Know Your Farmer

June Dairy Month: A Milk Toast to our Maine Dairy Farmers

June Dairy Month: A Milk Toast to our Maine Dairy Farmers

By Ashley Sears, Esq.,  sponsored member of Maine Dairy Promotion Board’s Moo Squad. There’s nothing more refreshing after a workout or before a restful night’s sleep than a tall, wholesome glass of milk.  This month, we celebrate June Dairy Month and toast to our local Maine dairy farmers.  From grass to glass, Maine farmers focus on the well-being of their dairy cattle by providing them with a nutritious diet, fresh clean water, regular medical care, comfortable and safe living conditions, and most importantly, love.  Dairy farmers are also conscious stewards of the land, working to protect the water, air, and land that surround their farms so future generations may do the same.  In turn, Maine dairy cows provide us with nutrient-rich milk and some of our favorite dairy products, such as cheese, yogurt, and ice cream.  The milk that is produced not only nourishes our bodies, it helps to strengthen our state’s economy by providing local jobs and supporting local businesses. As a fourth-generation dairy farmer, I learned from a young age that there is no vacation, sick, or snow days on the farm.  The health and happiness of our bovines is always our number one priority and the values of hard work, time management, compassion, and team work are instilled early on.  Some of life’s most difficult lessons are also learned on the farm.  With the birth of a new calf comes the joy and the anticipation of that calf growing up to be a strong and healthy member of the herd.  There are also the moments where we experience the loss of one of our favorite cows and feel like we have lost a member of our own family.  All the while, we work tirelessly to provide a life for these cows that we can be proud of, with a passion that is unparalleled. In the state of Maine, there are currently 246 dairy farms.  With increased costs of production, volatile milk prices, and decreased consumption of dairy products, it is a trying time for farmers.  Yet, dairy farmers continue to care for their animals 24/7, 365 days a year and work to provide our state and country with nature’s most natural, complete product: milk.  Milk is the number one food source of nine essential nutrients, including calcium, Vitamin D, and potassium, and provides for strong bone growth, lowers the risk of certain diseases such as heart disease and obesity, and provides for an overall quality diet. While we celebrate June Dairy Month for one month out of the year, I ask why we don’t recognize the efforts of Maine dairy farmers for twelve months, 365 days a year?  Join myself and members of the Maine Dairy Promotion Board on Sunday, June 25, 2017 as we host the inaugural Cowabunga 5K and Family Dairy Day in Portland, ME.  The event will feature a 5K run/walk, local farmers, baby calves, educational demonstrations, local and state dairy businesses and organizations, and an assortment of dairy products to sample.  Proceeds will be donated to the Howard C. Reiche Community School’s food pantry, which operates through the summer, as part of the Milk2MyPlate program.  For more information, please visit: http://drinkmainemilk.org/cowabunga-5k/. I encourage each of you to recognize and thank your local dairy farmer for their efforts to provide a high quality, nutritious product to our communities, our state, and our country.  I would also like to express my gratitude to consumers and Maine residents for their support of the dairy industry and placing their trust in Maine farmers to provide an abundant, safe food supply.  Cheers to many more years of...

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Women in Agriculture: How Maine Women are Making an Impact

