Category Archives: Agriculture

Guest Post: Dairy Farmer, Raw Milk Expert and Friend

I’m excited to share this next post with you. I’ve invited my friend Terri Lawton, dairy farmer from southeast Massachusetts, to write a guest post about her farming operation and her background. Terri sells raw milk and is a technical

Terri, getting ready to give a talk about milking standards at a conference.

Terri, getting ready to give a talk about milking standards at a conference.

expert on the subject, raw milk food safety and regulation and has addressed national audiences about the topic. The last two posts I’ve shared have been about why raw milk is a somewhat complicated issue. I’ve said that even though we have decided to not sell it, we are not against other people selling or consuming it. Terri and I spoke about my recent experiences and my posts and I was thrilled when she agreed to write about what she does with a few suggestions regarding raw milk, if you are interested. She can be found on Facebook and has her own blog at and

From Terri:

I’m an 11th generation farmer. I grew up on my parents’ dairy farm in Foxboro, Mass. I always loved cows, and spent most of my time on the farm as a child, pretending to be a cow, feeding the cows, milking the cows with my parents or gettingmy 4-H calf ready to show.

When I finished high school, I went to college and studied agriculture. I got my associates degree in Production Agriculture, with an emphasis on feedlot management from Northeastern Junior College in Sterling, Colorado. Because I felt like I still had a lot to learn about farming, I transferred to Purdue University where I was a double major in Animal Agribusiness and Agricultural Communications. I was also in the crew club, dairy club, and Agricultural Communicators of Tomorrow. I also did livestock judging for three years of school and dairy judging with Purdue.

Because I had a strong background in dairy and several food science/food safety classes at Purdue, I thought that being a dairy inspector for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts would be a good way for me to get involved in the agricultural industry in Massachusetts. Several farms I inspected were selling raw milk directly to families. I had been drinking raw milk my whole life. I was amazed when I realized that some people drove more than an hour to get raw milk.

After I finished up as a dairy inspector, I wanted to get closer to farming. I enjoyed being around cows, and owned several which my parents milked for me. I had planned to start making cheese, but needed an income while we were building the cheese room, and developing our cheese recipes, which is why I looked at selling raw milk retail.

I knew that my experience as a dairy inspector could help me harvest and bottle a superior raw milk. After developing a milking and bottling protocol that minimized potential risk, having the farm and retail area inspected by the dairy inspector, and having my milk meet exceptionally high standards, I received my license to sell raw milk in March of 2006. I started selling raw milk from grass fed cows on a pre-order basis so that I could ensure people got the freshest possible milk. Usually it was only a couple hours old when customers picked it up and brought it to their homes.

I decided to put food safety and integrity first from the beginning.

I know that selling and drinking raw milk can be risky. Based my experience as a dairy inspector, education at Purdue, and personal research about food safety and microbiology, I believe it is a risk that can be managed successfully. I also have seen farmers that were not up to the rigorous integrity and obsession with food safety that I think is necessary to do a good job producing raw milk for retail sale. However, for some farmers it is not much of a stretch to produce an exceptionally high quality raw milk.

I am grateful to be able to sell raw milk directly to families. I like having the folks come to the farm to pick up the milk. I enjoy meeting folks that care so much about food and supporting their local farmer. If I could encourage raw milk drinkers in one thing-please get your milk from a licensed raw milk retailer. It is a lot of work to keep raw milk clean. Inspected farms are held accountable, and must adhere to standard good practices. Integrity is very important in selling raw milk. Our customers need assurance that we are working hard to keep the milk safe. Inspections, milk quality testing and licensing are good tools to provide that assurance.


Filed under Agriculture, Dairy Care, Dairy Industry, Milk

October Already?

Ugh. It’s been almost one full month since I’ve sat down to post. I can’t believe it. I was on such a roll. And please don’t think I haven’t thought about posting. I have several ideas in the works, but that seems to be where they are stuck. In the works. Nevermind. This post isn’t about how guilty I feel for not have written sooner, but rather an update of all that’s going on here.

