Greg and Lisa Porter met as students at Cornell University. Both had grown up on dairy farms in different parts of New York and they found themselves in farm finance class together. “He was very smart so I decided I should sit next to him,” Lisa says with a chuckle.
Now with three adult kids of their own—including one daughter who is currently a student of agriculture at Cornell—and two grandchildren, they have built a life together inspired by a deep shared commitment to sustainable farming, family and faith.Sustainable farming, family and faith--the mantra of the Porterdale Farm. #FarmLove Click To Tweet
Porterdale Farms, their third-generation farm in Adams Center, New York, has a 1,900-cow dairy with 4,500 acres of leased and owned crop land and a team of a few dozen employees. Lisa took over the books from Greg’s late mother, Judy. Greg’s dad, David, still helps out – or, as his son fondly puts it: “He stops in at the farm and lets us know what we’re doing wrong.” More seriously, he adds that his father is still a very valuable resource.
The couple also feels privileged to own and operate the farm with Greg’s younger cousin, Stephen Porter and his wife Angela. Eighteen years Greg’s junior, Steve brings talent and youthful enthusiasm that complements Greg’s years of experience and wisdom. Their mutual respect and devotion to the Porter family and farm make them a great team. While the Porters’ two sons have gone into accounting and education, they hope their daughter might still come home from Cornell to farm. “That’s what she tells us,” Lisa says. “She’s got to find a farm boy with no farm,” Greg jokes.
Lisa and Greg love what they do with all its ups and downs. “When you’re having a bad day, you’ve got to step back and focus on the idea that you’re helping to feed the world, that you are one of the stewards of God’s creation,” Greg reflects. Every day brings treasures, Lisa adds: “The miracle of seeing a calf born, of putting a seed in the ground in the spring and seeing the corn that comes up, the hay that grows back each year, the meadows in bloom.”
Porterdale has been recognized as a New York State Conservation Farmer of the Year for its work on stream bank protection. Greg details their specific efforts, which include investing in a new concrete storage structure to hold manure so that it can be applied at optimum times of year and weather cycle, and then also spreading it in the most effective manner to minimize run-off. They also plant cover crops that thrive on the nutrients from applied manure while simultaneously building the soil and holding it in place to reduce erosion during the non-cropping season. Use of organic matter to enrich and build soil structure means less chemical fertilizers are needed. “It’s just more of an optimum way to farm,” Greg says. “If you don’t take care of your resources, you won’t have any left.”
The Porters have also partnered with their local soil and water district, which secured grant funds to plant trees along the banks of the Sandy Creek Watershed that runs through the farm and into Lake Ontario. Bedding for their cows is recycled sawdust from local mills and the new moms in the maternity barn relax on shredded newspaper and phone books, keeping those out of the landfill. “Happy cows are profitable cows,” Greg observes.
Farming with a sustainable focus, Greg explains, makes sense for so many reasons. “God only made so much land; we need to take care of it,” he says. “Land that’s taken care of will reap rewards.” Those grandkids, he adds, “they’re a big reason you think about it.”
Not all rewards, Lisa echoes, are financial. “Some are more intrinsic. The stewardship responsibility never goes away but we know it’s the right thing to do for the earth, for our farm and for our family.”
One way that everyone can help the environment at home is to set up a composting bin, which has several benefits to you and the Earth:
It will cut the amount of food waste going to landfills where, most people don’t realize, it won’t decompose the same way it will in a compost bin.
It will yield rich organic matter that can be applied to your vegetable and flower gardens.
Just the act of composting will make you more aware of how much food is wasted and help reduce that waste.
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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).