Why be a Farmer?

The post below is written by Claire Stanley, a dairy farmer who grew up on Paul-Lin Dairy Farm in East Fairfield, Vermont.

Claire with her parents on their farm.

A very thoughtful friend recently gave me Sky Chalmers’s book, Sending Milk, a photographic story about dairy farming.  The book’s introduction by Stephen Kiernan asked the question: Why be a farmer? It seems a simple question, but once you really sit and ponder, it becomes quite  thought provoking.

Asking a farmer why they are a farmer could be compared to asking a cow why she is a cow.  I feel that we are born farmers; it’s in our blood, passed down from one generation to the next.  Farmers are a special breed; tough, weathered, hardworking, and persistent; rising daily before dawn to take on the day.

I was born and raised on a small dairy farm in rural Vermont, so ‘far out’ that we’re almost Canadian citizens.  We are not a typical dairy farm, by any means – there are three major things that are different about our farm. First, we milk about 20 cows, which is considered tiny, even when compared to the average farm size in the state of Vermont. . Secondly, we have no machinery on our farm.   There are no tractors or other large equipment that many people think makes a farm, a farm! And lastly, we farm with Jersey cows – the brown ones. About 99% of the cows producing milk today are Holsteins; the black and white cows that everyone is so familiar with.  But we choose to paddle against the stream and farm with these wonderfully curious brown bovines. More about them in a future post!

I come from generations of farmers on both sides of my family.  I like to say that I was born in the barn, though that’s not actually true, but my mother did milk her cows the night before I came into the world!  Farming has always been a part of my life.  It is my life – there is no telling where one stops and the other begins.  The average person trys to keep work separate from home life to achieve some sort of work-life balance. In the life of a farmer, there is no separation of life and work. Our dining room table is our office. We have ‘company’ meetings over breakfast. We milk our cows on Christmas. It’s impossible to separate the two because they blend so seamlessly together – it’s a lifestyle choice; one filled with responsibility, hard work, dedication, and a little crazy.

There are many reasons to be a farmer, though there may be many more to not be a farmer, but we’ll choose to ignore those.  Here are a few reasons I love farming…The feeling of being the only person in the world awake when you rise before the dawn to milk your cows.  The sound of cows grazing outside your window on a warm summer night with their munch-munch sound lulling you to sleep.  The innocence of a new calf; still wobbly in life and the thrill of the potential that she holds.  The feeling of complete exhaustion in a day of accomplishments that involved decisions based on more math, science, logic, and strength than many do in a week.  The feeling that many, many lives rely on you; not only your cows lives, but the lives of the public you are trying to feed.

I never did the career exploration thing – I knew from very early on in my life that my calling was to farm.  There is a story told at many family gatherings about me approaching my mother at a very young age and stating that Ellen (my sister) and I have decided; when you die, I’m going to get the cows.  To me, farming has never been something to choose – I’ve never chosen to be a farmer. It’s been my life. I was born a farmer.

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