To say the least it’s been a busy fall. TK and I have been out an about – we traveled down to the Big E in West Springfield and watched an impressive Jersey Show. I miss showing and hope to get back on track with a little help next year. We had a great time though, and TK got to go on his first ride!

Mom, TK and cousin LEO on the carousel!

The farmers’ markets finished up fairly well. They tell me there are three seasons to farmers’ markets up here. Starting with Memorial Day to the 4th of July; the second goes to Labor Day; and the third goes until Columbus Day, of course depending upon the weather. Foot traffic is much slower in the first and third season than the middle, which makes sense. The middle is the peak season for tourists. It starts to cool down quickly up here as we had our first frost on the 18th of September. So crazy.

Our set up at one of the markets.

We had another new calf at the end of the summer. I’ve decided to call her “Jersey” even though she is a Holstein, obviously. She is small for a holstein, out of a first calf heifer (first-time mom), so we say she is a Holstein in a Jersey package.

Here is Jersey, with my 13-pound rat terrier dog and 8-year-old cousin LEO for reference.

The garden finished up well. We had tons of green beans, yellow beans, zucchini, summer squash, buttercup squash, pumpkins and sunflowers! If you recall, I was clueless about gardening and not only had to read the back of every seed packet while planting, but also planted every seed in every seed packet. Yup. Zucchini from seven high producing plants – we had zucchini coming everywhere we turned! It was pretty crazy. Unfortunately I wasn’t quite prepared for that level of production so much of it went to compost though we did try to eat and give away as much as we could. Next year I’ll be more ready!

My little squash picker!

And finally, maybe our biggest surprise of the summer, something that slowed me down a little (or really a lot at times!), we’ll be adding a new little one to our family sometime in March. We are very excited for it. To be honest, I was a little intimidated at first – TK and Baby L will be 19 months apart. I kept thinking (and still do sometimes), how will we take care of two little ones? My DF, who really is my rock, is not worried about it and knows that we will figure it out. When I do find myself thinking too much and getting a little anxious, the baby’s due date pops into my head. It’s 3-16, which is one of the most popular verses in the bible. 

No, I don’t do the Tebow but I do feel an immediate calm come over me in one deep breath.

“For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” John 3:16


Filed under Agriculture, Farm life, Life Balance

Farmers’ Market Conversations Part II: Our Chosen Farming Practices

This post started out as “Why We Choose Not to be Organic.” However, the forever positive person that I am, I was having a hard time with that negative title. It’s a question that has come up at the Farmers’ Markets a few times. Actually it goes something more like this:

Person: “Oh, you’re not organic?”

Me: “No, we aren’t.”

Person: Gives an empathetic look as if to say oh, that’s too bad.

Me: “Let me tell you the reasons why we do things the way we do…”

This is a tough post to write. Like a previous post, “It’s Okay to Buy Plain Old Milk,” it has taken me a lot longer than I expected. To be clear, my DF and I support all responsible agriculture which we believe comes in all sizes and shapes, including organic farmers. By no means is this a jab at them, but rather a little more detail into why we’ve made the choice to remain “conventional” as some would call it. I simply prefer “farming.”

The main and most important reason for us is the fact that by remaining conventional, we can use whatever medical treatment necessary to treat a sick animal, which includes antibiotics. Now some organic farms have found a way around this – some will not withhold any treatment, giving a cow what she needs to get better were she to get really sick. However, the cow then can’t stay in the herd. They may sell her to a conventional neighbor, or some organic farms are large enough to also have a separate conventional farm and they can send the cow there. For us, at 30-cows the idea that the cow must exit the herd is not sustainable. Besides, with the amount of financial, historical and emotional capital we have invested in each one of our girls it just does not make sense to us to not treat her with what she needs to get better and send her away.

And, to be sure, our cows do not get sick very often. A brave person at the market asked, “But aren’t the cows healthier with organic practices? Isn’t that the idea?” It was a simple question, which of course she is allowed to ask, though I felt my face start to flush and a wave of anger rise up. It was hard not to feel like she was implying that our cows were somewhat less healthy because we are not organic. Rest assured, I kept my cool, “Oh no, we take excellent care of our animals.”

