The Synder’s oldest son, Matthew, is recently engaged and bought 3 acres of the farm where he’ll build a home for his future family. He has his own lawn care and small engine repair business in the summer, and works for a local heating and plumbing contractor in winter.
Their second oldest son, Kelby, works full time on the farm and will be the one to take over the farm. He’s already begun to buy the herd as new calves come on, just one of the traditional ways a father transitions a farm to his children.
Their third oldest child and only daughter, Meghan, just graduated college with a vet tech degree. On farm, she keeps all the herd records and delivers all the calves.
Then there’s Kevin, the family’s high tech guru, who builds and services computers; Isaac, a star soccer player and voracious reader; Joseph and John, who help out on the farm; and finally, Brian, the most recent addition to the family.
All the children rotate milking with Jerry in the evening, except for Matthew who has his own business. Kelby milks with his dad every morning. “The age level determines how much they can do. They only engage in age-appropriate chores.”
Sound thinking is a critical component of good farm management, as well as a hallmark of good stewardship, and the Snyder’s have this ability in spades. Thinking back to the comparison to Shelburne farms, several seemingly disparate projects on farm have been linked together to spectacular effect.
Spruce trees that Jerry planted with his dad when he was five years old were ready to harvest when it came time to build a new pole barn.
The trees were milled into the needed lumber by a local miller who Jerry went to school with, keeping the local economy humming. In return for the milling work, the miller needed some ash trees for a job, so Jerry had him harvest some ash from the Snyder’s wood lot. The ash tree tops left behind became a thriving firewood business for second oldest son Kelby and some of his friends. Plus, harvesting the ash opened up more space in the woods for sugar maple saplings to grow.
The land that was opened up by the spruce tree harvest is very wet, and drains neighboring land. It turns out to be the very top source of three watersheds in the area, one of which is a creek that runs through Sunny Cove Farm.
The cleared land will be put to pasture, and the drainage captured in a pond that will be dug and built by Kelby.
Because that spot is one of the highest on the farm, water from the pond can be used in a gravity flow system to both water the cows and create energy on the farm.
Everything works in synchronous fashion on Sunny Cove Farm. “We produce less milk because we don’t feed grain, but our milk is high quality and we are paid appropriately for it. The cows are healthy so we don’t have a vet bill, and they’re healthy because they’re eating food we raise right here on the farm. I know the industrial paradigm I was taught is useless.
“Everything we do here begins with asking the question: What can we do to make this last for generations? It’s the same question George and the guys at Organic Valley asked of themselves when they started our farmer-owned co-op.”