Lisbon, New York, has been home to Five Mile Farm, and the Akins Family for more than 160 years. Its 1,200 acres of fertile fields lie a dozen miles south of the St. Lawrence River, the natural border between the United States and Ontario, Canada. There, Mark and Becky Akins are raising their two children, the seventh generation of the Akins family farmers.
Like all those generations to come before him, Mark Akins has spent his entire life, except for his time studying at Cornell, on the family farm. Alongside his father Dean, his son Ryan, and his daughter Allison, Mark tends to the farm's 600-plus Holsteins. In addition to working the fields, feeding the animals, and milking the cows, Ryan and Allison are also full-time college students who have been paying for their education by raising Black Angus beef cattle. "When the kids were 12, they started raising the Angus cows, and saving all the money they earned for school," says Mark. "Today, Ryan owns 22 cows, and Allison owns 13, which goes a long way towards their tuitions at Cornell and Cortland State University."
When Mark isn't managing the day-to-day operation of Five Mile Farm, he dedicates his time to St. Lawrence County as a member of its legislature. "In a town that has ten times more cows than people, it is extremely important to represent farm families," says Mark. "The economic impact of dairy farms in the area is just huge." Mark is also a frequent guest agriculture lecturer at Clarkson University.
While the rest of the family is seeing to the cows and the crops, Becky teaches math at the local high school. She is also highly involved in a group called Interact, a community service group mentored by the Rotary Club. They organize public service projects throughout St. Lawrence County and surrounding counties, even giving their time to residents in countries as far away as El Salvador.
In addition to the family labor, Mark also has five full-time employees, two of which have been with the Akins for more than 20 years. Mark has a cousin that oversees the field crew, and both of his parents, Dean and Elizabeth, still help out. Dean loves driving the tractor and helping in the fields, and Elizabeth can be found outside most days cutting the grass and keeping the property in order.
After more than one-and-a-half centuries, Five Mile Farm is still expanding. The Akins are building a new Heifer barn, and hope to increase the herd size in the upcoming years. Mark would also like to continue with the successful side business started by his children, and add more beef cows, along with more cropland. "Diversification is very important for the modern family farm," says Mark. "Having a balance of a number of different endeavors is what makes a farm successful."
For Mark, success isn't defined in dollars, but in the time he gets to spend with his family. "I am extremely fortunate to have so many of my family members around me everyday," says Mark." For Becky and I, there's nothing else we would rather be doing."