Fact is like anything, there are good and not-so-good caretakers that are organic, conventional, grass-based, corn-based, small, large, etc. Just because a farm gets a particular label does not necessarily indicate the level of care or health of the animals is better or worse. Another person at the FM shared with me this past week that the sickest, skinniest cows she had ever seen were at an organic farm, (I hope she called the local American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals- ASPCA). The sickest, thinnest cows I ever saw were from a conventional farm, (and yes, the ASPCA was called). I guess there is some truth to what an old boss told me when I was a loan officer, “You have to get out and see what you’re investing in for yourself.”

The kicker to the antibiotic use issue in organic animal agriculture is that while U.S. organic standards strictly prohibits the use, European standards do not. (I’m trying to track down Canadian standards, though I think they are allowed). Typically when antibiotics are allowed in organic animal agriculture, it is for medicinal use only and  there are longer waiting periods before the milk or meat from a treated animal before it is allowed to be sold again. Rest assured that medications already require holding periods where meat or milk is not marketed. And because of rigorous testing, you can be certain that no milk on the shelf has antibiotics in it. We risk the ability to sell our milk if one of our loads ever failed a test – something no dairy farmer messes with.

Liddy saying hi!

We have other reasons why we have remained conventional, but this is really the crux of it. Maybe it’s not very business-like of me to be so tied to my animals, but when you feed and care for them each day, when you see their personalities come out, when you are never far from them when they need medical attention or treatment, or when your life is scheduled around their attention needs, you’re bound to get attached. And in my opinion, that’s a good thing.


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Farmers’ Market Conversations, Part I: You Have to Believe in Your Product

Farmers’ Market Conversations

People who know me know that I’m a talker. In fact, I think my favorite thing at the farmers’ market so far has been all the discussions and conversations that I have had with visitors and vendors alike. This gave me the idea to expand into detail some of the topics that have come up that we’ve discussed. Over the next several weeks and perhaps in the future when I have more, I’ll share my favorites here.

Part I: You Have to Believe in Your Product

Today another vendor at the farmer’s market shared a very important truth when it comes to direct selling. She said, “You really have to believe in your product and show people why you do to be successful.”

For some reason, that struck a chord with me. While explaining what Jersey Beef is and why we raise it instead of some other breed I often suggest with a grin that I could be the poster girl for the Jersey breed of cattle. Seriously, I think I could.

I love my cows. There, I said it. My family started with Jersey calves with my older sister and brother’s 4-H projects back in 1982. We’ve never looked back though we had never lived on a farm. I lived on one briefly where I raised my own heifers (young female cattle) and now of course, I find myself on one in a beautiful spot in the Northeast Kingdom of Vermont.

That’s me with the Mickey Mouse shirt on, anxiously waiting to show one of my sibling’s heifers in the kiddie class at a local fair

Through those early years, we took care of our animals whether they were next door or 45 minutes away. We showed our heifers at the local fairs and visited friends that had dairy farms throughout New England and New York. I think when you put so much work and effort and hanging-on into something so long you’re bound to be bound to it one way or another. And we didn’t live in one spot – my Dad is a United Methodist minister, retired now, and so we moved a few times, but always found a place for the cows wherever we moved. I think that was fate.

If there is one part of having Jersey cattle that always bothered me was that there was not much you could do with the bull calves. We would send them to the auction house and generally because they are smaller, you don’t get much for them and often end up paying the auction house to cover the commission, trucking and other costs.

You can imagine my surprise when I learned about the excellent qualities of Jersey beef which was not long ago. I had no idea, really. Jersey beef ranks up with Angus and Waygu cattle in terms of taste and tenderness. It has one of the highest rates of monounsaturated fats and beta carotene among the various breeds of beef. And because they are generally smaller and leaner, the cuts are smaller and leaner which helps with portion control and goes along with a more health-conscious diet.

The challenge in raising Jersey steers (castrated male cattle) is that they take longer to grow and finish, they have different diet requirements than a larger breed and they’re not the easiest to herd – they too have the Jersey “attitude.”

