Transitioned by the farm

Change is a constant on the Caslers’ 200-year-old farm.

If you ever find yourself driving on I-90 through the sleepy town of Little Falls, New York, don’t be surprised to see cows overhead.

Every day, Dan Casler and his 120 Holsteins use a specially built highway overpass to travel from barn to pasture. When Dan’s ancestors began farming here in the late 1700s, there was no need for a concrete overpass—but a lot has changed over the last 200 years, and the Caslers have always prided themselves on adapting to the times. Today, Dan sees a chance not only to react to change but to drive it.

“Agriculture is a great way to make a difference in the world,” Dan says, and he would know. A ninth-generation farmer, Dan is a founder and director emeritus for the Institute for Rural America, a board member of the National Farmers Organization, a member of Organic Valley’s Farmers in Marketing—and, somehow, he also finds time to coach high school wrestling, serve on his local school board and tend a community garden with his church.

While Dan sees organic agriculture as a way to create a better world, he wasn’t the driving force behind this farm’s conversion. That was his wife, Karen, an accomplished marathoner who works nearby as a teacher. “She keeps our diets as organic as possible,” Dan says. “She grows all our veggies in the summer, and of course we drink our own milk, raise our own beef and pork, keep laying hens for eggs.” 

Karen wanted her three sons—Jesse, Jeremiah and Samuel—to grow up active and strong. She and Dan both believe that the choices they made led to healthy kids and powerful family bonds. “[The boys] are always there when I need them,” Dan says, “which is pretty much every day.”

“What makes our area stay strong is that there are a lot of family farms that have stayed in the family over the years,” Dan says. Glancing at Karen, he muses: “I’d like one of [our sons] to take over the farm.”

Their sons will undoubtedly face their own unique challenges once they take over this farm. But if the last nine generations are any guide, the tenth should have no trouble adapting and thriving.

“It’s funny,” Dan says as he looks back on a decade of organic agriculture. “I talked to Kore Yoder, an Organic Valley farmer from Pennsylvania. He told me, ‘At first, you transition [to organic] because of the financial advantage. But once you transition your farm, your farm then transitions you.”

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