New England is home to over 1,000 dairy farms, and you can find them throughout the Berkshires, Pioneer Valley, and southern Vermont.   

While that industry has seen a decline over the past several years, many farms still carry on the tradition. Producer Dave Fraser visited Barstow’s Longview Farm in South Hadley to learn how it has survived for the past 215 years. 

This segment originally aired on July 13, 2021. 

Read the full transcript:

Dave Fraser, Connecting Point: Dairy farming is a seven-day-a-week, 365-day-a-year job, and it’s no secret that dairy farms have been on the decline.

In fact, over the last half century, New England has lost more than 10,000 of its dairy farms, and two thirds of Massachusetts dairy farms have closed down since 1997. Today, there are about 125 dairy farms left in the Commonwealth, with most being in western Mass.

Denise Barstow is part of the seventh generation to work on her family’s farm in South Hadley.

Denise Barstow, Seventh Generation Dairy Farmer: We started out as a crop farm, you know the Hadley staples: asparagus room, broom corn, squash, and then in the early 1900s, we transitioned to full dairy.

And our herd has grown over time. We currently are milking three hundred cows and we have 600 head.

Dave Fraser: Through the centuries., the farm’s motto has been “looking forward since 1806,” a phrase that the family keeps in mind as they continue to innovate.

In 2008, they opened the Dairy Store and Bakery to diversify their business and open their doors to the community. The shop features homemade baked goods, prepared foods for purchase and, of course, a wide variety of dairy products.

Denise Barstow: So, we have that as our forward-facing public farm stand. And then we also wanted to have something that didn’t rely on the public as much, but was still really important for our community.

So, we have an anaerobic digester. It’s a system that takes the energy potential out of cow manure and food waste and turns it into enough electricity to power. 1,600 homes.

Dave Fraser: The farm is one of 800 family farms that’s part of the Cabot Agrimark Cooperative. Every other day, milk from the farm is trucked to the processing plant in West Springfield.

And according to Barstow, milk that leaves the farm can be processed and in the store in 48 hours.

Denise Barstow: The dairy supply chain is very fast and clean and efficient, and I think it’s really important to note that it’s super local because milk is so perishable.

So, these processing plants are set up to make a lot of different things from cottage cheese and whipped cream to butter and fluid milk and also a lot of different brands. So, our milk is ending up on the grocery store shelves right here in the Valley.

Dave Fraser: The Holstein is the main breed of dairy cattle in the United States, and it is what makes up the herd at Barstow’s Longview, Farm.

Cows are milked robotically. The robots use sensors to identify electronic tags on each cow to make sure no one cow is visiting the milking station too often or not enough.

Denise Barstow: And we have five robotic milkers for a herd of three hundred milking cows. Before we used to milk our cows and milking parlor twice a day, once at 4am. and once at 4pm. They take about four hours, all told each time. So, eight hours of our day was just milking cows.

So, now our cows can milk when they want to get milked. Some of them are milking two times a day. Some of them are milking five times a day. So cows are comfortable more of the time. And every dairy farmer knows that a comfortable cow is a happy cow is going to produce more milk and better quality milk.

Dave Fraser: New England dairy farmers have little control over milk prices, which are calculated by the U.S. government. But for consumers, local dairy purchases do more than just keep businesses like Barstow’s afloat. They maintain open space in the community, ensure a resilient food system, and preserve local heritage.

Denise Barstow: We are very fortunate to live in a community that values having local agriculture, including local dairy, because when we have more farms in the area, we have better climate resilience as a community and we have better food security. And I think that’s only going to be more important as we go forward.