At the start of a new year, it’s natural to look forward while also reflecting on the past. For some dairy farm families, like the Greenbackers of Durham, Connecticut, that past goes way back…way way back, in fact!
It was 1723 when the family received their original farmland in a deed from the King of England. Two hundred and sixty-four years later in 1987, development pressure obliged them to move seven miles away, but they kept on farming.
“I was in seventh grade when the cows and the family moved to Durham,” says Melissa Greenbacker Dziurgot, who is at least the tenth generation on the farm. “Some of the family members were quite upset given the history of the land. It made me realize just how long it had been in the family.”
Greenbacker’s Brookfield Farm is now run by Melissa and her husband, Matt Dziurgot, along with Melissa’s father, Joe, and uncle, Dave. Melissa and her brother and sister grew up doing chores and showing animals. Her siblings still own a few animals but are not involved in day-to-day farming.
“When I was a little girl,” Melissa recounts, “I wanted to be a vet. Then I decide I wanted to raise and care for my own animals. I wanted to take over the family farm and continue the legacy.”
She went away to Cornell and earned a degree in animal science focused on dairy management and worked on a couple other farms before returning home. “It’s good to realize there are other ways to do things,” Melissa says.
The family currently milks about 160 cows, mostly Holstein with a few Jerseys, Brown Swiss and Milking Shorthorns. They run open houses and Melissa welcomes groups from pre-school age up to college for farm tours. The farm also works with local vocational agriculture high school student interns and hosts an active 4-H club.
“We are in a suburban area of Connecticut,” Melissa explains. “People commute by our farm to go to work and some might see what’s going on and wonder. A lot of people are disconnected from where their food comes from these days.”
Her father adds: “Every time we can teach people a little something about the farm, it helps the industry.”
A recent Open Farm day drew 600 visitors, a number that makes Melissa happy. “I really want to reach out to the community,” she says, “to show them how we care for the animals and care for the land. I love what I do and I want to share it with others.”
When kids come who’ve never seen a cow and they get excited to pet to a cow and make the connection to their favorite cheese, she continues, “it reminds me why I do what I do.”
Check out Greenbacker’s Brookfield Farm’s Facebook page for great photos and videos of life on the farm.