Women in Agriculture: How Maine Women are Making an Impact

Agriculture is a part of all of us. From the fresh fruits and vegetables we consume, to the plush wool sweater we wear during the frigid Maine winters, to the biofuels we now use in our cars, Maine farmers work on a daily basis to provide us with the food, fiber, fuel, and feed we need to survive. These same farmers are producing more food, on less land, using fewer resources than their families that farmed the land before them. While we often imagine the farmer driving the tractor in a field, donning jean overalls and work boots, how often is this image a male farmer? Certainly, agriculture and farming was a male-dominated profession for many centuries. However, there has been a positive insurgence in recent years of women in agriculture that is leaving both a lasting impression and hope for more women to become engaged in this noble field of work. In March, we recognize and celebrate Women’s History Month. From the classroom to the field to the office setting, Maine women are having a significant influence in agriculture and the future sustainability of one of our most vital industries. As of the 2012 Census of Agriculture, there are 969,672 women farmers in the United States. In Maine, there are 5,398 women farmers accounting for 41% of all farmers in the state, farming on 631,417 acres, and generating $52.3 million in terms of economic impact. Maine is one of the top five states in the country in terms of women farmers. These figures alone speak volumes about the importance of women in agriculture, yet do not tell the whole story about the role these women play in Maine. The following women are just a handful of those that are having a dynamic impact in Maine, as well as around the country.   Dixie Shaw is the program director of Hunger & Relief Services Catholic Charities Maine in Caribou. The organization is the only food bank north of Hamden that serves 24 food pantries throughout Aroostook County. With roots in Aroostook County, Dixie grew up working in the potato fields, assisting with every harvest from the time she was ten, first picking potatoes and then elevating to the potato harvester role at age fifteen. As the eldest child, she also supervised her younger brothers and kept them on task in the fields. As part of her program work, she established Farm for Me, which supplies food pantries in Aroostook County with nutritious locally grown vegetables, as well as the “Glean Team.” This is an opportunity for other growers when they have crops they cannot harvest, they contact Dixie and the Glean Team and they will go to harvest their crops. Farm for Me and Glean Team are projects that were only a dream a few years ago, and four years ago they planted their first crop of vegetables and added on the Glean Team two years later. As she has been working in the fields the past few years with Farm for Me her mind wanders back to days and times gone by.  Smells and sounds are great triggers for memory, good memories and bad memories, but she feels blessed to have nothing but good memories from her years and experiences in the field. “I love the smell of dirt, the feel of dirt, and there is no better office than sitting in the middle of a field.” Some of her most memorable moments include being a guest on WAGM-TV’s Potato Pickers Special the past couple years. Growing up, it was a household morning ritual to huddle by the...

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#FarmLove on Bò Lait Farm

#FarmLove on Bò Lait Farm

The story of how Alexis and Conor MacDonald became dairy farmers is a pretty cool one, but they have really got to come up with something better for how they met. “We met in a bar,” Alexis says. “It was very romantic.” Despite a ho-hum start to this love story, it gets better. The two met in North Carolina, where Conor was stationed in the Army and Alexis was attending a girlfriend’s wedding. “We both thought it wouldn’t amount to anything,” Alexis says.  She was living in D.C. at the time, but the next weekend Conor went to the Walter Reed Medical Center to visit a buddy, and he and Alexis were able to meet up and go on a date. So began their long distance relationship, which got even longer when Conor moved to Florida and then was deployed to Afghanistan. Alexis completed her graduate school studies in social work in May 2014 and moved to Florida a couple of months later. For most of their relationship, Alexis and Conor were planning their future, deciding they wanted to farm. After 8 years in the Army, Conor would be leaving the military that winter. They had settled on dairy farming. “We knew we wanted to be doing something with animals,” Alexis says. “That drew both of us in more than vegetables.” “To get a loan, we need a market,” says Conor, adding that Organic Valley provided that market. “We didn’t want a hobby farm; we wanted a business.” Growing up in New Hampshire, Conor’s family had what he calls a “hobby farm,” which included a couple of milk cows over the years. “So, I at least knew how to move a cow, which is kind of a big thing,” he said. And dairy farming is in his blood. “My ancestors milked cows in Canada.”   “I rode horses,” Alexis chuckles of her previous livestock experience. “I always liked cows though. Now, I think they are hilarious.” They also knew they wanted to be in mid-coast Maine. “We had come up and visited a few times and loved it,” Conor says. “It reminded me of Nova Scotia, where my family lived.” They searched for nearly two years to find their current home in Washington. They moved here in February 2015. The barn itself was in excellent shape, but that was about it. Cows had been milked on the farm back in the 70s in tie stalls. The milk room, where milk is kept in a bulk tank, was falling in and the lines through which the milk would pass from the barn to the milk room had completely rusted. But the MacDonalds were able to purchase milking parlor equipment second hand, and they have made several improvements and added a new open air barn for the cows to come and go as they please and new housing for heifers and calves. They had a crash course in dairy farming, spending a week with Mike Moody on his farm in Whitefield. And by April 2o15, they were ready to bring in the first animals – nine first-calf heifers. “They were wild,” Alexis says of the young cows. “It would have been easier to have a moose,” Conor adds. Alexis works off the farm, using her social work degree in Augusta. While she works two days a week now, she started out full time. “I had just started my job and one calved right after they got here,” she remembers. “I was like, ‘Well, I guess I will milk the cow now. Then I will go to work and then come home...

