Lyle Edwards loves farming, and he’s good at it. Why? Because he’s learned that success is to love what you do for a living. “Work is such a big part of your life that, if you really love it, you’ll never have to work a day in your life.” That’s how the old Confucian saying goes.
“I didn’t grow up on a farm, but my grandfather had a farm about a mile from where I lived, so I was always over there when I was a kid. I always knew that’s what I wanted to do.”
Lyle's grandfather sold the farm when Lyle was only 13. When he was 16, he got a job on a dairy farm and worked there off and on all through high school and after high school. He went to Florida for a couple of years and worked on two big dairies down there. When he came back to Vermont in 1976, he took over a dairy farm owned by the man he’d worked for in high school.
“I didn’t have a nickel to my name, so he financed me and helped me get going.”
In 1995, Lyle lost his farm through bankruptcy and a divorce at the same time, and then after, worst of all, lost his youngest of three daughters to a car accident.
“To continue farming has cost a lot,” Lyle says, “but if you get knocked down, you have to get back up.”
He started over again in 1996 in the very northernmost part of Vermont.
Today, the family farms 140 acres in a part of Vermont known as the Northeast Kingdom, and they milk approximately 50 registered Holstein cows. Orleans County hosts more organic farms than any county in the state. Most of them are Organic Valley farms.
“I learned from my mistakes. We’ve got a nice farm and a great herd of cows. We’ve worked hard and we’re doing well, knock on wood!
“Transitioning was not a big deal,” Lyle says. “I remember a time when farms were mostly organic where hormones and antibiotics were hardly used. And I always pastured my cows. Even back in ‘76 when I started out, I rotationally grazed the cows. It was called the Voisin Grazing Method of rotating cows around to fresh pasture daily so they’d get maximum nutrients from the plants and give the plants a chance to recover and stay healthier, too. It made sense, so I started doing that right away and have done that ever since. Outside of knowing how to manage money, there are only four things you need to know how to do well on a dairy farm: how to milk the cows well, feed the cows well, breed the cows well and clean the cows well.”
The farm was certified organic in 2002, when Organic Valley farmer Travis Forgues called up and asked if the Edwards’ wanted to join Organic Valley. “And that was a good move,” Lyle says. “Going organic has been a great plus to our farm. And I like being with Organic Valley, because you know they’re on the farmer’s side when the board of directors is composed of farmers who are like us.”
Both of Lyle’s daughters, Bethany and Melissa, live in the Virgin Islands today, and one of them might want to come back to take over the farm someday. Until then, Lyle has part-time help for milking chores and someone to help during haying season. “I don’t envy farmers with a bunch of employees. I’d rather do the work myself instead of managing people,” Lyle says. “I like farming today as much as I did when I started out 37 years ago. I’ve never lost my love for it.
“Right now I don’t have any plans to retire. I know it’s going to happen sometime. I’m still in good physical shape so I’ll keep going as long as I can. Farming is a commitment. You’ve got to be tenacious, like my wife, Kitty. She was born and raised in New Jersey, but she’s a farmer through and through. She’s great with the cows and calves. She’s really detail-oriented and notices little things about them that I miss. I remember the first time I introduced her to a friend, he said ‘Don’t look any further. You won’t find any better.’ I think that’s why we’ve done well. The power of two makes three.”