From the Farmer’s Tractor-Freund’s Farm, Inc.
Amanda Freund, 30, works with her father, uncle, mother, brother and sister on her family dairy farm. Freund’s farm is located in the northwest corner of Connecticut where her family owns and operates three separate farm businesses; Freund’s Farm Inc., Freund’s Farm Market & Bakery, LLCand CowPots, LLC. Freund’s family grows crops, forages and pasture on approximately 600 acres. Additionally, they have a Forest Stewardship Plan for 200 acres of forestland on their farm.
How did you get into farming?
I am a third generation farmer on our farm. As long ago as I can remember, I filled the buddy seat in our tractor while my dad mowed and chopped our hay and corn. I took on the responsibility of afternoon chores when I was 12 years old. In college, summers and breaks were spent on the farm working in our farm market. Since graduating from college in 2006, I have worked for a congresswoman, CT Farm Bureau, served two years in the Peace Corps, and most recently worked for UConn Extension. The beginning of this year I returned to my family’s farm full-time, recognizing the importance of the work to be done and the opportunities for me to make meaningful contributions to my family and community.
How have your farming practices changed over the last 10 years?
It was almost 10 years ago that we started traveling around the tri-state area with a value-added product that my family invented to help reduce the amount of manure on our farm and (hoping to) potentially generate an additional income source. It was 2006 when we first packed up the family minivan with cases and shrink wrapped samples of CowPots made in our farm shop and drove to hardware stores and garden centers to market this new product. What is a CowPot you may wonder? It is a biodegradable, plantable pot made from composted manure from our dairy cows. Each pot is formed, dried and packed; we offer 12 sizes as well as custom shapes and sizes.
It was face-to-face interactions, networking and an invitation by Mike Rowe to come film an episode of Dirty Jobs on our farm that has allowed CowPots to become a product that gardeners are finally starting to ask for! These experiences led to expansions in production and capacity, all the while recognizing the need to keep our cows happy, healthy and comfortable, so that we could continue to supply two important products from our farm – quality, fresh milk and enough cow poop to make millions of CowPots. We’re even more vigilant about resource stewardship (cow manure included) because of its great value to our operation. This is one of the practices on our farm that allowed us to successfully apply for and receive a Sustainability Award from the U.S. Innovation Center on Dairy this year.
How will farming evolve in the next five years?
Just this spring we broke ground to build a brand new dairy cow barn, which will include five Lely robotic milkers. This new facility will allow us to better meet our cows’ needs with improved ventilation, air quality, mattress comfort, clean alleys, less standing and waiting time to be milked and even back scratchers! No joke, we are installing five mechanized, rotating brushes to help our 300 cows get that ‘out of reach’ spot. I’ve heard the expression that as farmers we don’t take the milk from the cows, they give it to us. And dairy farmers know that only a comfortable, happy cow is going to give her milk. Additionally, we’re expecting rumination collars in the coming months, which will go on each of our cows. Similar to a pedometer tracking number of steps, these collars will track the number of times our cows ‘ruminate.’ We will be able to track each cows’ rumination to detect illnesses much earlier as well as find out when cows are in heat.
The other big evolution for our farm in the next five years is the transition from second to third generation. My siblings, cousin and I have each graduated college and chosen to continue our family’s legacy and tradition. We have a lot to learn about managing the three businesses, but I think we’ll be bringing in the millennial attitude while staying true to our family’s farming mission: To run a profitable dairy open to the possibility of diversification, operating in an ecologically aware environment, practicing proper animal handling, and respecting our neighbors and community.
What is your greatest challenge as a farmer?
Risk management. In the dairy business, we are not price setters but price takers. The market dictates what we receive for the gallons of milk produced on our farm regardless of what it costs us to produce it. As a result, farmers, dairy especially, have to be well-versed in understanding programs like the new Margin Protection Program offered through USDA and knowing how to stretch a dollar when prices drop below costs. Diversifying is a common business practice on dairy farms to lessen the impact of devastated prices. Farmers market compost or converting an acre of hay to growing pumpkins for pick your own sales are examples.
