Melissa Breene Jordan was just five years old when her family’s farm won the 1988 Green Pasture Award making it Rhode Island’s Dairy Farm of the Year. When they received their second award in 2009, she had returned after studying animal science at the University of Connecticut at Storrs and was helping her dad, Kevin Breene, on the farm.For Thanksgiving, the Breenes have always made their own butter—and you don’t have to live on a farm to do it for your family feast. Click To Tweet
This year, after the announcement that Breene Hollow Farm had won its third Green Pasture Award, Melissa was especially proud and grateful because she and her husband, Matt Jordan, took over the farm two years ago. “I’m so thankful to my dad that he built this whole farm from the ground up, so that we can do what we love,” Melissa says.
The Green Pasture Award is given every year to one outstanding dairy farm in each New England state. Winners are evaluated on production records; herd, pasture, and crop management; environmental practices; contributions to agriculture and the local community; and overall excellence in dairying.
Kevin Breene started farming with 20 cows he milked in a barn at his parents’ home. In 1980, he bought 150 acres in West Greenwich, Rhode Island and Breene Hollow Farm was launched.
Today, the farm has grown to 380 acres with a milking herd of 60 cows, a happy mix of Holsteins, Jerseys, Ayrshires and even some Linebacks with a distinctive line running down their spine. Kevin continues to crop and raise heifers, but has handed over the general reins to Melissa and Matt.
The family has also grown in other ways: Melissa and Matt are now the grateful, but very busy, parents of three children ages 4 to 2 months. Luckily, Matt is as committed to farming as his wife. “His grandfather and uncle had a dairy farm not half a mile from here,” Melissa says. “He grew up working on it.”
The couple even met through a dairy connection. “Our milk tester’s son was good friends with Matt,” Melissa explains. “She introduced us at the local county fair.”
She appreciates the partnership that allows her to work a job she loves and be a stay-at-home mom at the same time. “I could never do it alone with three kids, so I’m grateful we are able to run the farm as a team,” Melissa says.
The couple has been gradually evaluating every aspect of the operation and investing in improvements from a new manure storage facility to redesigned calf housing that helps keep the young animals cleaner and healthier. “I take a lot of pride in what we do,” Melissa says.
In addition to being part of the co-op behind Cabot, Breene Hollow Farm is a member of the Rhody Fresh Co-op, which sells fresh, local milk, cream, cheese, butter—and new this year, ice cream—in stores throughout Rhode Island.
Melissa was involved for almost a decade in the Young Co-Operator Program, rising to the role of President. She has also been active in 4-H, the Rhode Island Farm Bureau, the New England Dairy & Food Council’s education outreach program, and the Future Farmers of America.
These days, Melissa and Matt have their hands pretty much full with the farm and family. Their eldest daughter, Kenzie, loves helping to feed the calves and her mom, in turn, appreciates that she can spend so much time with her family.
“Kenzie has seen the good and the bad,” Melissa says, noting that farm life is real life. “She asks questions, and I’m right there so I can tell her what happened.”
“I love being able to have my kids with me on the farm,” she continues. “And I love being around animals, especially the calves. My absolute favorite part is when cows give birth. The miracle of life never gets old.”
Thanksgiving Traditions at Breene Hollow Farm
Melissa’s father-in-law was one of 13 kids in his family, which meant holiday dinner in the grange hall for over 100 relatives until Matt’s grandfather passed away a couple of years ago. The Jordans also raise turkeys and have a community processing day when neighbors come to help, earning themselves a free turkey for their efforts.
Melissa Breene Jordan’s parents started the tradition of making fresh-churned butter for the Thanksgiving feast years ago. Melissa says her four-year-old, Kenzie, loves shaking cream into butter. You don’t need to live on a farm to do this fun activity. The leftover buttermilk can be used in baking; Melissa’s mom uses it for cornbread.
For home-“churned” butter:
Bring 1 cup heavy cream (preferably not ultra-pasteurized, just “pasteurized”) to room temperature. Pour cream into a pint jar, seal tightly and shake until lumps appear (about seven to ten minutes). Pour off the buttermilk, rinse with clear water, add a little salt if you like, and serve with rolls or crackers.
Options: For quicker butter-making, use smaller plastic containers with less cream and add a clean pebble or marble to each container for additional friction. (Pebbles can crack glass jars if they are shaken too vigorously.)