Female dairy farmers bring hope to a shrinking industry

milking a cow
Screen capture National Young Farmers Coalition via YouTube -- Ashlee Kleinhammer adds fresh milk to her cup of coffee

A mini video series just released by the National Young Farmers Coalition illustrates the challenges and joys of starting one's own dairy farm.

The United States needs farmers more than ever, and yet the number of farmers is shrinking rapidly as more people move off the land and the cost of starting a farm continues to be prohibitively expensive. Agricultural land takes up nearly half the landmass of the U.S. – one billion acres – but 63 percent of the farmers who care for that land are 55 years of age or older. The next few decades could be a rocky time of transition as these farmers retire and there are not enough new farmers to take their place.

Of the young people who are interested in farming, the majority goes into farming vegetables or small livestock herds. Dairy, by contrast, is a tougher industry to enter because of the greater land requirements and higher cost of equipment. Dairy drives 70 percent of the economy in Vermont, as well as many other parts of the northeastern U.S., but it’s not growing fast enough.

“Today, farms have to get big or get out. There has been a massive die-off of dairy farms in the area,” says Sarah Lyons Chase, a dairy farmer in the Hudson Valley region.

The National Young Farmers Coalition (NYFC) has become involved, in hopes of averting a food security crisis down the road. It addresses obstructive policies on behalf of new farmers and is attempting to create a supportive community for dairy start-ups.

One of its projects, in partnership with Stonyfield Farm, has been the Bootstrap Blogger series, in which five young female dairy farmers were asked to write a monthly blog post for one year, chronicling their experiences with starting dairy farms. Three of them created short videos, which have just been released by the NYFC for public viewing – and inevitable inspiration! (Yes, it makes me want to become a farmer.)

These videos are particularly interesting because the world of U.S. farming has long been dominated by men, but these indomitable and impressive young women show that it doesn’t have to be that way. With perseverance, humor, and a great love for the land, these women are working hard to build viable, sustainable farms and preserve the future of U.S. dairy farming in the process.

Chaseholm Farm Creamery is located in Pine Plains, NY. Sarah Lyons Chase is a third-generation dairy farmer who never thought she’d actually do it herself. Now she’s in the process of transitioning her family’s herd to being fully grass-fed herd and makes wonderful artisanal cheeses with the milk. [Video]

The Golden Yoke is run by Laura Ginsburg and Connie Surber in St. Ignatius, MT. Montana is a state whose dairy farms are shrinking; there were only 68 left when these women founded theirs in 2013. The Golden Yoke was the first new farm in years, and the first-ever grass-fed, seasonal dairy farm. [Video]

Clover Mead Farm in Keeseville, NY, is where Ashlee Kleinhammer produces 100 percent grass-fed, non-GMO, and Animal Welfare Approved cheese, raw milk, and yogurt. [Video]

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