If you ever need a lesson on independence and self-reliance, visit the Ridley family of Shapleigh, Maine. Roger and Karen started as first generation farmers in 1973. They own 800 acres of mostly woodland, have 100 cows, and milk 35 of them. Since the farm is not large in terms of milk cows, the family does many other things to get by. Roger, Karen, and their children all work on the farm and have outside jobs as well. Everybody lends a hand, and they all do a little bit of everything.
In between the morning and evening milking and the countless other chores necessary to run a farm, the Ridleys also operate a maple syrup business. Each year, they look forward to Maple Sunday, a day of celebration in Maine. Thousands of people come from all over the state to visit maple syrup makers, see how the process is done, and purchase local products. It comes on the third Sunday of March, and it is a welcome relief after a long, hard winter. It is Maine's way of announcing that spring is near.
In order to offset the swings of the milk market, the Ridleys also grow and sell vegetables for sale at their farm store, provide trucking services, and sell timber and fire wood. Says Roger: "I won a contest with my dairy cow at the county fair when I was ten and wanted to be a dairy farmer ever since. Dairy farming is my first love, and it's a wonderful way to raise a family, but I learned early on that we had to diversify. We needed to have other options available to be successful."
Says Roger: "The family farm has been the backbone of America from the very beginning, and it's disheartening to see the current trends. We don't need another strip mall or condo development. We have to keep our farmers in business." And with the Ridley family working as hard as they do, they're not likely to go anywhere else anytime soon.
Watch Roger's interview with NECN's Billy Costa: