If you want to get an honest feel for the depth and breadth of dairy farming in New England, spend a few minutes with Joe Greenbacker of Durham, Connecticut. Every sentence is thoughtful, every word carefully chosen, and every pause filled with meaning. For Joe, dairy farming is bred in the bone. His family traces their farm roots back to 1723 when his ancestors received a land grant from the King of England. The family has remained true to its roots for over 250 years.
Joe speaks expertly about the grassroots issues farmers face every day: bad weather, worse milk prices, herd health, milk safety, broken tractors, long hours, and most difficult of all, government intervention. Says Joe: "The federal government has developed a complex formula that sets milk prices. While you might think this could stabilize the industry, in fact, it often results in wild fluctuations where the cost to produce milk is greater than the price farmers receive.That's exactly what's happening right now, and it's putting the entire industry at risk."
Well, Joe is not one to complain, and he and his family are in it for the long haul. Joe and his wife Lois, Joe's brother, and several other family members run their farm of some 665 acres and 380 cattle. They have about 160 cows they milk. The work is constant, and the challenges are relentless. But, says Joe: "What a life. There's no better place to raise a family. All my children have had their own show animals, and the entire family is involved with the farm. You live the reward of this lifestyle every day."
And the Greenbackers love to share their enthusiasm with others. Whether it's an open house where they show their operation to some 800 people at a time or a visit from students in Yale's Forestry Department, their barn is always open. Like so many dairy farmers, the Greenbackers are gracious hosts and always find time for school children, college students, and even the occasional passer-by who just asks to take a look. There is no better spokesman for the dairy farmer. Joe is a dairy farmer through and through. Says Joe: "Every time we can teach people a little something about the farm, it helps the industry. People just don't know what it takes to run a farm, and we're glad to give them a taste of what it's all about."
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