Chester Abbot and Betsy Scheindel are Organic Valley farmers in Randolph Center, VT. They milk 50 cows on their 150 acre farm and have two sons, Noah and James.
Chester and Betsy grew up on neighboring farms but took a circuitous route to return to farming on their own. Chesterís family had a dairy farm during his childhood years. They milked 120 cows, fed the cows a total mixed ration and when possible milked the cows three times a day to maximize milk production. By the time Chet was 18 years old, the family has little to show for their hard work financially and the physical demands had taken their toll. The cows were sold.
Chet went to college at Johnson State, one of the Vermont state colleges, and pursued a history degree. He had no desire to farm but during his time at Johnson was introduced to Warren Rankin, one of Vermontís first organic dairy farmers. Warren milked 30 cows, grazed his heifers on the Johnson State campus and managed his farm organically long before there was an organic milk market in Vermont. In 1994, Warren began shipping his milk to a new milk processor, The Organic Cow of Vermont. Chester remembers Peter Flint, the founder of Organic Cow, bringing deliveries of grain and taking back cans of milk for processing. Chester was impressed with Warrenís practices and the rotational grazing he saw demonstrated on the farm and his interest in farming was reawakened.
Betsyís family owned the farm just down the road from Chesterís family. They had bought the property when they moved from New Jersey to Vermont and although they didnít farm themselves wanted to see the property used. A series of farmers used the barn and fields through the years as a place to start their operations or to house heifers for other farms. The family always kept a family cow from which Betsyís mother made butter and cottage cheese in addition to providing milk for the family. Pigs and chickens supplied meat and eggs.
Despite her exposure to farming, Betsy wanted nothing to do with it and left for Boston to pursue a degree in medical technology. She remembers going to the store one day and buying organic milk and feeling that in some way she wanted to return to being connected with that food production. She began coming home to Vermont on weekends, planted a garden, an herb bed. Monday through Friday were lived in the city but she returned home every weekend to care for her gardens. Betsy returned home to Vermont in 1995 where she and Chet re- established their friendship. The two were married in 1997.
After graduating from Johnson State in 1994, Chet came home and worked at a variety of jobs: raising vegetables, working at a local bike shop and working part time for a local farmer who was milking cows on Betsyís familyís farm. Chet says it was a time to test himself to see if he really wanted to return to farming. He and Betsy raised vegetables together and then decided to return to dairy farming in 1998 shipping milk to the Organic Cow. After the Organic Cow was sold to Horizon, Chet and Betsy became farmer/owners at Organic Valley in 2001. They like the cooperative idea and having a voice in the decision making at Organic Valley. They enjoy being valued and having a coop that thinks of the farmers. While their decision to be organic farmers was driven by their personal philosophy and seeing the opportunities for small farms to thrive they are happy that more and more of their local community is displaying an increasing appreciation for organic farming.
Noah and James are both active on the farm. Noah already has a firm understanding of how the equipment works on the farm and tells his parents when he doesnít think they are doing things correctly or if the hay isnít dry enough to bale. James is also showing a propensity for equipment as he insists at age 2 that he can drive! Chester and Betsy have said that they will encourage their sons to farm if they want to but want them to have the chance to experience other things before making that decision. The good news is that the health of the farm is good. This will allow the farm to continue to flourish for many years to come, either in the hands of one of the young Abbots or through an opportunity given to another as Chester and Betsy pass that gift along.