Falling in Love with Farming
It was 20 years ago this past summer when Melissa Breene Jordan fell in love with dairy farming.
She was 14, and her father, Kevin Breene, told his daughter she’d be working full-time with him at Breene Hollow Farm. Her other siblings had other interests, but she spent 24 hours a day, seven days a week with her dad, working the farm.
All that work paid off. Melissa took over the farm two years ago and this year, Breene Hollow Farm was named Rhode Island’s Dairy Farm of the Year as winner of the 2018 Green Pasture Award, given every year to one outstanding dairy farm in each of the New England states. Winners are evaluated on production records; herd, pasture, and crop management; environmental practices; contributions to agriculture and the local community; and overall excellence in dairying.
Like their commitment to dairying, the Green Pasture Award appears to be a Breene family tradition, since the operation won the honor in 1988 and 2009. The dairy farm in West Greenwich was established by Kevin Breene with 20 cows at his parents’ home in 1977. He, too, had fallen in love with dairying after starting to show cows as a 7-year-old, and upon his graduation from the University of Connecticut in 1976, he bought 150 acres of land at the farm’s present location in West Greenwich, and built a barn and milking parlor.
Today, the farm spans 360 acres and the Breene family milks 50 cows, with 90 head in total consisting of registered Holsteins, Jerseys, and Ayrshires. Crops include 20 acres of corn and 45 acres of hay land and pasture.
Kevin Breene continues to do the crop work and cares for the young-stock. Melissa and her husband Matt work the milking operation. Melissa attended the University of Connecticut and Matt has a bachelor’s degree in forestry from Paul Smith College. Like Melissa, Matt also comes from a farming background and grew up working on his grandfather’s dairy farm.
Melissa and Matt do the work equally. “It’s not just me. I could never do it alone with three kids, so I’m grateful we are able to run the farm as a team.”
The third generation is also a major presence on the farm. Melissa and Matt live just down the road and over the state border in Sterling, CT, but she’s always on the job. The couple’s oldest daughter, Kenzie, is a precocious 4-year-old who helps feed the calves. Joining her in the barn along with mom are 1-year-old Sawyer and Kaylie, only one month old.
“I love being able to have my kids with me on the farm,” says Melissa. “And I love being around animals, especially the calves. And my absolute favorite part is when cows give birth. The miracle of life never gets old.”
The entire Breene family is actively involved in the community. Kevin is involved in 4-H, Future Farmers of America (FFA), Exeter Grange, and previously served as state chairman of the USDA’s Agricultural Stabilization and Conservation Service. Melissa is the dairy chair and vice president of the local 4-H Fair and chair of the Young Farmers & Ranchers group for the RI Farm Bureau. She is a former 4-H member, past state vice president of FFA, and past president of Agri-Mark Young Co-operators.
As for the Green Pasture award, Melissa sees it as validation for some of the changes made in the past two years. Although she credits her dad – “He taught me everything I know” — she created a new area for calves, with better footing and cozy hutches, “and they are thriving.”
Melissa is also proud of her work with New England Dairy & Food Council’s outreach to schools through the Fuel Up to Play 60 program.
Fuel Up to Play 60 is the leading in-school nutrition and physical activity program created by the National Dairy Council and the National Football League, in collaboration with USDA, that helps today’s youth lead healthier lives by eating nutrient-rich foods and being active for at least 60 minutes a day. Locally, the program is run by New England Dairy & Food Council and is funded by the dairy farm families of New England, like the Breenes.
Melissa has attended several Fuel Up to Play 60 events in Rhode Island and enjoys being able to connect students to their local farmers.
“The program is a great opportunity for these kids to learn where milk comes from and to meet an actual dairy farmer.”
And who knows? There may be a 14-year-old out there somewhere that discovers that she, just as Melissa, is a dairy farmer-in-the-making.