Stone walls and open pastures are the hallmarks of the New England countryside. These iconic images are rooted in an industry older than our country. Family dairy farms used to dominate the landscape, but lately are disappearing in Connecticut.
Brookfield Farm in Durham is just one of the many family-owned dairy farms in the state. It’s been around for generations.
“My ancestors started the farm in the 1720’s when it was deeded to my family from the King of England at the time,” said Melissa Dziurgot, a tenth generation dairy farmer at Brookfield Farm.
However, Brookfield Farm is feeling the pinch of low dairy prices.
“The prices are set by the U.S. government – the Department of Agriculture. The dairy farmer has no control over the price he gets for his milk,” said Dr. George Looby, who is a veterinarian and historian in Woodstock.
With the price of feed and fuel going up, it’s been hard for family-owned dairy farms to keep up.
“My family had to make the decision about a year ago to stop milking cows, because just losing too much money every day,” said Dziurgot.
Historians say more than half of the family-owned dairy farms in the area have gone out of business.
“I think in order to stay in it, you either got to continue to get larger, or you have to diversify,” said Timothy Young, a ninth generation dairy farmer at Valleyside Farm in Woodstock.
Valleyside Farm processes about 800 to 900 pounds of milk a day through the dairy. Its Woodstock Creamery offers products like milk, yogurt and skyr.
“This is, first of all, it’s made every day. It’s fresh. It’s flavorful, and I feel like it’s a product that’s helping me,” said John White, a customer at Woodstock Creamery.
Angela Young, a tenth generation dairy farmer at Valleyside Farm, says diversifying like Valleyside Farm did can only work if everything is in place.
“You have to have a really good business model. This is not something that everyone can do,” said Angela Young.
Farmers say they hope that generations can work together to keep a piece of Connecticut history alive for years to come.