“You can tell someone just about anything, but when they see it in action, that’s another story.” – Jennifer Churchill
The value of hard work isn’t just a life lesson for the Churchill children – it’s a daily reality.
Their parents, Jennifer and Morgan Churchill, own Wonder Why Farm, and Jennifer explains that their kids, Sam, about to be 12, and 8-year-old Nora, pitch right in when it comes to dairying chores.
“You can tell someone just about anything, but when they see it in action, that’s another story,” says Jennifer.
The Churchill farm in Cabot has been named Vermont Dairy Farm of the Year, winner of the Green Pasture Award. 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.
Like their children, both Jennifer and Morgan got an early start, growing up on dairy farms, but they had plans other than going into the family farming business. Morgan worked building trains and Jennifer was in college studying civil and environmental engineering when their life plans hit a detour. Morgan left his job, and the couple decided to transition from milking 15 cows on Morgan’s father’s farm in 2002 to managing a certified organic herd of their own.
Seventeen years later, on land first leased and later purchased from Morgan’s uncle, Walter (Rusty) Churchill, the pair now manage a certified organic milking herd of 120 cows.
“It’s a lifestyle, not a job,” Jennifer laughs. She recalls that Sam and Nora as newborns accompanied her in the barn, and today the youngsters can still be found among the herd, doing weekend chores. “They’re a huge part of it,” says Jennifer, but on weekdays, there’s a focus on school and extracurricular activities, as the family balances dairying and family life.
The improvements made at Wonder Why Farm impressed the award judges, to be sure. In 2010, while still leasing the farm, the Churchills remodeled the tie-stall barn to milk more cows and in 2014, were awarded a Dairy Improvement Grant through the Vermont Farm and Forest Viability Program and additional funding from the Vermont Economic Development Authority to build a new 24,000 square-foot barn. Each stall in the well-ventilated, free-stall barn has sand bedding for cow comfort. To avoid overcrowding, 10 stalls are always left empty.
The same year, Wonder Why Farm started shipping milk to organic yogurt maker Stonyfield Farm in nearby New Hampshire, and the following year, added a state-of-the-art robotic milking system.
On some occasions, the farm hosts blogger tours organized by Stonyfield. And Jennifer is sure to include the kids. “They get to tell their story, and they can meet people from across the country. That’s important.”
The Churchills, like many dairy farmers, are always looking for ways to diversify operations. They began sugaring in 2012, and they’ve planted hemp as a first step to see if selling the oil is a viable side business.
In the meantime, it’s all about family at Wonder Why Farm. And is it any wonder? After all, the family that dairy farms together,…well, you know the rest.
Photos Courtesy University of Vermont Extension & Stonyfield Organic