(This story was first published in the April 4, 2013 edition of the Vermont Standard.)
By Katy Savage
Randy and Lisa Robar began dairy farming two years ago with one cow. Without a barn or enough land, they kept Sophie in their garage.
Kiss the Cow Farm now has 13 cows that produce raw, organic milk at a once-abandoned dairy farm in East Barnard. It’s small and not too profitable, but, for Randy, farming is a lifestyle.
“Nobody (farms) to make money because you probably aren’t going to make money,” Randy said. “All those chores aren’t chores, they’re just part of the daily life routine.”
Perhaps the hardest part in launching a dairy farm isn’t finding customers; it’s the start-up costs. Vermont law prohibits dairy farmers from selling their product in stores without a certified production facility, which can cost thousands, Randy said.
“The biggest challenge is trying to sell the food we grow,” said Randy. “There are plenty of people willing to purchase it, but I’m not legally allowed to sell it.”
But the Robars have dreams of making farming a career. They want to produce cheese.
Learning to farm
When Lisa and Randy moved to an apartment in Barnard to escape the Boston suburbs, they wanted to farm but didn’t know how. By chance, the apartment they rented was owned by longtime farmer Joe LaDouceur.
Lisa signed LaDouceur’s lease with one request: He teach Randy how to farm.
Nearly everyday for two years, Randy followed LaDouceur around Bowman Road Farm, learning about grazing, fencing, farm infrastructure and how to start an old truck that’s been sitting in the field for years.
“(Randy) had that heavy desire,” said LaDouceur. “If you don’t have that heavy desire, I don’t care if you’re a zillionaire; you aren’t going to be a farmer. You have to be willing to work and not make big income.”
LaDouceur, 75, started farming in the 1970s and uses his knowledge to mentor those who have never farmed.
“I have a mission,” said LaDouceur. “I have been doing this a long time and I’ve seen a lot of farms go out of business. I want to see new people coming back. Randy and Lisa, when they came to town, they wanted to farm. I’m pretty proud of what they’re doing. They’ve gotten right into it now.”
The number of dairy farms in Vermont has been declining since 1980, according to vermontdairy. com. There are 42 dairy farms in Windsor County currently and 995 in the entire state, a decrease of 36 percent since 2000.
Much has changed since LaDouceur began farming.
“There used to be a lot of nice little farms and we all helped each other out,” said LaDouceur. “All of those farmers helped me out a lot. But now they’re all gone. That’s why it’s nice to see (Randy and Lisa); maybe the valley will come back.”
LaDouceur said it’s not easy to make a living farming. Those who farm do it because they love it.
“Some people play golf, some go bowling,” said LaDouceur. “They practice (those sports) because they like to, not to make money. Other people are addicted to farming. It’s like a disease.”
And, Randy, it seems, has caught the farming bug.
“(Randy) reads a lot and studies a lot,” LaDouceur said. “He doesn’t mind getting his hands dirty. That’s why I think he’ll be a good [farmer]. He’s very meticulous; really in to getting things right.”
A farming future?
The Robars don’t have to go grocery shopping often — Lisa has successfully experimented making yogurt, soft cheese, butter and sour cream with her raw milk.
She is currently a music teacher at Woodstock Union High School, but farming has “bitten (her) life completely,” she said. She wants to join Randy and farm full-time.
Within the next couple years, the Robars hope to purchase more cows and start producing cheese, and maybe someday other dairy products.
But whether he makes money or not, Randy is happy doing what he’s doing.
“At the end of the day, the work I do is visible,” he said. “It’s not like paperwork and email. I spent too many years doing that sort of work.”
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