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Taking a closer look at where milk comes from

Taking a closer look at where milk comes from

We only had UMaine dietetic student Zakkary Castonguay with us as intern at the Maine Dairy & Nutrition Council for a brief time this fall, but we wanted to be sure to introduce him to as many dairy farmers and dairy farms during that time as possible. The following is his take on what he saw, learned and experienced.  Dairy is not only one of the five components of the MyPlate guidelines but as I quickly learned, a way of life. During the completion of the combined Master’s and Dietetic Internship program on my way to becoming a Registered Dietitian, I was allotted the opportunity to spend time with the Maine Dairy Promotion Board / Maine Dairy & Nutrition Council. Stepping away from the incandescent lit hallways of a hospital, I found myself in several cow pastures across the beautiful state of Maine taken aback by the breathtaking views.     Interacting with the families who have, in some cases, dedicated generations to providing the state of Maine and those across our country with straightforward and nutritious milk, helped to produce one of the greatest life experiences for which I could ask. Each farm visit was unique, but exhibited the same basic principles: a genuine care for the animals, belief in the products being produced, and an overwhelming dedication to our state and it’s people. Far too often in the world of academia more specifically that of nutrition, there is the disconnect between everything that is learned and the foundation for which it stands – food. Touring farms and seeing firsthand the dedication and work involved in the production of food allows for a more wholesome understanding of agriculture and, in turn, the products we discuss with our clients.  Having been raised in a society where producers and consumers have little interaction, there is both a need and a newfound push to bring the two together. Fortunately, the forward progression of consumers’ desires to eat local and understand the origin of their foods directly coincides with the work these farmers have been doing for countless generations.       The dairy farmers and their families not only graciously take time from their tireless workdays to provide invaluable information on the inner workings of a functioning farm, but also provide insight on the regulations and proposed future direction of their agricultural sectors. Lives as dairy farmers do not begin and end each day with the punch of a time clock; their work is intertwined within their daily lives. The intermingling of work and everyday life is evident as these wonderful historians share their stories and visuals they so graciously shared during each visit.       The trips across what, in my biased opinion, is the best state in this nation were long in distance, but full of experienced.  Visualizing the anthocyanin-rich blueberry barrens while traveling down the historic Airline connecting Hancock and Washington counties helped to solidify my bias. Fiery red fields led to ocean front pastures and a prime example of the families that help supply the nation with nine key nutrients. As the last weeks of my internship come to a close, I will always remember the people behind the products being produced; their wit, dedication, and ingenuity all are qualities I hope to emulate as I begin my career as Registered Dietitian....

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Dreams really do come moo

Dreams really do come moo

Some people live their entire lives without their dreams ever coming to fruition, never daring to take the leap to see them realized. At 17 years old, Maine dairy kids Kaicey Conant and Megan Caruso made a big check mark on their bucket list by showing at the North American International Livestock Exhibition (NAILE) in Louisville, Ky., this month. “We were really lucky to be able to go,” Megan said at the recent All-Star Dairy 4-H Club annual awards night in Gorham. “Thanks to my dad and to the Conants for convincing my dad to let me go.” Megan and her father Travis of Martin Place Farm in Gorham, Kaicey and her parents Dennis and Heidi of Conant Acres in Canton, along with fellow young dairy farmer and 4-Her Emily Fisher of Topline Farm in New Hampshire and her father and all three ladies’ cattle (Kaicey’s Holstein, Megan’s Ayrshires, and Emily’s Guernseys) traveled to NAILE, which is the largest all-breed, purebred livestock event in the world. Although Kaicey and Megan have been to the Big E in Springfield, MA., they still weren’t prepared for the immensity of the Kentucky show. “It was definitely the experience of a lifetime,” Kaicey said. “I had no idea it was going to be that big.” Both ladies said it was thrilling to just see the enormous show ring and NAILE’s trademark dyed green shavings. While its been a long-time dream for Megan and Kaicey, since they both started showing their family’s dairy cattle a decade ago, the trip became a reality this year because both felt they had quality show animals that could do well on the national stage. “They were winning everywhere,” Kaicey said, “including Eastern States.” “That’s when we started talking about it,” Megan added. Kaicey took her Holstein Tango, and Megan took her Ayrshires Gem, a 3-year-old cow, and Martha, a winter calf. Emily’s family raises Guernseys. “Every day was a different breed show, so we helped each other out,” Megan said. “One day there were eight people working on one cow.” “It was not ‘I have to beat you in showmanship, so I’m not going to be your friend today,'” Kaicey added. “It was ‘I will help you get your heifer ready. Then we’ll get my cow ready.’ We were there to cheer each other on.” The competition was stiff, the best of the best from around the country with 10-15 cows in each class. “The quality of the animals was more than I had ever seen,” Kaicey said. “It was the biggest number of Ayrshires I had ever seen,” Megan said. In the end, Megan earned second in the junior show and fourth in the open with Gem and fifth in the junior and fourth in the open show with Martha. Tango and Kaicey earned fourth in the junior and open as well as Best bred and owned in the open show.   Hopefully, this won’t be a once in a lifetime opportunity for Kaicey and Megan. It will depend on the quality of their animals, but they see more trips to Louisville in their future and are already taking about taking on another big show in Syracuse in April.   Megan and Kaicey were certainly thankful to have the opportunity to go to Louisville and to their parents who helped make it happen for them. As this is the Thanksgiving season, I thought I would offer a couple of recipes for the Thanksgiving table. I have two recipes – one for before dinner and one for after. Golden Raisin Pecan Scones (for breakfast Thanksgiving morning.) 2 cups...

