After 40 years of waking up at 3:15 a.m., “I don’t even set an alarm,” says Tom Jilek. He’s usually in bed by 8 p.m., he says, except occasionally when school board meetings run late and the board members, including Tom, work through midnight. It’s all part of contributing to the community where his maternal ancestors have farmed since before the American Revolution. He apprenticed with his mother’s brothers: Warren Skellie, a former co-op director, “taught me to be a cow man,” says Tom, while Uncle Richard “taught me to be a crop person.”
Tom and a cousin developed two independent and complementary farm businesses on the same property. Under T-D-J Farm, Tom owns a milking herd of registered Holsteins and Jerseys and all the milking equipment. His cousin, Jay Skellie, owns the land and buildings and does the cropping as Hi-Brow Farms. “It has enabled me to focus on the cows,” Tom says. “Every time I have a calf born, it makes me happy. That’s what motivates me to stay in the business. Raising that caliber of cow, that’s exciting.”
Tom and his wife, Diane, (the T & D in the farm’s name) have four grown children, one of whom works part-time for his dad. Diane Jilek, a retired teacher now works in accounting, “makes the best macaroni and cheese going,” Tom says appreciatively. Two daughters work in agricultural stewardship and nature education and the other son is a chef, who also owns 20 cows. “I’m a connecting link,” says chef Kane Jilek. “I have high influence on what we buy and I love using local ingredients. I have a lot of respect for farmers because I know what they do.