July 24, 2013 § 11 Comments

The boys, overlooking Melvin's farm after driving his cows down for evening milking

The boys, overlooking Melvin’s farm after driving his cows down for evening milking

We live smack-dab between two dairy farms. Just to our south, with his primary hayfield sharing our boundary line, is Melvin’s place. Melvin is in his 60’s; he mostly farms alone, with some help from his live-in girlfriend. He milks about 35 cows. He grew up on a farm in this town, and with the exception of a handful of years, has been milking cows his whole life. We keep a freezer in his basement, collect his waste milk for our pigs. I see him almost every day. I know he’s thinking about what comes next. He can’t milk cows forever, though knowing Melvin, he just might try.

Just to our north, Jimmy and Sara milk a herd of about 60. They are in their 20’s, and recently had their first child, a daughter. In addition to milking, they run a 2500-tap sugaring operation, plow driveways, sell firewood, do some tractor logging, and pretty much anything else you can imagine. Last summer, they got married in the barn, above the milk room. They had a one-day honeymoon, and it was the only day off they had all year. Like Melvin, I see them almost every day.

I would not want to milk cows for a living. I know it to be hard and uncertain work. But I hope I always live in the proximity of dairy farmers, who seem to embody the antitheses of these attributes. In my experience, they are kind and generous, and some of the most certain, confident people I know.

Does the work make them that way? Or are they uniquely suited to survive the work because they were born like that? I have no idea, but in truth I hope it’s neither, if only because that would leave open the possibility that I might still come to embody more of these qualities, myself.



§ 11 Responses to Neighbors

  • Kent says:

    GREAT shot of Fin and Rye overlooking Melvin’s farm! In spite of living just outside Boston, I really feel that I am truly growing in community with your unique family, Melvin, Jimmy & Sara, and a way of life that brings unique growth and fulfillment. Thanks Ben!

  • Tonya says:

    Mike just went the four miles down our gravel road to fill up our milk jugs – I know the conversation will linger with the farmer – I love how the smaller dairy farmers never seem to be in a hurry – something to learn from them I think.

  • MamaAshGrove says:

    I’ll bet it is a combination of both- you’d have to be a naturally kind and generous person to live that life, I’d think. And also, caring for the animals who rely on you so very much, you’d build up an awful lot of compassion too. I imagine it would change your perspective on many things.

    I have to ask, that photo must be from last fall? You don’t have foliage like that yet, do you?

  • Curt says:

    I live next to a really small dairy farmer here in Costa Rica, just enough milk for friends and family but he’s out there milking every morning.

  • sally p. says:

    I live in an agricultural area of an agricultural state. One thing I’ve noticed is that those who raise animals, either alone or alongside crops, tend to fit this description. But the farmers who only produce crops tend to be…well, not all that friendly, kind, personable, etc. And I say this as the daughter of a farmer-wannabe (both sets of grandparents did farm, however) who did not keep livestock due to zoning issues. So now my family does both, albeit on a very small scale, so as to restore balance to the universe. ;) Anyone else notice a demeanor contrast amongst those raising crops vs. livestock?

    • Aaron says:

      Absolutely. Grain farmers are a world apart (to the bad) from livestock farmers. It has to be the husbandry. I grew up in central IL on a sheep/hog farm w/small acreage and there is a 180 degree difference in my view. Livestock people are far more helpful and generous.

  • Dawn says:

    As someone who hopes to have a dairy cow for family use one day, I will keep these attributes in mind and try to cultivate them. I think children have definitely helped me slow down both in action and in thought. How can I be in a hurry if my boy is sitting in the grass hugging a chicken in his lap? What is more important than witnessing that kind of joy? Perhaps that is the best gift of farming – the rhythm of that life is very counter to what most humans experience. It cannot be rushed and all things happen in their own time. Those who fight that do seem to be unhappy and don’t keep farming long.
    Beautiful picture of your boys! With such a gorgeous setting, I’m afraid I would be so unhurried I wouldn’t get anything productive done. You certainly have your own little piece of heaven up there. Thanks for the post!

  • Chris says:

    if what comes next for melvin is a for sale sign, i’d be interested to hear what he’s askin for it. not saying I’d move. we planted our trees, right? but like thureau talks about – he’s lived on all the farms around concord. well, sometimes I like to live other places too like that. maybe you’re looking to grow your place though?

  • […] work hard (though I’m keen to point out, not nearly as hard as the good people I wrote about yesterday). Over just the past few days, I think of haying: 95 degrees and humid as a submarine with an open […]

  • […] I mentioned briefly a few posts back, living between two dairy farms has proven to be one of the greatest unanticipated and unplanned […]

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