What a coincidence. Here are all these wonderful aspects of a breed of cattle that I already love. And as far as the challenges go – we raise them right alongside the heifers (young female cattle) and we are in no rush. I grew up with the Jersey attitude and have an appreciation for their sass.

Two years ago I convinced my DF to give raising a few Jersey beef a shot. Remember – he brought the Holsteins to our farm equation and sometimes has to be reminded about how great Jerseys are. So far, the success that we have had at the farmers markets has him more and more interested. It seems perhaps he too is a believer in our jersey beef; the first of many more to come I hope.


Filed under Agriculture, Dairy Care, Farmers' Markets, Jersey Beef

My First Picture of What a Dairy Farm Is

Believe it or not, my DF, TK and I all got away for a weekend trip, aka a mini-vacation this past weekend. We did have a purpose for this trip – I had a bridal shower and bachelorette party for a close friend from college to attend. DF came to take care of TK and as a chance to get away from the farm for a few days. The festivities were out in the Finger Lakes region of New York – Syracuse, Skaneateles and Ithaca, home of my alma mater. We had a great time driving around, with me pointing out as many landmarks as I could find and telling as many stories as I could remember.

This is not my friends’ dairy, but a very clean and good-looking dairy similar to what they have. It would have been nice if I remembered to snap a picture!

We also made time to stop at some family friends that have a dairy farm in Central New York. I grew up visiting them as often as we could with my family and in the process, grew to love farm land, country landscapes, calves, three wheelers, that “farm” smell and of course, the family themselves. They have a pristine farm. Everything has a place. Everything is always mowed and there are pretty flowers here and there. Everything is always super clean and I don’t remember any trouble with any cows. In fact, they were the first picture in my head of what a dairy farm is.

Though I’ve worked in the industry for many years and have raised heifers before, living and working on a dairy now I understand more and more how much work goes behind it all. Of course the first priority is the cows – that they are happy, healthy and productive. Then come the crops – a constant worry in your mind that you will make enough and they will be of good quality. Maintenance belongs in here somewhere – hopefully before a breakdown is always helpful. And then comes the cosmetic stuff – again, hopefully before things get out of control. How they keep up with it all and then have time to host guests on a whim is truly impressive!

I wish everyone had friends like these especially when growing up. Folks to show and teach you what farming and cows are all about. People to explain why certain things happen a certain way; luckily for me, with patience, as I was a kid who asked a gazillion questions. People to share their passion for farming and inspiring you to find your own passion. Knowing a farmer goes a long way in understanding where food comes from and gives you a solid foundation for deciphering what comes at you via the media and social media these days.

The father at the friends’ farm passed away a few years ago. My Dad, who is a now retired minister, did the memorial service for him. I remember something he said then – that the father said he loved to be working in the fields; that he felt like he was truly in the presence of God when he was out there.

I think I’ve come pretty close to that feeling a few times since we moved here and started down this road and I feel pretty lucky about it. It is my hope that we can serve as that farmer-resource where you can ask questions, come visit or maybe just learn through my pictures and my blog.

So if there’s anything you are wondering about or would like to see, please don’t be shy!

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For the Love of Jersey Beef

You may remember I shared with you that we are trying to get started selling Jersey beef. First, thanks to all of you who have reached out and shared your own experience, and who have offered help and tips to get us going! I’m happy to report that our first load of beef is ready to be picked up and we should be hitting our first Farmer’s Market in about a week.

To fill in the blanks, after my post, I contacted another butcher, The Royal Butcher, this time USDA-inspected, at the suggestion of several folks. He happened to have a spot open at the beginning of July, which at the time was almost two months out. I jumped at the chance and said yes! He is located about 90 miles from us, but you know what? That didn’t bother us too much. It’s kind of nice to take a drive and get away from the farm for a few hours.

We moved the steer, (I called him Tank), to be close by so we could give him and extra scoop of grain as well as the grass silage we feed in the barn. In the last month, he really filled out nicely. We also put a group of heifers that came from my older brother in the pen with him and it in a way became his own private harem. He seemed to become protective of his “ladies” and let you know it too! He really lived out the rest of his days in leisure and style.

