Freeport program seeds next generation of Maine dairy farmers

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FREEPORT — With the number of dairy farmers in Maine decreasing and the national demand for organic dairy rising, Wolfe’s Neck Farm has entered a partnership with Stonyfield to craft a solution.

The 626-acre farm was awarded a three-year grant of nearly $1.7 million by Stonyfield, the organic yogurt company based in Londonderry, New Hampshire, to create an organic dairy farmer training program.

“Our goal is to train the next generation of organic dairy farmers for the regions of Maine and New England,” Dave Herring, executive director of Wolfe’s Neck Farm, said this week.

The program, which already has four prospective students, is set to start in 2015; each training session will last for 18 months. The first six months will be focused on education and the students will pay fees. For the next 12 months, the students will be paid to manage the dairy operation.

Wolfe’s Neck doesn’t have a dairy operation, although it did just receive its organic certification from the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association. The grant from Stonyfield will be used to build a dairy barn and to buy dairy cows, as well as to hire two people to help run the program.

The barn won’t be completed until year three of the grant, but the cows are being brought in with enough time for them to have calves by next spring. They will then be ready for milking by the time the program starts.

Wolfe’s Neck Farm was chosen for the grant by Stonyfield for several reasons.

“It seemed like a really natural fit to work together,” Britt Lundgren, Stonyfield’s director of sustainable and organic agriculture, said. “It’s really well situated geographically and it’s well positioned to do well with the program.”

In a press release, Rick Kersbergen, professor at the University of Maine Cooperative Extension, said there are 285 dairy farms in Maine. In 1995, there were 597. The average age of dairy farmers is 57.

The program at Wolfe’s Neck hopes to change those numbers.

“There’s a real interest in going into sustainable agriculture with younger people,” Lundgren said.

He said most younger people go into vegetable farming, though, and don’t go into dairy farming because they don’t have the equity. Herring said the program will prepare the students to go into dairy farming by giving them “an in-depth training experience on all aspects of running an organic dairy farming operation.”

Besides actually working with animals and equipment, the program will also teach students business management, financial planning, and forage planning.

“It’s a matter of having people well-trained to meet the demands of the industry,” Herring said.

He said the program is targeted towards a specific demographic: people between 25 and 30, and those who have a background in farming or a degree in agriculture.

According to Herring, the demand for organic dairy, whether it be yogurt, milk, cheese, or ice cream, is rising. The program will not only help the dairy farming industry, but it will also help Stonyfield.

“(Stonyfield) might not have enough organic dairy to meet the demands of the consumers,” Herring said.

Because of this, Stonyfield plans on being active in the program. According to Lundgren, the company also plans to get its milk from Wolfe’s Neck, and to work with the farmers who graduate from the program once they have their own farms.

Herring said this will be beneficial to Maine as a whole, because the state will be able to produce more food.

“I think Maine has an opportunity to produce more than we’re producing because of the land we have,” Herring said. “Our goal is to find a way to support a stronger food system.”

Herring said he is looking forward to the program because of the focus it will give the farm.

“It really helps us play a leading role in supporting organic and sustainable agriculture in the region,” he said.

Lundgren agreed, saying the program should be a success for both Wolfe’s Neck and Stonyfield.

“It has a real potential to bring the next generation into dairy in Maine,” she said.

Kate Gardner can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 125 or Follow her on Twitter: @katevgardner.

Sidebar Elements

Wolfe’s Neck Farm’s organic dairy farmer training program in Freeport will begin in 2015 as it looks to train a new generation of farmers and improve the dairy industry.

Two goats stand in their pen at Wolfe’s Neck Farm in Freeport, which will train young Mainers to run their own dairy farms.

Pigs are one type of animal out of the many at Wolfe’s Neck Farm in Freeport. Dairy cows will be added next.

I'm a reporter for The Forecaster covering Freeport, Yarmouth, Chebeague Island, and Cape Elizabeth. I'm from a small town in NH no one's ever heard of. When not reporting, I can be found eating pasta and reading books, often at the same time.