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Dairy dreams

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WORLD Radio - Dairy dreams

A New Jersey family is defying the odds to keep a farming tradition alive


Photo courtesy of Amy Lewis

NICK EICHER, HOST: Today is Wednesday, September 29th.

Thank you for turning to WORLD Radio to help start your day.

Good morning. I’m Nick Eicher.

MARY REICHARD, HOST: And I’m Mary Reichard.

Coming next on The World and Everything in It: saving the dairy farm.

Driving through the rolling hills of northern New Jersey, you’d see lots of abandoned milking barns, overgrown with sumac and poison ivy. But at one time more than 500 dairies dotted the rolling hills of The Garden State.

EICHER: Today, there are fewer than 50. WORLD correspondent Amy Lewis introduces us to one family who is working to bring back the small dairy farm from the brink of extinction.

AUDIO: [HAND MILKING]

AMY LEWIS, REPORTER: Adonis Cooke Dean lives on a 120-year-old dairy farm in Blairstown, New Jersey. She’s seen it all—as a farmer’s daughter, a farmer’s wife, and for 40 years, a farmer’s mom.

ADONIS: It’s not an easy life. I don’t care who you talk to. It’s long hours, it’s hard work. But the good part was that you were always with your family.

Until a year ago, her son, Bill Dean, carried on the family’s dairy tradition by caring for 60 cows on his parents’ land.

DEAN: You wear many hats when you’re a dairy farmer. You’re a vet. You’re a plumber, and electrician, you’re a carpenter, mechanic. So, you never knew what the day would bring on.

But in 2020, feed costs sky-rocketed and milk prices stagnated at $16 per 100 pounds of milk—or $8 per cow per day. Plus there were annual property taxes. Dean had to sell.

DEAN: The price of milk bottomed out. At the time when I sold the cows, I was losing a hundred dollars a day. Basically, I sold the cows to pay the bills off.

Meanwhile, Ryan Whitmore and his wife were looking for a place to start their own dairy farm. Whitmore had dreamed of being a dairy farmer ever since his dad sold out when Whitmore was 8 years old.

WHITMORE: I went to college for dairy farming, and that’s where I met my wife, Samantha…And she pushed me over the cliff to start on our own. (laughs)

Last summer, he heard the Deans were no longer dairying. But they still had all their equipment. It was a win-win arrangement. The Whitmores rented the Deans’ land and barns for their new 30-cow business: “BuckinCow Creamery.”

WHITMORE: This is some of the equipment… stainless steel tank…1000 gallons, these are the 5 units we use to milk the cows with….rubber inflations…. stainless steel pipeline through barn to the tank…

Bill Dean’s dad milked cows by hand and had teams of horses to plow his fields. He still has their first tractor, and it runs! But years ago the Deans transitioned to mechanical milking. The milk from the Whitmores’ cows goes through the same pipes to the same stainless-steel tank the Deans used. But the Whitmores’ milk doesn’t go to a commercial creamery like the Deans’ milk did.

Instead, they transport the milk to be pasteurized and bottled locally. Then they personally deliver it to the doorsteps of their 30 customers. They also deliver raw milk to cheesemakers. Even if the Whitmores wanted to go the route of commercial processing, those opportunities are drying up.

WHITMORE: There are so many farms going out, and it is getting so centralized that it’s very hard to obtain a market even if you want it. This creates the vacuum to draw the milk away from the cows. This is the sound of the pulsation, mimics the hand milking. Alternates the front to the back transfer pump. Each of the units sense milk, start cooling...

The Whitmores work long hours farming the land, caring for the cows, and delivering milk products.

WHITMORE: I’ll be here 11 or 12 o’clock most nights. And I’ll be back 5:30, 6 o’clock most days.

AUDIO: [COWS IN BARN WITH FAN]

But the hard work doesn’t scare Whitmore. His family joins him each day to help with chores. In the afternoon, Samantha and two of their children ride the four-wheeler to round up cows. Whitmore preps the cows, spraying their udders and teats with disinfectant before applying the inflation units for milking.

A giant fan provides tunnel ventilation in the heat. The new family puppy provides unwanted distraction for the cows waiting to be milked.

There’s a reason why Whitmore’s family is opting IN to small dairy farming.

WHITMORE: It is a lifestyle, it’s much more of a lifestyle than it is a job. Caring for the animals. Being able to raise our kids on the farm is probably the most priceless thing you can do. Your kids learn more by example than from anything you can tell ‘em. They see us work hard every day. It’s work ethic, it’s the ability to enjoy the more simple things in life.

Farmers like the Whitmores are doing more than just producing milk. They’re also raising the next generation of farmers. Here’s the Whitmores’ son.

COLTON: I’m nine and my name is Colton. I help some with dippin’ sometimes, and I’ve wiped them and stuff. I have a bunch of goats in the barn….

The Whitmores' story holds promise for saving the small dairy farm by selling dairy products directly to the customer and embracing the farming lifestyle for the process, as well as the product.

WHITMORE: I think there is huge potential for doing more local distributing and local direct marketing. I mean, if you were trying to do everything what’s been typical for the past 50 years, selling to the co-op, it’s much more challenging...There’s very few people who are doing it the way we’re doing. It’s a bit of a new venture in that way.

The Whitmores have plans for a farm stand at the end of the driveway. They dream of processing milk on-site. But for now, they enjoy defying the odds and keeping their cows, their customers, and their children happy.

AUDIO: [OLD TRACTOR]

Reporting for WORLD from Blairstown, New Jersey, I’m Amy Lewis.


WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.

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