The day before he was set to head down to the butcher, I thanked him and I snapped this picture of him. He’ll always be special in our memories as we head down this road.

We usually dehorn our calves, but somehow he ducked behind a hay bale or something and we missed him. We ended up letting the horns grow out so he was looking pretty formidable (and tall!) toward the end. Don’t let that fool you though. He was a big sweetie.

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Happy 4th of July Baby!

No fireworks for us this year. Just this little cutie. She had a tough time coming; she was upside down and the cow’s uterus was twisted. We called the vet and with an “I’m on my way” he was here in a flash and we were able to get the calf out quickly. It was pretty impressive.

Both mama and baby are resting comfortably now in the barn. Perhaps we can go to bed now too!

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Might as Well Plant a Garden

From Sunday, July 1 -I finally got some things planted in what could vaguely be recognized as a garden. After two years of big plans discussed in the Spring- lots of talking, purchasing seeds and serious consideration of where exactly we would put it, we planted a garden. Or really, I planted a garden with consultation from my DF (I’m not sure he will own up to the connection with the fairly pitiful sight I have created).

To say that I have a slight glimmer of an idea for what needs to be done when it comes to gardening might be an overstatement; but I can read so I’m hoping the directions on the back of the seed packages are for real. My DF has a bit more of a clue, though he says he’s no expert. Since he is tied up making cow food for the most part these days, I’m on my own to do the dirty work for the people food.

Randomly one night after chores a few weeks ago, my DF harrowed out the spot we picked out. DF’s uncle dragged the big tiller behind the tractor around it two separate times between the initial ripping up of the grass and today. Still, about a week has passed since the last pass so a little grass popped up. Nothing a little raking couldn’t fix up for today, though I do believe grass will be my new nemesis this summer. We’re using weed cloth between the rows so hopefully that will help.

See. Pretty pathetic but I do plan to take the push-rototiller to the space between the rows in the back this week!


As if to throw one more obstacle in our way, my jeep decided not to start yesterday afternoon, stranding us at the grocery store for an extra hour or so. But that didn’t stop me. I got Swiss chard, beets, nasturtium, cucumber, zucchini, summer squash, buttercup squash, sunflowers and pumpkins in the ground. And boy, doI feel it now. I never knew how physical gardening is! Oh, and I even gave myself my very own “tramp stamp” with the help of the sun today. Slouchy shorts + short shirt = a band of OUCH!

So what was different today or really, this weekend? What put me over the edge to go for it after weeks, rather years of procrastinating? I think I had been holding back because I feel like I don’t have any idea what I’m doing. I really don’t. After I said that one night last week, my DF replied that we should just do it. We should just do the garden and learn as we go and from our mistakes. A light bulb went off. Yes! Of course! That’s it! How else will we learn? And already in these two short days I have figured out a few ways to do things better.

So, I’m excited. And now I just really really hope something pops up!

I’m a little proud of this tomato. You should have seen how almost dead these plants were before we planted them in a little of our own cow-post!

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Happiness Is

From June 15th! – I wrote this on my phone but haven’t taken the time to get the slick WordPress iphone app, so it’s been waiting in my notes for me to add here. Been a little crazy here lately. Hopefully I’ll get to tell you all about it!

Riding across the hay field today I witnessed happiness:

Two dogs bounding, leaping and racing through the open field, weaving in and out of the rows of mowed grass, stopping only to wrestle for a few minutes or to sniff at a hole or a root or some other debris, only to be off again in the blink of an eye.

My DF driving the tractor with the chopper attached to the wagon, totally focused on the job at hand. Making feed makes him happy. I have a feeling he had a grin on his face in that tractor cab, especially as he caught glimpses of his son observing the whole production.

My son on my lap as I drove the gator following the tractor/chopper/wagon so he could watch what was going on. Talk about discovery! Every once in awhile I could hear his little squeal over the noise of the gator, equipment and wind.

