Every single Cabot farm raises cows, of course, but many also nurture something else equally important: the next generation of men and women who will keep American agriculture going strong.
At Mapleview Dairy in northern New York, David Fisher and his sister, LouAnne King, carry on the farming legacy started by their grandparents, Floyd and Millie Fisher, in 1946. Over the last few years, David’s two sons, Jordan and Jacob, have come back to the farm to run pieces of the operation. “You always hope for that,” David says, “but there was never any expectation. Really we wanted them to find something they enjoyed.”
Jordan, the eldest, admits that even into his senior year at college, he wasn’t sure he was going to come home. But, he says, “I knew it was a place I could fit in, a place I could be helpful. They’ve given me room to grow and the support to make decisions.” His brother, Jacob, always figured he’d come back, but he also knew not to take it for granted. “The rule was we were expected to go do something on our own first,” he explains, “that we’d better be sure it was really what we wanted to do.”
Jacob, who runs the day-to-day operations of Mapleview’s satellite dairy among other responsibilities, appreciates that farming allows “you to see what you’ve built.” Growing up on the farm taught him a lot, he acknowledges, including a strong work ethic. “Sometimes that’s just about being stubborn and not taking no for an answer,” he says with a chuckle. “You’ve just got to make it work.”
LouAnne’s four daughters—Jacob and Jordan’s first cousins—have all left the farm, for now at least, but it hasn’t left them. Three have followed another family tradition and attended Cornell to study animal science and agriculture like their cousins, their grandfather, their parents and uncle, and several other relatives. Jennifer, the youngest, is currently in Ireland studying abroad. She is a devoted cow-lover and is considering a career in food systems and marketing.
Sara, the eldest, is an agricultural extension agent based out of Plattsburgh, NY helping farmers access a wide range of resources to support success. “I work with people who are really passionate about what they do and when you work with people who are passionate, it’s easy to be passionate, too,” she says.
Growing up in a farming community, Sara reflects, “You got to see a lot of generosity on all sides, on the farm and off the farm, a good sense of community. I remember it surprising me when I got out in the world that people don’t all deliver food to neighbors who are going through a hard time. I don’t think that’s unique to my family. I think it’s just what farmers do.”
Kristin, the second eldest, agrees that the community is a tight one: “Through all the years, I’ve made so many good friends, they’re almost like family. We’re all in it together as dairy producers.” After she graduated from Cornell, Kristin joined the same regional dairy consulting team as her father. She operates out of Syracuse and works with farmers around New York State to optimize nutrition for their herds along with helping them address other challenges. She loves visiting farms, meeting the herdsmen and owners, and seeing how the cows are doing. “When you work closely with clients and acknowledge the successes together that you’ve achieved working as a team,” she explains, “it’s very rewarding.”
The third sister, Laurie, has followed her own path, but even she is starting to see a future where she might come back to her farming roots. Currently a junior at Norwich University in Vermont studying mechanical engineering, Laurie is also Assistant Captain of the school’s nationally ranked women’s ice hockey team and her statistics rank her as one of the top goalies in Division Three this year.
Like her cousins and her sisters, Laurie grew up doing farm chores until her cousin Jordan introduced her to ice hockey. By middle school, Laurie was playing on two teams and she became a sought-after goalie. “My parents were a little nervous when I switched to goalie, but I loved it,” she says. “I’m the last person who’s got to stop the puck and I kind of like having that last chance. Yes, it can be tough when it goes through, but you kind of have to have a short memory and drop it and move on to the next.”
Laurie spent three years working hard on her hockey skills at Ontario Hockey Academy before she came to Norwich. Although she was not heartbroken to leave farm chores behind, she says, “Even though I didn’t like doing them, I like that I grew up with them. You had chores and you were expected to do them. I get that I have to get stuff done and I do it.”
The Cadets are currently in play-offs and Laurie is focused on that and her studies (she made Dean’s List last semester), but she does sometimes think ahead to what she might do after graduation in 2018. Almost to her own surprise, she wonders if her degree could be put to good use back at Mapleview. “All my sisters and my cousins have been involved with the farm more than me,” she says, “but now they’re talking about maybe putting in a methane digester and a water treatment plant. I think I might really enjoy if I could work on the agriculture side of mechanical engineering, relate my degree back to the dairy industry and be part of the farm.”
Chores are not just for farm kids. Do your kids do chores? Do you think it helps them develop a sense of responsibility and teamwork? Here are some thoughts on chores from an expert.