The Ilsley Farm sits along a country road in Weare, New Hampshire, about 20 minutes southwest of Concord. There, Douglas, Heidi, and Lisa Ilsley continue to persevere as a small dairy farm, just as the family has done for nearly a century.
In the 1920s, Lewis Ilsley, the progenitor of the family's farming tradition, began hand-milking cows in Weare. In 1933, he and his family moved a few miles to a new farm in East Weare Village to take advantage of electricity, the latest innovation to come to the area. Over the ensuing decades, the family's Ayshire herd grew as the community's demand for Ilsley milk rose. The farm survived a few disasters over the years, including the East Weare floods, which forced the family to move their cattle to higher ground, and seek new cropland in surrounding areas after the high water destroyed their fields, barns, and equipment.
In 1949, Lewis's son Allen got married, and purchased the current farm on nearby South Sugar Hill, which he named Allen Acres Farm. Douglas was born and raised on the property, where he stayed for nearly 40 years under the employ of his father until 2009. Facing retirement, and years of low milk prices, Allen decided to take a bid on the dairy that year from the CWT, selling all of the milk cows. As part of the deal, he was allowed to keep the young stock, which he gave to Douglas. With the end of Allen Acres Farm's milking days, Douglas decided to begin farming on his own.
Douglas purchased the land across the street from his father's farm, and continued to milk what was left of the former herd, using the facilities and equipment that remained on his father's farm. He, along with his wife and daughter, worked hard over the ensuing years, rebuilding the herd to 45 animals, a mixture of mostly Holstein, with some Jersey and Short Horn crosses.
Lisa recently returned from studying Dairy Management at the University of New Hampshire, and has been putting her education to work, looking for ways to diversify the business and ensure the survival of the family farm. "The last couple of years have been tough," says Lisa. "Dad had to take an outside job to keep the farm going. My goal is grow the farm, add more animals, and begin making our own dairy products, like ice cream, yogurt, and cheese, so that hopefully he can return to the farm full time."
Currently, the Ilsleys sell eggs on their property, and have a vegetable farm stand in the summer. Lisa also sells farm-raised grass fed beef at the local farmers market, and has purchased the equipment to open her own ice cream shop, which she plans to have ready by next spring.
"I enjoy teaching people about food and the importance of local agriculture, and seeing the smile on their faces when they come to purchase our eggs, or buy our grass-fed beef," says Lisa. "We've faced a lot of challenges as a family, but we've continued to work hard and endure because we love being together, and we love being farmers."
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