A shared love of farming first brought John and Ashley Collins together, and remains the foundation of Collins Powder Hill Farm. "Ashley and I first met at a 4-H meeting," says John, "and immediately had so much in common." Today John and Ashley are partners in farming and life, caring for the Collins Family Farm, 80 lactating cows, and their 18 month old son, Levi.
Located in Enfield, Connecticut, Powder Hill Farm is a diverse operation in which many members of the Collins family play important roles. Jack and Mavis, John's parents, built the dairy and are still involved in daily operations. John's sister and brother-in-law, Michelle and Tony Bellafronte, run The Collins Creamery, a popular ice cream shop located on the farm. Another sister and brother-in-law, Tracey and Josh Clague, manage an on-farm compost business and the farm website.
And in addition to his role in the dairy operation, John runs a successful breeding program in partnership with his father-in-law, Morey Miller. "We're doing a lot of different things here on the farm, which has been key to our success over the years," says John. "We are all working together to ensure this place is here for our grandkids." John is especially passionate about the breeding program, and credits Ashley's father Morey, a veterinarian, with helping him develop this interest. "It's very gratifying to see the animals I've bred develop," John says. He's not the type to brag, but Powder Hill Holsteins are recognized as premier breeding stock in the region. John's cows consistently take home awards at the state and regional level.
Although Collins Powder Hill is a diverse operation, the dairy business continues to be the core. The Collins family has farmed Powder Hill for five generations, and cows have always been part of the equation. But it was John's father, Jack, who decided to focus on dairy and take the business to the next level. "My grandfather had been raising chickens," John says. "He had about 10,000 layers." But when Jack returned to the farm after college, he had different ideas. "My father saw the opportunity in dairy, and made a decision to shift the focus of the farm to cows."
As the farm has expanded over the years, teamwork and balance have been integral to the farm's success. "There's a lot going on at our farm, and it's all important. It's all about time management, finding ways to fit more into a day, and to pull people in to work together," John says. "There's not a lot of time for off-farm experiences," he adds. " We are juggling a lot. But we are still here."
Despite the demands, John is thankful for the opportunity to farm. "I have been the luckiest person in the world to grow up on this farm, and to live here now with my wife, and raise Levi here. Land is freedom. I'm not stuck in a cubicle all day. We want to continue to farm, to create the same opportunities for future generations." Which is why, John says, despite all the responsibilities he and Ashley have at Powder Hill, they still make time for the organization that brought them together, 4-H. Together they lead the Merry Mooers, one of the oldest 4-H organizations in Connecticut. "These kids are learning about farming, about animals, and they are having a great time," John says. "It's a busy life," he adds, "but you need to make time for the things that matter."