Greenbacker’s Brookfield Farm
If you want to get an honest feel for the depth and breadth of dairy farming in New England, spend a few minutes with Joe Greenbacker of Durham, Connecticut. Every sentence is thoughtful, every word carefully chosen, and every pause filled with meaning. For Joe, dairy farming is bred in the bone. His family traces their farm roots back to 1723 when his ancestors received a land grant from the King of England. The family has remained true to its roots for over 250 years.
Joe speaks expertly about the grassroots issues farmers face every day: bad weather, worse milk prices, herd health, milk safety, broken tractors, long hours, and most difficult of all, government intervention. Says Joe: “The federal government has developed a complex formula that sets milk prices. While you might think this could stabilize the industry, in fact, it often results in wild fluctuations where the cost to produce milk is greater than the price farmers are paid. That’s exactly what’s happening right now, and it’s putting the entire industry at risk.”
Well, Joe is not one to complain, and he and his family are in it for the long haul. Joe and his wife Lois, Joe’s brother, and several other family members run their farm of some 665 acres and 310 cattle. They have about 140 cows they milk. The work is constant, and the challenges are relentless. But, says Joe: “What a life. There’s no better place to raise a family. All my children have had their own show animals, and the entire family is involved with the farm. You live the reward of this lifestyle every day.”
And the Greenbackers love to share their enthusiasm with others. Whether it’s an open house where they show their operation to some 800 people at a time or a visit from students in Yale’s Forestry Department, their barn is always open. Like so many dairy farmers, the Greenbackers are gracious hosts and always find time for school children, college students, and even the occasional passer-by who just asks to take a look.
Finally, there is no better spokesman for the dairy farmer. Joe is not only a dairy farmer through and through; he was also the vice-chairman of Agri-Mark. Says Joe: “Every time we can teach people a little something about the farm, it helps the industry. People just don’t know what it takes to run a farm, and we’re glad to give them a taste of what it’s all about.”
Melissa took time out of her busy day to answer our questions. Melissa notes that these are her answers; other family members may have different answers to some of the questions!
What is your favorite thing about being a dairy farm family?
It’s hard to pick one thing! I love being part of a farming tradition that has been in the family since the 1720s. Our family stays strong by working together and we all value our faith, hard work ethic, and passion for caring for the land and the animals.
What is your family’s favorite meal?
I can only speak for myself, but my favorite meal is when we all get together for our Thanksgiving Day meal. We have our dinner at noon at my parents’ house, before the afternoon milking, (milking starts at 2 pm with set-up starting at 1:30 pm). Mom is the best cook! She makes the traditional turkey, stuffing, corn, mashed potatoes, cranberries, and gravy. Mom has a bread machine and makes homemade buns too. And she makes at least two pies. (Side note: every other year my mother does the Thanksgiving afternoon milking, so she does all the cooking then goes out to milk cows after our meal. I think she is amazing!
What is your least favorite farm chore?
My least favorite chore is deciding when a cow has to leave the herd. Cows may leave our herd for different reasons, such as low milk production, old age, or reproductive issues. I often agonize and cry over this decision because I have been caring for these cows since they were born. Unfortunately, we have a limited amount of feed, barn space, and land to care for our animals so we do need to make a business decision. But for me it is an emotional decision too.
What is your favorite time of year on the farm?
Summer is my favorite time of year. I love hot weather, working outside, and yes, even unloading hay. I love seeing the cows out on the pasture and taking warm evening walks around the farm. I do love the fall colors and the spring flowers and crop work too. I dislike winter and snow. Chores take longer in the cold, and especially in the snow. And I’m always cold.
What is the one thing that you would like people who have never experienced farm life to know?
I’d like people to know how much hard work and dedication go into dairy farming. We work hard, at all hours of the day, with little time off. The animals come first, so birthday parties, weddings, and other events are scheduled around milking and feeding times. On Christmas morning, we never ran down the stairs first thing in the morning to open presents; instead we went out to the barn to care for our cows, then opened presents later in the morning when all of the chores were done. But we do it because we feel it is worth it. Farming with family to care for our animals and to produce healthy, high quality food for people is our passion, and we wouldn’t want to do anything else.
Click here to take a Virtual Tour of the farm.