Weekend tour highlights a day at the farm

AMENIA – It was a blustery fall day on Sunday, yet still a wonderful backdrop for a tour of a dairy farm. Those driving the country roads of Amenia therefore made frequent stops at the Coon Brothers Farm off County Route 83 to learn more about dairy co-ops and cheese production.

The event was called “Open Farm Sunday,†a take off on the open house concept, when homeowners show their abodes to prospective buyers. This time, however, nothing was for sale; only information was shared, along with samples of cheese, milk, brownies and good, old-fashioned conversation about life on a farm.

The Coon brothers — Peter and David — along with their family and patriarch, Dirck, were all present to help showcase the farm as part of the event. The Open Farm Sunday was actually dreamed up by the McCadam Cheese Co. and Cabot Creamery Cooperative, two sister companies under Agrimark, which are owned by 1,200 dairy farm families located throughout upstate New York and New England. The Coon’s farm is among 29 of the working farms that participated in the promotional tour.

“We supply milk to Cabot for them to make cheese and we’re a member owner of the co-op,†explained Peter Coon. “So it’s a promotion of Cabot’s to give the public a chance to see the farms that give the milk that go into the cheese. We also give a little tour to show the farms’ dairy facilities and give people an idea of what we’re doing and why we do what we do. It’s public education.â€

In addition to sending its milk to Cabot, the Coon Brothers Farm also sends milk to Hudson Valley Fresh, which buys milk from local dairy farms and then sells its product throughout the region. According to Coon, that arm of the farming operation has done very well.

To manage all 600 animals on the farm takes a lot of work and coordination among those on the job. These days that means going high-tech.

“I think a lot of people think of farming as the way they used to read about it in the story books, with manual labor and the simple life,†Coon said. “But it’s actually gotten computerized and high-tech like everything else. We had to become more and more efficient.â€

That’s because, in part, the cost of most agricultural products have not even begun to keep pace with inflation. Additionally, there’s a lot of work that goes into operating and maintaining a farm.

“All those animals have to be taken care of 365 days a year, it doesn’t matter if it’s Christmas, or snowing or a hurricane — they have to be taken care of,†Coon said. “Our day usually starts at 4:30 a.m. and doesn’t end until after 6 p.m. That’s why you have to like what you’re doing. It helps to be passionate about it.â€

The dairy farmer said days like the Open Sunday Tour are beneficial because they provide an opportunity for people to learn the basics about farming.

“Millerton has taken a fairly active approach to try to preserve agriculture. People need to know what they’re preserving and why they should be concerned about it,†he said. “And I think people tend to get their food from the grocery store and never know where it comes from. I think that’s changing a little bit. If we’re going to keep the food we eat in this country produced here, we have to take care of agriculture and not just go for low-cost food in the store. We don’t want to be dependent on foreign oil — try being dependent on foreign food. You don’t want to be in that situation.â€

For those who couldn’t make it to the Open Farm Sunday event, McCadam and Cabot created a virtual tour; it can be found on OpenFarmSunday.com.

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