When a dairy farm family has been in a community for three or four or five or even six, seven or eight generations like many of Maine’s dairy farm families, those families are not only deeply invested in their farm, but in their community. You’ll often see their names on school boards or boards of selectmen or the county’s soil and water conservation district. In choosing the Green Pastures Award winner each year, one of the criteria for the selection committee to consider is community involvement. (Other considerations are milking herd quality, efficiency on the farm, the quality of the farm’s forages and feed for its animals, that the farm is economically sound and sustainable, and that the farm’s practices have a positive impact on the environment.)
This year’s Maine Green Pastures winner is deserving on all fronts, but the Hall family’s community involvement really goes above and beyond. Located in East Dixfield, Hall Farms is operated by Dick Hall and his sons Rodney and Randy (the farm’s eighth generation) with the help of other family members (including the ninth generation). Among the farm members are a county director of the Farm Service Agency, chief and captain of the local fire department, national YF director for the Farm Bureau, chair of the Board of Selectmen, President of the Maine Maple Association, and Vice President of the New England Belted Galloway Group.
The family has always been involved in agricultural fairs around the state, showing cattle or pulling steers or often as part of the staff that organizes the fair. Randy is the president of the local Farmington Fair; while at Fryeburg Fair he is the beef cattle superintendent, his father Dick has been the pulling ring superintendent for 24 years, and for nearly 15 years Rodney (who is president of the Maine Maple Association) and his crew of volunteers have been working the sugar house on the fairgrounds, where visitors can see just how maple syrup is made as well as sample and/or purchase many different maple products from Hall Farms, including a fair favorite – maple cotton candy.
“It’s a good way to sell part of our crop, and it’s something I like to do,” said Rodney of the sugar house. “We are trying to promote the maple industry. Even if they don’t buy our syrup here, they’re going to go home and buy someone’s maple syrup.” And they’ll know to buy the real thing. This was the first year, they offered a blind taste test to allow people to compare imitation maple syrup and real Maine maple syrup. “Some people had never tried the real thing,” he added. “They never realized there was a difference.”
Now they know better.
While fair season is becoming a distant memory for most, the Hall family is already looking to next year. Rodney meets with his volunteers right after Fryeburg is over, so everything is fresh in their minds and they can discuss how to improve or change things for the next year. The family has to schedule much of its farm work around the fairs, making sure the corn is all chopped before Farmington Fair, for example. Rodney drives back and forth to Fryeburg every day of the fair to take care of his milk cows but hires help for the milking and daily chores.
Hall Farms is primarily a dairy farm and has been home to a herd of registered Holsteins since 1945, the family relies on several enterprises, each one supporting the others to keep the farm thriving. They manage a sugarbush of 7,500 taps that produce about 1,200 gallons of maple syrup each year and harvest 300-400 cord of wood from the farm’s 850 acres of woodland, and sell embryos and semen from a herd of registered Belted Galloway beef cattle for breeding nationally as well as to Uruguay and Brazil. The family’s beef farm – Pine View Farm Belted Galloways – had the Supreme Champion Heifer and Grand Champion Bull Belted Galloway at Fryeburg and the champion bull, reserve champion heifer at Eastern States in Springfield, Mass., among other awards at fairs this year. It was at Eastern States that the Halls were given the Green Pastures Award.
The dairy herd is certified organic, and the milk has been sold to Organic Valley since 2002. The Halls milk 55 Holsteins, the feed for which is grown on 265 acres with 75 of those acres in rotational pasture, 35 acres in corn silage, 18 in oats and barley, and the rest in hay. In the past 200 years, the farm has seen many remodels, and some major enhancements in just the last 10 years, including a new milking parlor and a compost bedded pack barn for 60 cows just recently. A new heifer barn and feed storage were also recent improvements. In all of their enhancements, specific attention has been paid to the environmental stewardship in consultation with NRCS, including a covered manure storage, river bank riprap, a high use area for the cattle, forest management plans and bridge construction.