UConn Extension and Connecticut Farm Bureau Young Farmers hosted a showing of the documentary film “Forgotten Farms” on Wednesday in the Student Union Theater. The documentary shed light on the largely ignored dairy farmers of New England, while also examining the divide between the new food movement and traditional farming. Following the film was a panel discussion featuring local farmers.
The documentary, directed by Dave Simonds and produced by Sarah Gardner, gave the spotlight to several dairy farms across New England, including Chenail Bros. Dairy, Escobar Farm and Herrick Dairy Farm. All of the farms were family run, and it was extremely apparent that each farmer wouldn’t choose any other occupation, no matter how many struggles they faced.
Dairy farming is not easy work, and many farmers do not receive adequate salaries for all of the hard work they put in. This forces a lot of farms to have to shut down, which is extremely negative for New England’s agriculture.
“Most of New England’s agriculture is under threat,” Gardner explained in the film. New England has lost over 10,000 dairy farms in the past 50 years and fewer than 2,000 farms remain. They own about 1.2 million acres of farmland and produce almost all of the milk consumed in New England. About 100 years ago, New England dairy farmers owned over 16 million acres of farmland. With climate changes, New England may need to begin sustaining itself more and more, and this loss of land could be detrimental.
Throughout the film, the struggles that dairy farmers face were discussed. Despite dairy farms making up a large portion of New England’s agriculture, they are often largely ignored when agriculture in the United States is discussed. Often, much smaller-scale local farms are the ones being celebrated, and while this is not wrong, the much larger dairy farms are the ones who are producing the majority of the products we consume. They not only manage 75 percent of our farmland, but also are the ones sustaining our food supply and the farm economy. Therefore, they deserve larger recognition, and this documentary works towards helping remove their negative stigma.
“You gotta be out there every day… there’s no vacations,” one farmer said in the film.
Many other farmers also expressed the hard labor that goes into dairy farming.
“It doesn’t matter what the weather is like, or how you’re feeling, those animals need you,” another farmer said.
The film also explored the tensions between the new food movement and commercial farming. Despite initial skepticism against one another, it was clear that there was some still some basis of mutual understanding. No matter what, they are all still farmers and this gives them some common ground. A local food system that can actually effectively sustain everyone will need help from all farmers, not one or the other.
“Before coming, I knew nothing about farms… I think it’s important to know where your food comes from, so I wanted to learn more… it’s important to diversify your opinions,” Mara Tu, a first-semester environmental major, said. “The documentary really explained a lot about dairy farming.”
Following the film was a panel discussion, including Simonds, Bonnie Burr, who is the department head of UConn Extension, and two local farmers. They discussed the importance of New England agriculture, the importance of knowing where your milk is coming from and especially the development of sustainable farming.
“We are constantly evolving,” Burr said. “We are constantly researching for new information to create a really wholesome product… setting a high bar is important.”
Burr also touched on the financial struggles farmers face.
“If you take away a farmer’s profit, he’s going out of business and his land is becoming developed into houses,” Burr said.
In the film, many farmers discussed that due to high prices or grain and low selling prices of milk, it can be extremely difficult to break even. This is contributing to the rapid decrease of farms and farmland.
The event was open to the public, and learning more about the farmers opened some students’ eyes to how important dairy farming is.
“I decided to come because I’m an environmental science major and I wanted to see how farming impacts climate change, I have heard that it is a factor in energy consumption and I wanted to see the farmers’ side of it… I now know that farms are so demonized and it’s wrong,” said Natalie Roach, a first-semester environmental sciences and human rights major. “It’s so important to talk to the people who are directly involved.”
Melissa Scrivani is a staff writer for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.