Both David and Susan Hardy grew up outside of Boston, but they each grew up very differently. Dave was milking cows at 15, whereas Susan was being groomed to become an engineer. “I never had a garden and didn’t know a tomato plant from a weed,” Susan says, laughing.
By the time they were married after college, Dave was managing somebody else’s dairy farm, which caused the young couple to decide that if they were going to do this demanding work, they should do it for themselves. Desiring water on the property and judging the land, barn and house in that order, it took them a while to find the right place – their dream spot. In 1992 they found their new home near Mohawk, New York.
Today you can see why they chose that land. Their 500 acres, abundant with lush grass, is an important aspect of their operation. Pasturing their cows on this rich feed offered by Mother Nature is the heart of the Hardys’ organic practices. They implement intensive rotational grazing, which means their herd moves to a new, succulent pasture every 12 hours.
Their herd of about 100 Holstein and Holstein-cross cows graze from late-April to Halloween. Calves are offered grass at about 3 days old. Year-round, the cows have their choice of heading outside or staying in the barn, but when the pasture grasses are at their best during spring, summer and early fall, the cows tend to favor the fresh air and sunshine of the farm’s spacious pastures. In the barn, the stalls are bedded with sand, minimizing bacteria growth, and are comfortable. They clean the barn and rake off the stalls twice a day before each milking.
Susan and Dave emphasize that the work required to maintain a successful dairy is demanding and gratifying. Someone needs to be available 24/7. It doesn’t matter if it’s 20 below zero with the wind whistling or 102 degrees outside, they need to go to work and take care of the animals. The Hardys’ attentive treatment to the cows regarding healthy feed, comfortable housing and overall animal care is rewarded by the herd’s good health and production of high quality, nutritious milk. The farm is as much a part of the family as the family is a part of the farm. Susan comments that it is as though they have three sons and 93 daughters!
Dave and Susan’s oldest son, Aaron, attended college for animal science, which is where he met his wife, Sarah. They bought a house one mile away. Aaron is employed full time and manages the dairy with his parents. Their middle son, Calvin, is a registered nurse. Living only an hour away, he continues to enjoy assisting the family with whatever farm project is underway. Their youngest son, Isaac, is a world traveler and college student. On breaks from studies or traveling, he returns home and quickly slides back into the routine of helping on the farm.
The family has strong ties. “We believe it developed from the bonding that’s essential to living on a dairy farm. Our sons have developed an excellent work ethic. They are compassionate, and have a true understanding of how important it is to take care of and respect our earth.”
For the Hardys, farming is their life, not a job. Because of the daily effort required, the whole family is involved. It can be exhausting, and it is essential to pitch in when needed. Since Dave and Susan do work from home for Organic Valley in addition farming full-time—quite the balancing act—the business braids with family life. “As a family we share the wondrous moments we are blessed with as well as facing the challenges nature and farming present, making our family connection strong and supportive of each other.”
Farming stimulates all the senses, and together they have experienced much: seeing that perfect sunset as the backdrop for the silhouettes of the grazing cows, observing a newborn calf do its best to stand up for the first time, the scent of freshly mowed fields, the smell of the air after the manure has been spread to feed the land, the sounds of mama cow calling to her calf, the feel of the wet noses when an animal comes to nuzzle. “And we all love our ‘office’ of the great outdoors,” Susan says. “It is a fulfilling lifestyle in infinite ways.”
Through Organic Valley, Dave and Susan have opportunities to regularly interact with students in New York City schools and attend various events to help people become aware of where their food comes from. “People need to understand that food doesn’t just appear in the grocery store. These conversations inform by bringing light to the real life daily activity of the farm.”
Many of the people with whom the Hardys have interacted will get a chance to see ‘their farmer’ on the Organic Valley New York Fresh skim milk carton, which features Dave Hardy and Geye (one of the Hardys’ cows).