I looked all around me and though ‘what beautiful countryside; how lucky am I?’ I felt as if I could maybe even breathe it all in if only I could take a breath deep enough. And suddenly, my worries that had built up that morning were gone- poof- disappeared into the fresh, newly-mowed-grass air.

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From Friday May 25th – TK and I went for a walk today. His babysitter is enjoying a belated Mother’s Day outing, so he’s home today and my DF and I are splitting duties. We walked a bit up the logging road that goes into the woods and leads to Wheeler Mountain. It was a really nice day out. The wind was blowing through the trees and on our faces. The sun kept peeking out from behind the clouds and warming up the air. We hadn’t been up there since the talk of a mountain lion in the area in February. I decided to chance it – I learned that a mountain lion, depending upon the terrain, will roam anywhere from 25 to 500 square miles, so chances are it’s gone. Our walk was a welcome break in routine on this Friday morning.

As we made our way back, we approached the side pasture from the back side of the farm. The girls were loafing around in the trees; some were nibbling at the grass. It was a different perspective than what I’m used to with this pasture. Not anything earth shattering, just kind of neat to look at the view in a different way.

Of course that got me thinking, thus here I am writing. We’re getting pretty busy here gearing up for summer and all the things that come with it like getting fence done, making feed and other various projects. We’re also preparing for a dip in milk prices which means trying to think of ways to preserve cash flow and pay the bills. And of course there’s the overarching question of where we are headed with our farming endeavors, and all that comes with that.

Yesterday my DF shared with me that our neighbor has found someone who is potentially interested in buying his place – a house, barn and 50 acres. This is great news – he’s been trying to sell the place for a while now and there was a time when we let the idea dance in our heads for a few moments, (it’s a beautiful house!). Then though, my DF tells me that the interested party wants to do something organic and was asking something about the chemicals we have in our manure. “Oh, boy,” I thought.

It was early in the morning when my DF told me the news. He knew I wasn’t going be thrilled. It seemed a somewhat prickly question, making one wonder what other questions/hassles would be coming. But the reality is, people don’t know about modern dairy farming practices. They have a right to ask questions. It seems like people don’t trust what they don’t know. They rely an awful lot on quick information and news that often only shows one perspective of the story. This has been more and more apparent to me over the past several weeks.

I recently wrote a post about how it’s okay to buy milk from conventional farms on my friend Alice’s blog, to which a person wrote a quick rebuttal. She wasn’t arguing over the milk but rather over farming practices and it was clear to me that she already had a very biased opinion and was trying to use scientific research to support it. Where the research fell short, she added more citations as if the sum of the parts would equal the whole to support it. If you check this post out, I would direct you to the comments section, particularly the dairy farmers who commented and “Kristy” who so eloquently stated what I think many were seeing. I was thrilled to see that she took the time to point out piece by piece where the author was lacking as it seemed that was what the author wanted. “Kristy” kept up with her and was inspiring with the depth of her knowledge. It left me wanting to meet her some day!

In another example, a classmate of mine shared a book review and tried to generalize all “factory farms” as using unsustainable practices, (I would argue all farms are a sort of ‘factory’). I questioned what practices in particular, which ultimately was overuse of fertilizer leading to soil erosion and runoff. It was as if the assumption was that farmers themselves are not concerned about these issues and their detrimental effect on the environment, nearly calling those who farm on a large-scale immoral. Really? How did we get here? Why don’t these folks know about nutrient management plans, precision farming or any of the latest technology typically adopted by large farms first due to the capital investment required? Why don’t they know that farmers care first?

I think we, as farmers, know that we have to do a better job of getting our perspectives out there. And I think we’re making progress, even if it’s one day at a time, one blog post at a time, one comment at a time. I’m sharing two more links from dairy farmers in Massachusetts who took the time to speak up when they read a rather insulting, one-sided column in their local paper for Mother’s Day. One is from Nicole Fletcher, a twenty-something who is herd manager on her home farm in Southampton. The other is from Teresa Everett, a farmer who has been dairying for 31 years with her husband and family in Williamsburg. Well done, ladies. Thanks for your words and of course, for all the hard work you do.

Any thoughts on how we might consider others’ perspectives and how we might get our own out there?

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