How a farm becomes a family farm

For the Benson family, farming is a generational affair.

Organic farming asks us to reacquaint ourselves with the food we consume, and that can lead organic farmers to face different challenges than their conventional neighbors. Case in point: While conventional dairies struggle with finding places to keep all the cows, the Benson family had difficulty finding homes for all the humans.

Chandler and Aziza Benson needed space for their three sets of twins. Chandler’s parents, Chuck and Andra, felt the old farmhouse was too big for them. So Chuck and Andra gave the farmhouse to the next generation and built a small, sustainable home for themselves out of straw bales.

It may not sound like a major initiative, but organic farmers like the Bensons know that small steps add up to big strides. The Bensons are third-generation family farmers here in New York’s Finger Lakes region, and while they’re all happy to be on the farm today, it wasn’t easy getting here.

In the 1990s, Chuck and Andra were under pressure to raise big, conventional dairy herds. But that never sat well with them, so the Bensons chose a different path—eschewing large-scale confinement dairies and antibiotics in favor of a small, healthy, sustainable herd.

The transition to organic started with Andra. “That was really my mom’s idea,” says Chandler. “For the most part, the way my parents farmed was already so close to organic, the transition wasn’t very hard for them. When we came back to the farm, they were just about finished.”

The Bensons originally wanted to go organic for ethical reasons, but once they made the switch, they discovered that sustainable practices are also good business. “Organic farming in general, and Organic Valley in particular, has changed the paradigm for family farms,” Chandler says. “Where once the future looked like a struggle, our farm now has the chance to thrive.”

The proof is not in the cows but the kids. Sure, the Bensons’ cows love spending their days in organic pastures. But the Bensons’ kids like it out here too, and organic farming gives them, their parents—and maybe even their own kids, someday—a chance to live their dream.

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