The faces and places that send milk
by Skye Chalmers for the Burlington Free Press
Skye Chalmers is the photographer behind a new book, Sending Milk, which features images of the New England and New York farm families that make up the Cabot Creamery Cooperative. He writes about what he observed during this three-year project.
As I visited farms I found many similarities in how each farm was structured with its barns, parlor, feed bunkers, equipment and croplands, all of which result in sending milk. However, these are similarities in a generalized context. Each farm is composed of many thousands of details which express a wealth of individuality and a portrait unlike all other farms.
Details such as the way in which a fence is strung, whether the tractors are new John Deere(s) or layers of aged Internationals, whether the cows are Holstein or Jerseys, the flow of a parlor, the separation of duties between family members, how manure is managed, the layout of the heifer barns or bunkers.
Details are often ordained by available space and the land farmed. I met farmers who fled the competition of land in suburban Connecticut to find open affordable land in New York and had opportunity to choose the perfect farm to match their vision. I also met farmers whose farm had been handed down over generations, perfectly shaping their vision and style. Each farm is beautifully unique for all their details and rich history.
For farmers, 2009 was an extremely difficult year with milk prices dropping below $12 per hundred weight, a price once received in the 1970s. To endure extreme price drops for a product milk while simultaneously seeing fuel, feed and living costs increase creates immense pressure. This pressure is often matched by passion, perseverance and ingenuity displayed in every aspect of the farm.
Being resourceful is not simply a matter of pride but a necessity. A scrap pile of metal may be viewed as an eye sore or as a valuable resource for parts that will inevitably fix a problem . Shrinking profit margins result in change. Farms may expand to realize benefits of economy of scale, or reduce herd size and opt for raising feed, heifers and beefers.
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Sending Milk may be purchase at a local bookstore or http://www.northshire.com/book/9780985167615