Views from the Vet: Get to know what goes on on a farm

Recently a client related a story to me. He was visited by representatives of the state occupational safety and health administration (OSHA). Apparently a passerby noticed material coming out of the barn doors while passing by on the road. The visitor was concerned enough to report the farmer for fumigating the farm with animals and workers inside. What was the mystery cloud? The farmer was applying fresh sawdust to the cows’ beds.
It’s a familiar tale. A hundred years ago nearly a quarter of the U.S. was involved in agriculture, today less than 1 percent claim farming as an occupation. In 1950 there were over 10,000 dairy farms in Vermont, today the number is less than 900. Fewer and fewer farmers are feeding more and more people, people who are increasingly disconnected from the way food is produced in the 21st century.
The non-farming public is often advised to talk with farmers and get to know them better. But what is the best way for city folk to get to know a modern dairy farmer? Like anyone else proud of what they do, farmers love to talk about their job, but to simply walk on a farm and try to tie down a busy farmer is difficult.
This Saturday the Vanderwey family of Ferrisburgh is opening the barn door and welcoming people to tour their farm at the first Vermont Breakfast on the Farm. Over 600 people have reserved tickets and will enjoy breakfast and a farm tour. The Vanderweys milk 200 cows with modern milking robots rather than in a traditional parlor. Cows can choose when and how often they wish to visit the robot. The high-tech milkers have a digital map of each cow’s udder in its memory and uses lasers to aid in proper placement of the milking machine. In addition to visiting the cows and calves, visitors will have an opportunity to visit with farm equipment experts, crop extension specialists and veterinarians. Families can learn about cow diets and field crops and visit with representatives of the marketing co-op where the family sends their milk to find out how milk goes from the farm to the store shelf.
Dairy farming in Vermont and throughout the country certainly has its challenges. Water quality and environmental stewardship are coming under increasing scrutiny. Consumers are demanding, rightly so, that animals raised for food production be treated with respect and care. Families wonder about the use of antibiotics, herbicides, pesticides and other compounds used for food production. Social media and the Internet provide an easy way to disseminate information, both factual and inaccurate.
Farmers are increasingly eager to show the public how a modern farm is run. Look for events like Breakfast on the Farm to find out for yourself about the pros and cons of modern food production, ask questions of farmers and others involved in agriculture and learn about how your food goes from field to plate (or in this case, your glass).
I’ll be helping so if you plan to attend please stop, say hello and be sure to ask a question!
Editor’s note: This “Breakfast on the Farm” event, sponsored by the New England Dairy Promotion Board, but tickets must be reserved in advance through VermontBreakfastOnTheFarm.com. Breakfast seatings at the Nea-Tocht Dairy Farm are on the hour from 9 a.m. to noon.

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