A group of farms in Fabius, Hamilton, and Lincklaen, New York are changing the way
family farms are portrayed in our society. The successful instagram page named Barbland & White Eagle Dairies has over 2,000 dedicated followers and has one of the most honest depictions of family farming on social media. I had the opportunity to talk to Johanna, one of the members of the farms, to get an insight as to what the history is, what life is like, and what the hopes are for the future.
Johannas husband, Bret, worked as an intern, and eventually was hired full time on a farm in Upstate New York. Luke, another partner, had grown up around the same farm and worked on it throughout his teenage years, but ended up moving to work on a farm a few hours away. In 2007, the senior partner, Chip, who’s children were not interested in pursuing careers on the farm, turned to Bret and Luke in hopes of becoming partners. That partnership was made official in 2008, and in 2018, another family joined the partnership in hopes of preserving their farm while still passing it on to the next generation. Since then, they have been running a successful operation with 3,600 cows, 8,500 acres, and 75 employees.
The best part
of the partnership, Johanna tells me, is the fact that everyone has the same common goal but with different areas of expertise. “There’s a very high level of respect that each partner has for the other, which is the only way any sort of partnership works”. For example, Bret oversees the cow work while Luke manages crops, and both of them never interfere or question the other’s work. In regards to living on the farm, the partner’s favourite part is that no two days are the same. The satisfaction that working with animals, providing a living for their employees, and keeping people in agriculture brings reminds them why they love what they do. “We are proud to be able to give our workers and their families a decent, competitive, and healthy living while still doing what we love”.
I asked Johanna, ‘as someone who has agriculture in every aspect of their lives, what do you think is the part that is most misunderstood by the outside world’, and she was slightly taken aback. She said how there’s so many things you could say, and that she was unsure of which one to choose. Despite of this, she mentions that the opinion she hears most from non-farmers is that farms are run like corporations and that therefore, farmers do not care about their animals. “That could not be further from the truth”, she says. “98% of US farms are family owned, and while farms have grown in size, they have been able to do so only because they’ve become better at caring for their animals, land, and workers”. Though sustainability has become a buzzword for our current generation, it is something farmers have practiced daily because it is the only way a successful farm can operate. On the farms, the partners employ over 75 people to help them maintain their sustainable practice, but don’t operate anywhere near like a corporation. They simply do it so that they can protect themselves and their animals to the best of their ability.
In regards to instagram, Johanna was inspired to start it to spread the message about farmers. “While they come in all different shapes, sizes, forms, and entities, they’re all hardworking good people that love doing what they do”. She notes that farming is not an easy job or a get-richquick-scheme, but it is a labour of love that only people who truly enjoy it are able to pursue. Spreading that, and the fact that farmers are good people is the core of why she started the farms’ instagram page and why she is still so passionate about it. “The positive feedback that we continuously receive makes me feel that we are making a difference”, she says, and is why she keeps sharing their lives on social media. “Do I believe it’s a huge change? I don’t know. But even if it’s helping one more person understand agriculture and farming, that’s a change
we want to continue to pursue”. Instagram, like any other social media platforms, is filled with trolls who like to express their negative opinions on someone else’s content, and Barbland & White Eagle Dairies is no exception. “People are mean. They’re ruthless”, Johanna tells me, “But I refuse to let them dictate what I’m going to say or manage the conversation because they have never walked a day in our shoes”.
Johanna hopes that as time goes on, the next generation realizes that the opportunities within agriculture are enormous. There are over 300 careers in agriculture, and farming is only one of them, which people don’t know about. A strong work ethic is the key though, she says. “ The various careers and pathways are endless, but without a strong work ethic, nobody will be successful, especially not in agriculture”. She says that doesn’t just mean physically, but mentally, emotionally, and intelligently, too.
As of today, the farms are doing great, and the instagram page is gaining popularity each day. As farmers continue to appear on social media, we can only hope that the perception changes around agriculture, and that their voices get heard more often. Pages like Barbland & White Eagle Dairies’ are the a great example of the perfect mix of education and fun, and are leading the way for all future farmers!