Putnam Hill Farm sits along Vermont's eastern border, just across the Connecticut River from New Hampshire, in the small town of Newbury. For more than a century, the town's fertile alluvial meadows have been sought out by farmers to raise their dairy and beef cattle. Today, Mark and Sarah Putnam are raising their family, along with their herd of Jerseys, on 100 acres in the hills near that ancient riverbed.
"I grew up on a local dairy farm, and my husband's grandparents were also farmers," says Sarah, who is originally from Bradford. "For as long as we can remember, our families have been dairy farmers - it's been Mark's dream to own his own farm every since he was little. In 1989, we were given the opportunity to purchase a wood lot owned by his grandfather Ned. We knew with hard work, we could clear the land and transform it into a successful dairy farm, and that's what we did." Mark and Sarah were married in 1989, the same year they purchased the wood lot, originally acquired by Ned in the 1930s and used for logging and his sugar operation since.
The couple started from scratch and built the entire operation from the ground up, even living out of the sugar house for the first few years until they finished building a house. For the next decade, they would build all of the structures necessary for a modern dairy farm - including barns, enclosures, sheds, and storage buildings - all with very little outside help. In 2000, they were ready to begin their dairy business, and started buying calves. As a testament to the complete transformation of Putnam Hill Farm at the hands of Mark and Sarah, the only original structure that is still in use today is the sugar house. The Putnams still sugar every year, producing approximately 200 to 300 gallons of maple syrup.
Today, Mark and Sarah are getting some help. Mark still tends to the crops, while Sarah continues to primarily care for the herd, but their son Dustin, a recent graduate of VTC with a degree in Dairy Farm Management, also regularly pitches in with the chores when he has spare time from his job on another farm. Their daughter Megan, who will be attending VTC in the fall for the same degree as her brother, also does what she can to help her parents. "We are so lucky to have two wonderful children," continues Sarah. "Ever since they were small, they've been a big help to us. Now that they're grown, we are very excited they've taken an interest in the family farm, and hope they will one day take over for us. Working with my family is truly the most rewarding part of being a dairy farmer."
The Putnams are committed to improving and growing their business as much as they are able. Their facilities utilize lots of energy efficient equipment, including the milking system, lighting and insulation. They currently have a herd of 40 milkers, but are looking to purchase Mark's grandfather's farm, so they can expand their operation. Dustin is also looking to put his recent education to use, and has been researching robotic milking systems to help improve production. When not working on the farm, Sarah acts as a town Justice of the Peace. Dustin is a member of the Newbury Volunteer Fire Department, and Mark is a former Voting Representative for Agri-Mark. They've won numerous quality awards for their milk from Agri-Mark, receiving one every year since 2001.