This Vermont Green Pasture award-winning farm doesn’t lack for manpower — Robert and Gisele Gervais have 15 children!
Robert and Gisele Gervais purchased the original farm in 1960, starting out with 35 Jersey milking cows and 220 acres of land. As the family expanded, so did the operation, which is now one of the largest in Franklin County and includes three farms: two Holstein dairy farms with a total 1,700-cow milking herd, and a goat and cow dairy with a farmstead cheese making operation and small retail store. Collectively, they milk more than 1,800 cows and grow 3,100 acres of corn and hay.
Eleven of the 15 children still work on the farm and each has their own area of specialty. “In 1995, when we incorporated, we organized the operation. We all took on part of the farm, and that’s been the key to getting along. We can specialize in a certain area,” says son Clement.
Although still actively involved with the farm, Robert and Gisele have turned the day-to-day operation of the two dairy farms over to four of their sons: Clement handles the cows and barns; Larry, feeds and crops; Charles, mechanics and cropping and Paul, the young stock and calves. Brother-in-law Randy Doe manages Gervais Family Farm No. 2, located six miles from the home operation, and nearby is Boston Post Dairy, run by four Gervais sisters: Susan Blouin, Annette Brown, Anne Marie Doe and Theresa Lawyer. The Dairy produces farmstead cheeses and other value-added products thanks to a sizeable goat and cow herd.
Clement credits his father not only with creating a successful management structure, with a specified role for each son or daughter, but also looking to the future and embracing innovation.
In 2012, the farm was part of a pilot project of aerial seeding of cover crops by helicopter on 730 acres of corn land, and this past spring, the Gervais purchased a dragline system for manure injection.They also utilize a live GPS tracking program in the corn choppers to collect data and keep track of crop yield to help determine the best varieties of corn and where to plant to improve total yield.
In addition, the farm was one of the first in Franklin County–and sixth in the state–to sign up with Central Vermont Public Service (CVPS) for its Cow Power Program. They installed a 200-kilowatt methane digester on the home farm in 2009 and a second one in 2012 to generate electricity by converting manure into methane, a process that produces 1.75 million kilowatt-hours (kWh) of electricity a year. Green Mountain Power purchases the renewable energy credits to sell to customers willing to pay a premium per kWh for “green energy.”
The Gervais farm was named Vermont Dairy Farm of the Year in 2013, receiving the New England Green Pastures Award, given every year to one outstanding dairy farm in each of the New England states. Winners are evaluated on production records; herd, pasture, and crop management; environmental practices; contributions to agriculture and the local community; and overall excellence in dairying.