I recently visited Greenbacker Farm, at 160 Wallingford Road, to learn about the life of a farmer. I sat and chatted with Joe Greenbacker, one of the owners of the farm.
The Greenbacker family has been farming in the area since 1723, originally on land granted by the English king in Meriden. Joe and his extended family, including brother David and his wife, bought the current 415-acre spread in Durham in 1983. They virtually had to, since the land in Meriden was being gobbled up by industrial and residential development.
The farm in Durham had once been part of the Brewster Farm started in the 1920s by a wealthy railroad executive who wanted to dabble in farming. Although he probably never got his own hands dirty, he’d come and relax while farm hands, living in the numerous houses he built, ran the operation.
Those same houses are now occupied by the Greenbackers (one is rental property). Joe and David Greenbacker were born into this life. Their wives and children are not part of the farming life. Well, most of them. David’s wife is a veterinarian who works off the farm. One of Joe’s daughters is in real estate. A son is graduating from Rochester Polytechnic Institute with a degree in aeronautical engineering. His other daughter, Melissa, however, graduated from Cornell with a degree in dairy science and is the herd manager on the Greenbacker farm. Some nieces and nephews also work on the farm.
Their farm is a dairy operation. They have 180 milkers – Jerseys, Holsteins, Guernsey – and a total of 300 head. Only a few cows are saved for beef and only for the family. The large herd includes about 200 calves born each year on the farm. The family also owns an Agway store in Meriden.
Greenbacker Farm is a modern operation. Company records are computerized. Milking machines using vacuum pumps milk the cows, and big tankers, part of the milk cooperative to which the Greenbackers belong, pick up the milk, which is then distributed to companies that sell milk, like Guida’s.
Keeping the stock growing is part of the process, and artificial insemination is used to reproduce the herd. Melissa, primarily, takes care of that dimension. A good number of the herd on the farm include calves not ready to be milked or sold off. This winter the calf barn collapsed due to the snow, killing one of the calves. The local farming community, as well as residents came to the rescue with small calf barns for the babies. They’ll be rebuilding soon.
The family divides up the work so that no one has to work an 18-hour day, which is the amout of time necessary during a single day for milking. On this particular day, Joe awoke at 2:30 a.m. to milk the first round of cows, had breakfast at about 8 a.m., and was calling it a day at about 3 p.m. Everyone on the farm has a day or two off each week, and there is flexibility in creating each person’s schedule.
When asked if he liked the life he chose, Joe Greenbacker said, “I wouldn’t have it any other way. I do what I want to do, not what someone else tells me to do. I always wanted to be a dairy farmer and I’ve never regretted my decision.”