We were in the midst of an arctic cold snap back in January when a friend of mine shared a post on Facebook about farming written by a farmer friend of hers. The post ended up going a bit viral. I contacted the author, second generation dairy farmer Mark Bradley, of Sayre, Pa., as soon as I saw the post and asked him if I could come photograph him at the farm one day. He kindly agreed. This is the post that caught the attention of me and others:
“I stepped outside this morning to be greeted by negative whatever it is, plus a vicious wind. I knew before even stepping in the barn that it was going to be a rough one. It was a nice 34 degrees in the middle of the barn, but colder along the northwest corner. We got the cows all fed, I thawed out a couple water bowls, then started milking. As I was putting a milker on Hershey, this cow Candy turned around and put her soft warm muzzle alongside my cheek and in my neck. She loves to give kisses and get hugs, and she knew I needed a hug now more than ever.
photo by Mark Bradley Photo by Mark Bradley
I wrapped my arms around her soft head and with tears in my eyes, gave her a big hug. Sometimes it just hits you…the reality of the responsibility of being a farmer. It doesn’t matter how cold it is, how crappy it is, how sick you are, or how tired you are. Good day or bad, our cows count on us to take care of them, and we do whatever it takes to keep them happy. Dad and I milk around 50 cows, and have another 50 or so of youngstock. So over 100 animals ranging in age from a few hours old ( yes I had one born last night) to over 9 years old count on us everyday. Just dad and I. No hired hands, no substitutes…
I’m not complaining, I’m not looking for sympathy or a pat on the back… I’m just trying to help people understand the commitment that farmers have to the animals they love. Buy milk, buy cheese, buy yogurt, buy anything dairy… if your kids don’t like white milk, buy chocolate. It’s still better for them than soda or sports drinks…stay warm. I’ll be outside thawing out the frost free waterer that is not supposed to freeze.”
Thank you to Mark for letting my kids and I visit his farm and for answering some questions about his lifestyle and dairy farming in Bradford County, Pa. He has also been gracious enough to agree to be part of my personal photo project focusing on dairy farms in Bradford County. If you are a farmer, or know someone who is, and would like to be part of this series, aimed at bringing awareness and appreciative attention to farmers in our communities, please contact me via my contact form on this site or at firstname.lastname@example.org
Tell us a little about yourself… where your from originally, your family, hobbies, etc.
“I was born in Sayre and raised on the farm that my father and I operate. My parents bought the farm in 1979 (a year before I was born), so I am the second generation to run the farm. My father’s grandfather had a small dairy farm just up the road from where he grew up a few miles from our farm, so his interest in farming was gained at a young age. My wife Nichole and I have been married 12 years, and together we have a 6 year old son (Parker) and 3 year old daughter (Lexi) who both love the farm. In my spare time I enjoy taking Parker hunting, fishing, woodworking, and fixing old tractors. “
How long have you been farming? How did you become involved in it?
“I’ve been involved with the farm my whole life. From a young age I would help out with whatever chores I could. I’ve always loved being around the cows, and as I got a little older I was able to drive tractors and run the machinery helping out with the field work. I didn’t always see myself coming back to the farm… after high school I went to college with the intention of becoming a teacher. It was the first time I had ever really been away from the farm.
I came home every weekend to work on the farm, and I dreaded going back to college every Sunday night. Just over a year into college I began to realize that my heart was in farming, and that’s what I wanted to do. I changed my major from secondary education and finished in 4 years with degrees in physics and geology. After graduating, Dad and I formed a formal partnership, and this spring will be 15 years operating together.
What is the main focus of your farm?
Dairy is the main focus of our farm. We milk around 50 cows which produce about 200 gallons of milk a day. We raise all our heifer (female) calves, so we have around 100 total. We grow and harvest almost all our feed on 225 owned and rented acres.
Considering the hardships farmers face in the United States especially, what keeps you from giving up on farming?
Honestly, it is a labor of love. I love working with the cows, and I love working the land. It is not a job, it’s a lifestyle. There are always bad days, but I can’t see myself doing anything else.
What do you think the future holds for farming in the United States?
The future of dairy farming in this country is worrisome. Small family farms like ours are disappearing at an alarming rate. Farms are becoming bigger with more cows, and are run like a factory with many employees and shifts. They are still producing good quality milk, but the cozy small farm where the cows have names and the farmers care for them and know them like pets is going by the wayside.
What is the best part of your farming life?
The absolute best part is sharing the farm life with my kids. They see what I do and are eager to help. They understand where their milk and meat come from and they know how hard we work to put it on the table. My heart melts when they go on and on at the dinner table about how good their milk is, and talk about which cow it might have come from.
Aside from raising our kids on the farm, my other favorite thing is working so closely with nature. There is something so amazing about helping a calf to be born, then raising that calf into mature milking cow. The same can be said for planting seeds and harvesting the crops.
What is the hardest part of your farming life?
This is a tough one to answer… I would have to say the disappointments. I had an old farmer tell me one time that it’s human nature to want to be in control, but it’s God that is in control, and we have to trust in him. I tell myself that whenever something happens that is out of my control.