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How Now Brown Cow

How Now Brown Cow

Although she’s second in milk production only to the Holstein and is well-known for her docile personality, the Brown Swiss has never caught on with the popularity of some of the other milking breeds. For the Smith family of East Dixfield though, there’s no other breed they would rather have in their barn. The first Brown Swiss cow dairy farmer Les Smith’s father owned wasn’t much of a milker. “She didn’t give milk, but everyone loved her disposition,” Les said. That was 1961. The Smith family of More Acres Farm originally bought dairy cows as nurse cows to supplement their Beef Shorthorn calves and promote their growth. Hollis Smith had started with beef cows in 1938 on a couple acres in-town Dixfield. “He started accumulating more cattle, and people told him, ‘If you’re going to buy more cattle, you’re going to need more acres,” said Les’ wife Judy. Hence the farm name – More Acres. At the farm’s height, it covered 800 acres. The farm Hollis bought, and Les and Judy still farm with their son Matt and his family in East Dixfield, came equipped with a Sears Roebuck milking machine and four milk coolers in the barn, so he decided to start milking cows. “We had some grade [not registered] Holsteins, Jerseys, and we tried Ayrshires – that was back when they had big, long horns,” Les said. It was the Brown Swiss though, her personality, calm nature and gentleness that was really the start of More Acres becoming a dairy farm. “They’re pretty hard to beat as far as disposition,” Les said. There was just that tiny issue of her not giving much milk … “We looked for better ones,” Les said. “My father told people, ‘It’s a breed I think we could help.’” Brown Swiss is not a popular breed like the Holstein or Jersey.  “At that time there were some small herds in Vermont, New York and Ohio,” Les said. His father started buying up some of the best he could find until More Acres became the largest Brown Swiss breeder in the state of Maine. Today, they milk about 30 Brown Swiss cows and ship their milk to Horizon Organic. It’s another gentle soul in the barn that is the Smith family’s prize possession – an 11-year-old Brown Swiss named Revlon. Calves born on the farm are named with the same first letter as their mother – in this case “R”. When Revlon was born, she had dark lines around her eyes like eyeliner and was named for the famous makeup line. She descended from Matt’s line of 4-H show cattle, and she was a winner in her own right as well.  “Oh, yes!” Judy said. “She won her share of championships.” “If she were in school, she’d get straight A’s,” added Matt’s son Matthew Jr. (M.J.) Along with the Brown Swiss, the family also shows their Beef Shorthorns and sheep. But Revlon’s been a favorite of everyone in the Smith family. “It’s just the way she is,” Les said. Unlike the family’s first Brown Swiss, Revlon is a milker. Even at her advanced age, she is still producing 70-80 pounds of milk (nine or more gallons) each day. Her latest calf, Ripley, will be M.J.’s show animal this year.   The Brown Swiss cow is a North American breed derived from the Alpine Braunvieh (German for “brown cow”). Since July is National Ice Cream month, I decided to make a super simple brown (coffee) ice cream recipe in honor of this brown cow. This is also a great way to use up left...

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