For more than 100 years, Elm Farm has been a part of the Woodstock dairy farming tradition, and now under the direction of its sixth generation, it is continuing to grow, advance and evolve. Matt Peckham, along with his wife Chrissy, have had the reins since 2004, when they took over ownership of the farm from his grandfather Robert. Since then, he's nearly doubled the size of his herd, built a 1.4 million gallon manure pit, implemented more sustainable methods, increased the size of his barns and won awards for his environmentally conscious farming practices.
Elm Farm dates back to 1885, when Matt's great-great-great-grandfather Amos Peckham and his son Samual Howard Peckham moved to Woodstock from Newport, RI. Samual Howard was looking for prime farmland, and when he found the property in Woodstock, he quickly purchased it and began assembling a dairy herd. For many years, the family bottled and delivered skim milk door to door in Woodstock and Putnam. The cream would be loaded onto a rail car to be delivered to restaurants in Boston. Though their retail operation ceased, the Peckham family continued to grow the business and expand the herd, which now totals 150 milking cows, all descendants of the original stock purchased more than a century ago.
"I have four very important reasons to continue growing and modernizing our farm," says Matt. "Their names are Caleb, Grace, Graham and Tucker. Chrissy and I work hard so that our children will be in the best possible position to continue dairy farming when it is their turn to take over."
To ensure a successful future for his children, Matt is constantly making efforts to improve Elm Farm, including the addition of a 1.4 million gallon manure pit. "The manure pit was one way to make our farm more sustainable," explains Matt. "It collects all of the runoff from the farm, so nothing goes into the local waterways. It has also significantly reduced our use of commercial fertilizers by allowing us to spread our own manure. That, along with minimal tillage practices, helps to conserve our land and resources."
Matt's focus on environmental stewardship, which includes multiple appearances testifying in front of the CT Environmental Committee and participating in the ‘Save Dairy‘ campaign, have led to a number of recent awards for the young farmer. He received a CT Century Farm Award for continued agricultural practices for more than 100 years, won a State Dairy of Distinction Award and most proudly, in 2011, won the Outstanding Young Farmer Award for the state of CT from the Department of Agriculture. Matt went on to the national competition, and ended up finishing in the top ten in the country.
While Matt is grateful for the recognition, and enjoys educating state legislators on the needs and hardships of being a dairy farmer, he never fails to support the community. He is a member of the CT Farm Bureau. Every year, Elm Farm hosts a plowing event for the Old Iron Tractor Club. “It is a great event that allows antique tractor owners to have a connection to the land that most of them would not have,” says Matt. “They have a strong interest in farming, along with the tractors that their fathers and grandfathers grew up using, and our plow day gives people a chance to get out and farm the way it was done 50 years ago. It also brings the community to our farm and gives them a chance to ask questions and see how and why we do what we do. To me, this is a very important part of my job as a dairy farmer.” The Peckhams also give tours to local school groups, the highlight of which is the new calf barn.
“I’m proud to carry on the Peckham name and tradition as a sixth generation dairy farmer,” notes Matt, “but I’m even more proud to be raising the seventh.”