Meanwhile, we are all vulnerable to Mother Nature and droughts, floods, hail, freezes, and so on, which can literally wipe out the crops we grow to feed our animals all year round. Tropical storms have introduced new pests to our region that, if not managed, can also destroy our crops. There are so many variables when you’re a farmer, and it’s so important to remember that every farm is a business too. You always have to strive to make your income at least match cost, and in a good year, exceed it. It can feel like juggling sometimes, but for any farm to continue from year to year and generation to generation, they have to have a plan that will help them weather the (natural and financial) storms.
How does a farmer know what a retailer will want a year from now?
It’s been an interesting learning curve for our dairy farming family to have the experience of ‘marketing’ CowPots. Since the very inception of this dairy farm, we have been members of the dairy cooperative, Agri-mark. We are responsible for producing high-quality and nutritious milk 365 days a year, and our cooperative manages the transportation and marketing. When it comes to our value-added product, CowPots, it’s on us to find the buyers, engage with retailers and know what consumers are looking for. Knowing what a retailer wants is not a passive process. It requires engagement, asking questions, providing samples, having test markets, sharing statistics, and more. We are fortunate to be producing a product that is recognized for being recycled and for its sustainability. I think more and more customers are demanding these types of products, and so retailers are looking to offer them.
What steps are you taking toward conservation on the farm?
There are so many opportunities to continue to adopt conservation practices on our farm. Here is what we currently do on our farm:
- Capture biogas from our anaerobic methane digester, which is burned to heat our farm buildings and hot water.
- Generate 139 kw of electricity with 500+ solar panels. This is the equivalent to meeting the dairy farm’s electricity needs.
- In the field: Practice rotational cropping, no-till and zone-till cropping, conduct biannual soil tests, practice integrated pest management, application of liquid manure through irrigation-style system.
- For our water, we use the motto, “Keep clean water clean and dirty water contained.” All areas with animals or manure are covered to prevent leaching nutrients. Riparian buffers along both rivers passing through our farm have been improved with the planting of native species. Animals are fenced out of waterways.
- Appliance upgrades to include lights, fans, pumps, motors to be more energy efficient.
- Actively maintaining a Nutrient Management Plan and a Forestry Stewardship Plan.
Do you sell any of your products locally, and if so, what is the process?
Our milk is frequently delivered to the Guida’s bottling plant in New Britain, CT where it is pasteurized and delivered to grocery stores around the state as fluid drinking milk. As members of the Cabot Cooperative, our milk is also used for the production of Cabot branded products, including Cabot butter!
CowPots are manufactured here on our farm and are sold locally, nationally and internationally. Just this year Tractor Supply Co. included two styles of CowPots in each of their stores nationwide. We are looking forward to working with True Value as a vendor for the 2016 growing season and will continue to work with commercial growers, distributors and retailers. For a list of ‘where to buy’ CowPots, visit: http://cowpots.com/where-to-buy/.
What kinds of reactions do you get from consumers when they meet you in person?
Our dairy cooperative put together a great program in 2013 called The Gratitude Tour in NYC (we look forward to doing it again November ‘15). Over 80 dairy farmers from New England and New York traveled down to NYC and spent the day in front of grocery stores in Manhattan and Brooklyn, thanking New Yorkers for supporting the Cabot brand. During my six-hour stint on the corner of Union and Broadway, not only did I receive a handful of thank yous from passers-by, but a New Yorker actually stopped and hugged me (a complete stranger) for the work I do as a farmer. Too often we let social media and trending news stories dictate what information we receive. People still like to engage with other people in person and are seeking real information about where their food comes from. I think they appreciate that I can tell them about my family and our experience and how we care for our 300 cows. It seals the deal when I can show off a branded product including Cabot’s cheese, yogurts, butters, whipped cream, and more, and let people know that supporting this brand supports the 1,200 family farms that are cooperative members, mine included. We make customers for life because local is better!
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