farewell to the farm
September 18, 2014 // by Vermont Creamery
Well, I suppose the fun had to stop sometime. I finished my summer internship at Ayers Brook this month, and I've been reflecting a lot on what I've discovered in my 11 weeks here. I find myself sitting in an office, distracted by the noise of tractors unloading hay and goats in heat, because working in my own home garden got me thinking about the business of farming.
We hear a lot about farms and farmers these days – but very little about the business side of agriculture. There are many startling statistics in the media about the disappearance of family farms and the environmental and health costs of industrial agriculture. I had hoped my time at Ayers Brook would help me to understand these issues – that I could bring my business background to a family farm (that’s what Ayers Brook is) and learn more about the economic issues that farmers confront everyday. While I don’t have all the answers, my time on the farm has given me a fuller understanding of the complex issues confronting small-scale agriculture.
After countless hours spent chasing around our herd manager (Rene), field manager (Miles) and many attempted interviews with the goats, there are a few key things Ayers Brook Goat Dairy has taught me:
Planning is key. You need to know where you are going and how quickly. If you invest in the equipment to feed and milk 500 goats, but are only milking 50, your books aren’t going to look very good. Every purchase we made on the farm required a careful calculation – weighing where we were and where we were going. There’s a balance to strike between meeting the current and future needs of the farm.
Modern farmers are jacks (and jills) of all trades. If you want to raise milking animals, you also need to understand how they turn feed into milk, how your equipment turns crop into feed, and how your land turns seeds into crop. It’s the circle to life, so they say, and every step along the way in critical to the business of farming and the quality of cheese you can produce down the line. Knowing your goats, tractors, barn and fields inside and out is enough to keep the most brilliant amongst us on our toes.
You can’t do it alone. I can't speak for all farms everywhere, but I can say that much of the reason Ayers Brook Goat Dairy can and will be successful is because it relies on and supports a network of other farms in the community. Whether for feed, bedding, advice, labor, or vice versa the community that exists amongst farmers is undeniable. If not for this network, and its strong and knowledgeable agricultural roots, I'm not sure how feasible any operation would be. It is our hope that each new goat dairy created in Ayers Brooks’ likeness will provide value to its community, and in turn, find resources by partnering with neighboring farms.
If not for the goat. Goats are truly amazing and hilarious animals. If you get to work with them everyday, consider yourself lucky. They will bite your fingers, eat your hair, jump on you, sneeze on you, and tear holes in your clothes. They will also make you laugh everyday and will show you no shortage of affection. In short, they will be the best, yet most misbehaved, colleagues you've ever had.
I guessed that I would find life on the farm to be rewarding and exciting. Ayers Brook Goat Dairy has shown me I was right. I am blown away by how much I have learned this summer, and I owe it all to the hardworking and visionary team at Ayers Brook Goat Dairy. They've made a crazy goat lady, haymaking enthusiast, and Cultured Butter addict out of me, and now I must reluctantly return to a routine that doesn't include nuzzling goats and savoring Bonne Bouche on a daily basis...
Divya Belavadi spent her summer as an Operations Intern at Ayers Brook Goat Dairy. While on the farm she studied the mechanics of managing a financially viable family farm. Originally from outside Philadelphia, she made her way up to New England last fall to earn her MBA at Dartmouth's Tuck School of Business and has since fallen in love with Vermont!
If you missed Divya’s first blog post from the farm – you can find it here