Our Family Farms is a co-owned cooperative, comprising four farms stretching from Leyden, at the northern edge of Massachusetts, to Shelburne, across 10 miles of fertile land. This land supports 400 cows, collectively of prize-winning stock, that produce high-quality hormone rBST-free milk. Its office is based in Greenfield, MA.
Warren Facey is the owner of Bree-Z-Knoll in Leyden, executive director of Massachusetts Association of Dairy Farmers and a 40-year Farm Bureau member. He is also on the Franklin County Board of Directors and a lifelong observer of farms. “In 1985 there was a big exodus. It’s been going on ever since,” he said.
He attempted starting a cooperative to offset that, but carving out time for farmers to meet proved challenging. “In 1993, we didn’t have cell phones or conference calls. We couldn’t get together for a conference call.”
Finally, “We were successful here in Franklin County in 1997,” with six farms selling milk under their own label, Our Family Farms.
Facey’s interest in farms starts in the 1940s. His grandfather, Leon Fiske, grew up on Fiske Farm in Greenfield, later managed by his grandfather’s older brother, Harold Fiske. Though the farm changed hands, Facey grew up on a piece of land near where his grandfather had grown up. Facey’s mother wanted him to have nothing to do with the farm by their home, warning Facey and his brother, “You guys stay right away from there, there’s nothing you need there.”
“She should have said go there,” joked Facey, as her warning boomeranged, fueling their desire to visit and learn how farms work.
He purchased his own farm in Leyden in 1972 with his wife Sandie, who passed away 8 years ago. A first generation farmer, he left construction to farm full time. In 1974, he started commercially milking cows and shipping milk. Currently managed by his son Randy and his daughter-in-law Angie Facey with three to four employees per day, the herd of 170 includes Holsteins, Brown Swiss and 10 to 15 Jerseys.
An Agrimark milk truck picks up his milk every other day, and combines it with the milk from the three other farms. Twice weekly, the milk is delivered in an Our Family Farms truck to Connecticut for processing and then distributed.
Enter marketing manager for the past three years, Shelburne resident Connie Clarke, who coordinates deliveries. She never sees the milk, but makes sure it gets on the shelves of local stores. She also creates all the advertisements.
“Less and less milk is local. Garelick and Hood bring in milk as far away as the Midwest if they need to. I try to have all our farms represented on their shelf,” said Clarke, adding, “We’re very proud that our customer service is really excellent.”
Marketing milk has added benefits of keeping open space in Franklin County. “If farms can’t get a good return on their hard labor, farms are up for grabs,” she said.
“None of us farmers would have the time or ability to do what she does. Without her we’d be lost,” said David Duprey, third generation farmer and owner of 100-acre Sunbrite Farm.
“I grew up here. Dad died when I was a kid. Mom held onto the farm,” he said. His mother rented the farm out to keep it going. “I started milking cows for myself when I got out of college. I pieced things back together a little bit,” Duprey continued.
He started business in January 1982, milking 25 Holsteins in three, and then six stalls. Now there are 70 cows in a pristine double-sided herringbone parlor, with another 40 or so head of young stock on hand. His wife Debbie works off the farm as an office manager. “It’s always taken two incomes to keep the placing going.”
Duprey said being a co-owner, “Gives me money. Made the difference in whether I stay in business or not. There’s been some real lean years.”
Members can work part-time marketing and be paid an hourly rate to give demos in stores. At year’s end, profit-sharing is split up. “Competition in running your farm and running the co-op, farm always wins out,” said Duprey. If a farmer stops producing milk, he leaves the co-op.
What Duprey likes best about farming is that it helps him stay independent. Also, “Being your own boss doesn’t get boring. [There’s] always some disaster of the day to deal with. Been a satisfying life to deal with.”
The other farms are Peter and Faith Williams’ Mapledge Farm and Larry and Karen Gould’s Gould Maple Farm, both in Shelburne.
Facey notes two other similar cooperatives in the tri-state region — Rhody Fresh in Rhode Island and the Farmer’s Cow in Connecticut. Would he have continued dairy farming without the cooperative?
“I’ve been called the eternal optimist. I’m the guy who’s supposed to be retired,” he laughed. He doesn’t see that happening any time soon.