When David and Susan Hardy first saw the abandoned farm on the top of the hill, they knew they’d found their new home. They’d looked in three states for the perfect, affordable dairy farm in a farming community where they could raise their kids and their cows.
The 200-acre place in central New York state was picturesque and peaceful, and it had what they wanted: lush green grass, gently sloping terrain, views of the Mohawk River valley about 2,000 feet below, some useable outbuildings, and farms, farms, farms all around.
It was, in short, cow and Hardy heaven.
They bought the farm in 1992 and moved there in 1994. A decade later, they’re still in love with it – and their dairying lifestyle.
Neither was born into dairying. David grew up behind his grandfather’s chicken farm in a small community 25 miles outside of Boston, but his family didn’t really farm; his father was a cabinetmaker and fire fighter. Still, David knew early on that farming was in his soul. He started running an "egg route" selling eggs door-to-door when he was 13. And in high school, he spent summers working at a family friend’s dairy farm. He liked the cows, the milking and the way of life.
After majoring in animal science at Stockbridge School of Agriculture at the University of Massachusetts, David worked on other dairy farms and in construction. But he and Susan wanted a farm of their own. Finally, they bought their farm near Mohawk, New York. David’s carpentry skills came in handy, because they had to build a new house and barn the first winter, and transform a neglected outbuilding into a gleaming milking barn.
It’s obvious that the Hardys’ first impression of the farm was right-on: their 200 acres, and the additional 250 acres they rent, grow terrific grass. Pasturing their cows on this rich natural feed is at the heart of the Hardys’ organic practices. Their herd – mostly Holsteins, with a few Jersey Crosses, Linebacks and Dutchbelts (black-and-white-striped cows that resemble "Oreo" cookies) – grazes on fresh grass from late-April to Halloween.
The family uses rotational grazing to ensure that the cows always have fresh feed. They move the cows to new pasture sections called "paddocks" every day. Thanks to frequent rains that blow in from Lake Ontario, and several springs, they don’t have to irrigate their fields. In addition, three-season Nowadaga Creek flows through the middle of the farm, naturally irrigating wetlands and forests. The Hardys fence their cows out of the creek to protect streamside habitat and water quality.
The family also produces 85% of the food they consume, including meat, eggs, yogurt, cheese, and fruits and vegetables from Susan’s prolific garden. "It’s so important to us to know the source of our food," David said.
Organic farming always made sense to David and Susan. They research the latest methods on their own and discuss ideas with other organic farmers nearby. David shares his experiences with a "grazing discussion group," in which he is the only organic farmer.
Organic Valley also provides valuable input. "We signed up with Organic Valley as soon as they began picking up milk in our area," David said. "I’m extremely happy with them. Their staff takes the time to listen to me, and answer my questions thoroughly. I think it’s because the whole business is farmer-driven. Their openness and willingness to support us farmers are invaluable.”
Growing up, their three sons, Isaac, 18, Calvin, 21, and Aaron, 24, shared their parents’ enthusiasm for farm life. Over the years, they all helped with the milking, calving and farm chores. Aaron returned to the farm to work full time after graduating Morrisville State College with a degree in dairy science. Calvin is still in college in Syracuse, and Isaac is on a rotary international program in Bolivia for a year, after which he’ll return for college.
“We never forced them to work on the farm because this was our choice, not theirs,” David said. “So we feel good about the fact that Aaron came back on his own. We feel it's a good way of life for a family to experience together and helps develop a good work ethic in children. We’re gratified to know our children choose to continue to farm this land.”