The Corse Farm Dairy

“We are equally managing the land and cows. If the land isn’t healthy then the cows won’t be and vice versa,” Abbie said. “It’s all cyclical and everything we are doing is devoted to trying to ensure that sure those factors are balanced at the end of every day.”

Today most businesses have sustainability goals and commitments. But sustainability isn’t always easy to define. If you ask Abbie Corse, a 6th generation dairy farmer at the Corse Farm Dairy in Whitingham, Vermont, sustainability is what has kept the farm in business for over 150 years.

“Sustainability isn’t new here, the farm’s model began with something that was sustainable and has continued in that tradition,” Abbie said.

The six-generation dairy farm began with 13 milking cows and today fluctuates between 50 and 55. Their total herd, including heifers and calves, is about 100 animals.

The farm was purchased by Abbie’s great-great-great-grandparents in 1868. Abbie grew up on the farm alongside her two brothers and is now raising her two sons on the farm, Eli and Niko. She shares the responsibilities on the farm with her parents, Linda and Leon Corse.

Corse Farm Dairy

Abbie never expected to come back to farming after she went to college for Journalism and worked in the arts, but ultimately farming called her home. Since then, she’s found it to be the most meaningful work she’s done.

“I so missed being here and being outside and the seasonality and how it was tied up with how I thought about the world,” Abbie said. “And so, I made the shift back and it’s been amazing. I’m so happy to be able to raise my kids here with my parents.”

Together their goal has always been to make food in a way that is good for the land, the cows and their local community. Abbie says this balance is what has made them sustainable and has kept them in business for so long.

“We are equally managing the land and cows. If the land isn’t healthy then the cows won’t be and vice versa,” Abbie said. “It’s all cyclical and everything we are doing is devoted to trying to ensure that sure those factors are balanced at the end of every day.”

Abbie says their impact on the environment is a big piece that they strive to keep in balance. In 2016 they installed a solar array and they now generate about 95% of their electricity for the farm and their farmhouse using renewable solar energy.

Corse Farm Dairy Red Jersey

Transition to Organic Dairy Farming & Apprenticeship Model

Leon started the process for the farm to become organic in 2005 and they became certified organic in 2008. They are one of 1,600 dairy farms that make milk for the Organic Valley brand, which makes about 39% of the organic milk in the U.S. Leon serves multiple roles for Organic Valley including on committees dedicated to best practices in animal care and pasturing.

The transition to organic has allowed the farm to continue to be profitable into the future while also stewarding their 300-plus acres and caring for their cows in a way that Leon says, “feels right.”

“Grazing is a really good fit because we are not disturbing the soil infrastructure,” Leon said. “The cows are only affecting the surface of the soil and not what’s underneath like what we would be doing if we tilled the soil which we haven’t done in 35 years.”

Leon is also the only organic dairyman and New England farmer on the 17-member National Farmers Assuring Responsible Management Farmer Advisory Council. The council serves as a unified voice of the dairy producer community by aiding in providing assurances that show dairy customers and consumers that the dairy industry is taking the very best care of cows and the environment, producing safe, wholesome milk and adhering to the highest standards of workforce development.

The Future of Dairy Farming

The Corse family is invested in cultivating the next generation of skilled dairy farmers. It’s a way to ensure the transfer and sustainability of dairy farms like theirs.

That’s why they decided to become the first Vermont farm to host the Dairy Grazing Apprenticeship Program. It’s a way to employ, mentor, and provide learning opportunities for the next generation of dairy farmers interested in grazing-based dairy farming. It’s the first accredited Apprenticeship program for farming in the United States. Leon was Vermont’s first Dairy Grazing Master and is the chairman of the National Apprenticeship Training Committee.

Through the program, the Corse Farm offers a two-year grazing apprenticeship at their farm that helps up and coming farmers, like their current apprentice MacKenzie Wallace, gain real life skills and training.

“Abbie says ‘my father is a great teacher, if he’s not your father…’” Leon joked. “I really enjoy it. The industry needs young blood. MacKenzie and I have become great friends…it’s neat that we are 45 years apart and are as close of friends as we are.”

Giving Back to the Community

It’s hard to imagine that the Corse family has much time to do anything else after their farm chores and dairy industry extra-curricular work is done. Yet they each spend time giving back to the local community and ensuring that their town is a vibrant place to live and work.

Leon has been the Town Moderator for the Whitingham Town Meeting for over 30 years. He’s also a Board Member and Current Board President of the Greenfield Farmers Cooperative, a farmer-owned co-op in Greenfield, Massachusetts with more than 800 farmer owners and a retail store.

Linda is involved in land stewardship work locally as a board member of the Connecticut River Farmers Watershed Alliance, a group dedicated to helping farmers improve their land practices for clean water. She’s also the secretary/treasurer for the Vermont Association of Conservation Districts, and the secretary of Windham County Natural Resources Conservation District.

Abbie is also involved with several agricultural and environmental organizations, including the Vermont Agency of Agriculture, Food and Markets, Dairy Advisory Council and the Vermont Act 250 District 2 Environmental Commission. She also serves on the board of directors for Northeast Organic Farming Association of Vermont (NOFA).

In 2019, Abbie was recognized as one of Vermont’s 40 most accomplished young leaders under the age of 40 by Vermont Business Magazine, receiving its Rising Stars Award. She is the only dairy farmer to ever have received the award. She was recently chosen as the Emerging Leader for 2020 in the Vermont Agricultural Hall of Fame.

Abbie says it gives her hope that an increasing number of people are supporting local food production.

“There is reason for a lot of optimism especially around people becoming invested in their local food economies. These little farms like ours everywhere are how you make that possible and produce high-quality food for the people in your community.”

 

Sustainability Defined at the Corse Farm Dairy

Vermont dairy farmer Leon Corse and his daughter Abbie share how their organic grazing model has helped them to stay sustainable and relevant at their 150+ year old dairy farm in Whitingham, Vermont.

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