. Milk from the herd of Holsteins, Jerseys and Brown Swiss cows goes into yogurt, cheese and ice cream.
Maine: Benson Farm
Land locked, Benson Farm LLC had no way to expand its 75-cow dairy. The Gorham, Maine, business needed a new profitable enterprise to keep the dairy viable, and they found it – composting.
Edward and Rebekah Benson, and Eddie's mother Katherine, still love their cows. Today, however, Benson Farm's composting operation is one of Maine's largest.
Revenue comes from compost sales and organic waste tipping fees.
Food wastes from numerous sources are trucked in and mixed with bedded-pack dairy manure for composting. This spring, they started bagging compost with their own "Surf and Turf," label.
Massachusetts: Hornstra's Dairy Farm
Hornstra's Dairy Farm, Hingham, Mass., is a fourth-generation farm owned and operated by John and Lauren Hornstra. The Hornstras raise their 46-head milking herd of red-and-white Holsteins on a farm bought four years ago in nearby Norwell. Helped by new college graduates, Ethan and Laura Pratt, they've revived the former dairy, bringing unused land and buildings back into production.
Their herd averages 70 pounds and produces milk for their new bottling plant, which went into operation in May. The Hornstras have been delivering milk and other products from their doors to customers' doors for years.
New Hampshire: Parnassus Farm
John Luther has been operating Parnassus Farm in Acworth, N.H., since he was six years old and working for his father, Earl Luther Jr. John and wife Robin milk about 40 head of Jerseys and Holsteins on 210 acres, where they're moving away from corn silage to rely more on rotational grazing.
Paying close attention to milk quality has kept their somatic cell counts consistently below 100,000 – and in quality premiums. They've adopted numerous good environmental practices for their hillside farm.
Rhode Island: Bailey Brook Farm
Rodney Bailey and son Paul partnered 15 years ago to run Bailey Brook Farm at East Greenwich, R.I. The farm is owned by three siblings: Rodney, Gladys Bailey and Priscilla Crofts.
Some milk from their 40-head milking herd of Holsteins and Jerseys is sold as Rhody Fresh, through the seven-member Rhode Island Dairy Farmers Cooperative. They raise hay and corn silage on this 225-acre farm.
Vermont: Gervais Family Farm
Robert and Gisele Gervais of Bakersfield, Vt., head a quintessential family farm with 11 of 15 children involved. Two of their operations milking nearly 2,000 cows are owned with four of their sons. On a third farm owned with four daughters, they milk 80 goats. Together they crop hay and corn on 3,100 acres.
Over the years, they expanded and diversified. In addition to their dairies, they have a 35,000-tap organic sugaring operation and a farm store.
More on these farms in October's American Agriculturist magazine.