You can put your heart and soul into getting a crop planted, only to have a drought or have a torrential rain that ruins it. Your favorite cow can get sick and despite your best efforts you may lose her. Machinery breaks at times when you need it the most. Cows go into labor at the most inconvenient times. Dinners are missed because something requires immediate attention. When I get sick, no matter how bad I feel, I still have to get up and get the work done because all the cows are counting on me.
Anything you would like to add?
When I tell people I’m a farmer, most will respond with “that’s a hard life”. They are right. But it’s a good life. There is nothing more satisfying to me than being able to do what I love day in and day out. At the end of the road, it’s not about how much money you made, but about the quality of life you lived. I am so blessed.
Thank you to Lisa Engelbert of Engelbert Farms in Nichols, N.Y. for being part of this edition of Tell Me More About. Engelbert Farms is owned by Lisa and her husband Kevin. It is a family owned and operated business with her sons and their families also participating in day-to-day operations. According to their site: “Engelbert Farms, LLC is a certified organic dairy farm, certified by Vermont Organic Farmers (NOFA-VT). It is a true family farm, farming in the same location since 1911. Kevin, Lisa and their sons Joe and John all actively work on the farm. Their other son, Kris is often around helping out, too.”
I recently visited their farm store and highly recommend their homemade cheeses, especially the lemon and thyme moovache which is only in stock during the summer months. My children and I had a sample and agreed it was the best cheese we have ever tasted.
Tell Me More About is a feature where I showcase artists, business people, businesses or simply every day people with an interesting story.
Can you tell me a little about your farm, how long you’ve had it and how you got started in farming?
I grew up on a dairy farm in Athens, Pa. When my older brothers decided they didn’t want to farm, my dad sold the cows and took a job off the farm. I’ve always loved animals and loved to grow things, so farming always had a special place in my heart. The Engelbert family had been farming in Nichols since 1911, and in the Southern Tier of New York since 1848. My husband, Kevin and I got married in 1980, and took over management of the family farm from my father-in-law. In 1981, we started farming organically, and became certified organic in 1984. We didn’t know it at the time, but we were the first certified organic dairy farm in the US! We are first and foremost an organic dairy farm, but when our sons graduated from college and came back to the farm, we realized we needed to diversify to be able to support more families. Our operation now includes organic meats (beef, pork, veal), cheeses, small-scale seasonal vegetables, and field crops. With the exception of the small amount of milk that is kept back to be made into cheese, all of our milk is sold through Organic Valley.
What does your farm offer the community?
We have a farm store on the farm to sell our organic, farm-raised meats, cheeses and vegetables directly to our customers. Every piece of our meat is traceable back to the day the animal was born, and our cheeses are made by hand exclusively with our milk. Later in the summer, as vegetables are harvested, we have potatoes, garlic, onions, and other seasonal vegetables available. Products from other sustainable farms are available as well – eggs, chicken, turkey, honey, maple syrup, jams & jellies, salsa and pasta sauces. We also sell meat and cheese to stores and restaurants in the Valley, as well as Endicott, Binghamton, Ithaca and Watkins Glen, and as far as the Hudson Valley and Long Island. Our farm is part of the Tioga Farm Trail, and the Finger Lakes Cheese Alliance. Several times a year, we have an open house on our farm and offer samples of our cheeses and smoked sausages, as well as farm tours. Both my husband and I have been heavily involved in organic agriculture at the state and national level, and have done presentations at numerous workshops and field days on organic farming over the past 35 years.
How is farming changing today? What is the future of farming?
Farming has always been a challenging profession, but it keeps getting more difficult to do business and make a profit. Regulations, taxes and land prices continue to increase, putting more and more burden on farmers. Farms are getting bigger and bigger and small farms are getting squeezed out. I would love to see farms start getting smaller and more diversified, with their products being processed and sold regionally. In my mind that would contribute to national security with less imported food, reduced miles that food travels to get to the consumer, and would provide a fresher, safer, more traceable product. I believe to be truly sustainable and profitable in the future, farms will need to sell as much as possible of what they produce directly to the consumer.
What is the most rewarding part of owning a small farm?
My favorite part of owning a family farm is dealing directly with our customers and talking with youth groups. We have met some incredible people over the years, and have made many new friends. It is very rewarding to know that we are providing high-quality, healthy products. We like to know who our customers are, and our customers appreciate knowing how and where their food is grown. When we get thank you notes from customers and from kids that have come for farm tours, it makes us feel like we’re making a difference, and makes all of the hard work worthwhile.
Where can people find out more about your farm and what it offers?
Our farm store is located right on our farm just east of the Village of Nichols, at 182 Sunnyside Road in Nichols, NY- look for the little red building attached to the yellow barn. We’re open Friday and Saturday 10 to 3, year round, unless it’s a holiday. Our website is www.engelbertfarms.com and we have an Engelbert Farms Facebook page, which I try to keep active with what’s happening on the farm.
To submit ideas for a Tell Me More About … feature email lisa at email@example.com or use the contact form under Info at the top of the page. People featured in Tell Me More About are from various walks of life, backgrounds and jobs because we all have a story to tell.