When you work with unpredictable weather, animals and milk prices, it helps to have a sense of humor, and Joe Peck of Peckhaven Farm in Saratoga Springs, New York has that part down.
Joe, who farms with his son, David, travels to speak at meetings and conferences and has published three humor books: A Cow in the Pool & Udder Humorous Farm Stories, A Tractor in the House & Other Smashing Farm Tales and, most recently, A Farmer in Clean Overalls & Other Tall Tales. (We may be a bit biased, but we think they’d make excellent holiday gifts for any farmers on your list.)
Joe likes to say that his greatest accomplishment is convincing his wife that he doesn’t have time to mow the lawn, but that he always has time to go to an auction. But, in fact, keeping the family’s 200-year agricultural tradition going strong is a significant accomplishment that both he and David take very seriously.
“I thrive on seeing things improve and progress,” says David. “I want to leave things better than I found them.”
The Pecks were one of the first dairy farms in the region to computerize their bookkeeping and herd management and they installed a large array of solar panels that provides 60 to 70 percent of their electricity needs. “You have to use every tool available to stay competitive,” says David.
Over the last 25 years, the Pecks have improved their fieldwork techniques to significantly reduce pesticide and chemical fertilizer applications and make much better use of their herd’s manure as a rich, natural, recycled fertilizer. They use a tight rotation of cover crops to both improve soil quality and reduce soil erosion and water run-off. “We produce three times as much milk with many less inputs,” David says proudly.
All of these efforts not only help the earth, David says, but also help ensure the future of their farm business. “We’ve been here for 200 years but if we’re not profitable, it doesn’t matter what sustainable efforts we make,” he explains. “These kinds of efforts support the sustainability of the farm both economically and environmentally.”
To hear Joe tell some of his old-time stories, including how he likes to have fun giving directions to passersby, check out Joe Peck Farmer Blog. You can also order Joe Peck’s books via his website for any farmers – or others who might enjoy a good laugh – this holiday season.
Melissa Pasanen is an award-winning Vermont-based journalist and cookbook author with a focus on food, farming, and sustainability. She was the writer for The Cabot Creamery Cookbook (Oxmoor House, 2015).