“The farm operation’s success is certainly due to this family’s commitment to innovation.” – Walker Fitch
When Walker Fitch was a kid, his family’s dairy farm was one of six in the Milford area. Today, the Fitch Farm is the only one remaining.
The operation’s success is certainly due to the family’s commitment to innovation, says Walker, and that hard work has paid off: the Fitch Farm is the winner of the 2019 Green Pasture Award and New Hampshire’s Dairy Farm of the Year. The award is given every year to one outstanding dairy farm in each of the New England states, with winners evaluated on production records; herd, pasture, and crop management; environmental practices; contributions to agriculture and the local community; and overall excellence in dairying.
Walker is a fifth-generation dairy farmer and works the farm on the outskirts of Milford with his father, David, and two part-time employees. With a milking herd of a little over 100 cows – mostly Holsteins, with a few Jerseys – Walker and his father benefit from improvements made over the years. In 1999, the farm switched to a free-stall housing system where the cows can roam freely and choose from several places to rest with clean, dry, comfortable bedding. With their few hundred acres used for corn and hay, the family tills the land, spreads the manure and has the crops custom harvested. As a conservation practice, winter rye is planted as a cover crop, and in the 1990’s, Fitch Farm participated in a manure management program offered by University of New Hampshire Cooperative Extension aimed at reducing the use of nitrogen fertilizer.
Walker and his wife, Sarah, and their two children live on the farm, while his father, a hearty 78, lives down the road apiece. The elder Fitch is up at four every morning, cleaning the barns and helping with milking, and Walker’s step-brother, David Milton, runs the farm stand.
There’s plenty to do, of course. In addition to dairying, the Fitch family often hosts student groups from local schools, to spotlight what life is like on the last operating dairy farm in town. They also work with the towns of Milford and nearby Wilton to conserve land and keep it open for community use.
Walker explains he never considered being anywhere but on the farm, and when asked about the sixth generation – his son is 8, his daughter 5 – he laughs. “I’m not going to pressure them. I was never pressured, but it’s a tough row to hoe.” He adds, “It has to be your dream; you have to want to do it.”
That being said, he admits to looking forward to the Green Pasture award ceremony in September at the Eastern States Exposition, or “Big E,” in Springfield, MA. Not only is he honored by the award, but the occasion offers a rare night away from the farm.
Walker and his wife usually spend one night a year away from Milford, heading to Vermont to celebrate their wedding anniversary. This year, however, there’ll be a second opportunity to spend some quality time together.
So, yes, he’s grateful for the award, but just as grateful for that second getaway, he says with a laugh.
Photos Courtesy University of New Hampshire Extension