With 11 grown kids and 19 grandkids (so far) between the three Hanehan brothers and their wives, “We always say the best crop we’ve ever grown is our children,” says Cliff Hanehan, the youngest of the trio who took over Hanehan Family Dairy in Saratoga Springs from their parents.Two farms, 1500 cows, 2000 acres, and one family. The Hanehan #familyfarm tradition grows #FarmLove #CabotFarmers Click To Tweet
Their late father, Edward, returned home from World War II and bought the farm next door to the one he grew up on. The Hanehans feel fortunate that many of their kids have also followed in the agricultural tradition, including several who are working their way into the family business as partners. In 2006, Hanehan Family Dairy even added a second, satellite location about 140 miles west in Mount Upton, near Binghamton, to ensure there is enough space for the next generation to learn and grow. Between the two locations, the family now milks almost 1,500 cows and crops over 2,000 acres. Ideally the farms would not be so far apart, but land in their original home county of Saratoga was expensive, and expanding was a matter of business sustainability, the brothers explain.
“When I think of sustainability,” Cliff elaborates, “I think of farming and managing in a way that you’re keenly aware of the future of the dairy industry, of the environment and of your family. Sustainability means to be able to continue.” The brothers’ main goal, he continues, is “to grow our business so the next generation has a place to raise their family the way they were raised, the way we were raised. To do that, you’ve got to preserve the land and the water quality.” But all the environmentally responsible efforts won’t do any good, Charlie Hanehan points out, if you don’t stay in business. “Many sustainable practices make sense not only for the environment but also for our pocketbook,” he says.
Examples include the farm’s practice of double-cropping some fields with corn and then, after harvesting the corn and usually without tilling, planting triticale. This grain, a cross between wheat and rye, not only makes excellent animal feed but also helps prevent erosion of the soil and builds its structure. Both locations, Charlie explains, also use well water in a special cooling system that removes about half the heat from the milk right after it comes from the cows and significantly reduces the amount of refrigeration needed to bring it down to a safe storage temperature.
As an added bonus, that well water is then re-used for animal drinking. The farm’s cow bedding is a combination of recycled paper mixed with sawdust, both of which reduce waste generated by local saw and paper mills. Even some of the cows’ feed consists of byproducts of human food production, which offer solid nutrition to the animals and help cut food waste: soybean meal left from soy oil production and citrus pulp from making juice.
Hanehan Family Dairy also meticulously measures and tests the manure from their herd before applying it as natural fertilizer to fields, ensuring the soil does not receive more nutrients than it can properly absorb. Over-application of fertilizer could leach into the groundwater or run off into nearby waterways, explains Charlie. Between the two farms, there are several miles of riverfront on waterways that flow eventually into the Hudson River and into the Chesapeake Bay, he says: “We’re very cognizant of water quality.”
Beyond the big-picture value of protecting the watershed, the youngest Hanehans splashing in Fish Creek near a family cabin on the Saratoga Springs farm bring the benefit vividly to life. The older generation encourages their kids and grandkids to take days or weekends off down at the cabin. “Cell phones don’t work very well down there,” Cliff says with a chuckle. “It’s a great spot to swim and fish for freshwater bass or pan fish. We enjoy eating some of them, but the little kids just like to catch fish. They don’t really care what it is.”
It’s hard to beat fresh-caught fish sizzling in a cast iron skillet of Cabot butter over a campfire, but Cabot spokesperson/fisherman/chef Jimmy Kennedy came up with this easy, classy way to cook fresh fish filets over an open fire or grill.
End-of-summer adventures with the kids to local swimming holes, streams and lakes are always better with some wholesome easy-to-pack fuel like these:
Try our Cabot cheddar and bean spirals, which you can slice and pack and serve cool with carrots and celery sticks. Kids will love dunking both the spirals and veggies in a creamy dip of salsa swirled with some Cabot plain Greek yogurt. And how about these chewy yogurt granola bars for a not-too-sweet homemade treat? (They’re a little easier to transport—and just as good—without the yogurt drizzle.)
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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).