In many families, dairy farming is a tradition that is passed down from generation to generation. Parents transfer land and infrastructure to their children, working side-by-side for many years. But that is not Paul Lisai’s story.
Paul is a first generation dairy farmer. In 2005, Paul graduated from Sterling College, a small, environmentally focused, liberal arts college located in Craftsbury, Vermont, where he designed his own major in Agroforesty. Paul entered college knowing he wanted to have a career that would allow him to spend time outdoors, contribute meaningfully to a community, and practice environmental responsibility. Dairy farming didn’t cross his mind until he spent time, as a student, living and working on a farm not far from the college. At that point, he began to form a vision of a small, value-added dairy business, built around sustainability.
After graduating, Paul traveled to New Zealand, a country know for its robust dairy economy, to see if dairy farming was truly his calling. Paul spent six months there, milking cows and learning about rotational grazing, a technique that involves moving cows from one pasture to the next, to ensure a consistent supply of nutrition.
“New Zealand was truly amazing,” Paul says. “I began to form a vision of the sort of business I wanted to run. The experience really shaped how I farm today.”
Today, Paul’s dream of a small, pasture-based, value-added dairy farm has become a reality. His farm, located in East Albany, Vermont, is named “Sweet Rowen Farmstead.” “Rowen” the Scottish word for the second cut of hay. Paul is the sole proprietor. His herd consists of fifteen Randall Linebacks Crosses, a black and white spotted breed.
In addition to shipping milk to Cabot, Paul owns a pasteurizer, which he uses to process his own cheese and milk. He sells his products directly to local restaurants, grocery stores, and direct to consumers at farmers’ markets.
“Cabot has been very supportive of my desire to process my own milk,” he says. “Most co-ops require you to ship all your milk, which would mean I couldn’t market any of my own products. But Cabot was willing to work with me, and gave me the opportunity to diversify. It’s a great relationship, and provides me with a steady, reliable base for my business.”
Although starting a farm and business from scratch has been a challenge, Paul is confident in his vision and sure he’s made the right choice.
“I may not come from a family of farmers, but I am surrounded by a community that has helped me every step of the way,” he says, referring to the Vermont farmers who taught him the ropes and helped him get his start when he returned from New Zealand.
“Farming is hard, but the rewards are great,” he adds. “I’m farming the way I want to farm, and my business is growing.”