A Labor of Love

BY JULIANNE HANCKEL

The last four generational dairy farms in town are highlighted in a new book that documents daily life on the last of North Stonington's commercial dairy farms.

In "Down on the Farm; the last dairy farms of North Stonington," Markham Starr, a North Stonington resident and photographer, spent a year visiting the four farms and conversing with the people who have dedicated their lives to 365 days of work.

"There's not a single one of them who farms because they have to," Starr said. "It's only because they absolutely love it. There's no way anyone could do it without absolutely loving it."

The four remaining farms in town belong to the Palmer family, the Lewis family, and two related Miner families.

Beriah Lewis Farm, one of the biggest farms in terms of animals and milk production, Starr said, was purchased in 1791.

The farm, now in its eighth generation, is the oldest family operated farm in North Stonington.

In the book, Ledyard Lewis, son of farm owner and operator Rosalind Lewis, said the family has continuously milked more than 300 cows for the last 20 years.

Operating since 1839, Cool Breeze Farm is the second oldest farm in North Stonington. In its fifth generation, the farm is owned and operated by Niles and Esther Miner and their two daughters, Patricia and Linda.

Starr lives near Cool Breeze Farm and said the idea that most of the town's dairy farms have ceased milk production prompted him to capture the remaining operational farms.

"It's the way life used to be, what the country used to be," Starr said. "These are the people that built this country and who worked hard and raised their business. I've just been attracted, I guess, to that."

The George and Carrol Miner Farm is owned and operated by Carrol and Betty Miner, their son Orrin, and their nephew Robert Miner.

Carrol's father bought the farm on Chester Main Road in 1919.

In the book, Carrol recalls the use of animals on the farm long before machines were introduced as a more modern approach to farming.

The introduction of farming equipment and technological advances, Starr says, has made some people much less self-sufficient.

"Forty or 50 years ago, people were much more self sufficient. Now sometimes people don't even know where milk comes from," Starr said.

The Palmer Farm, owned and operated by George and John Palmer, is the second largest farm in town in terms of milk production.

According to the book, in 1897, the Palmers moved onto the farm in the Clark's Falls section of town and currently has a heard of almost 500 animals.

As the state's dairy farms continue to dwindle from the three hundred that remained in the mid-1990s, Starr found the Learned family as he was wrapping up his book.

Nearly six years ago, the Learned family opened Valley View Farm, LLC and received its license to sell milk last July.

Starr said stumbling upon a family willing to open a new dairy business while so many have shut their doors was inspiring.

"It was a nice hope for the farming industry. It will be interesting to see how this new farm does with time," Starr said.

Starr said the boys-Ben, Tim, and Will Learned - are in their mind-twenties and are "very enthusiastic."

They are the sons of Ed and Belinda Learned and will run the farm.

The book is printed in black and white and is filled with personal interviews and pictures of life on the farm. The North Stonington Historical is selling the book for $22 as a fundraiser. To purchase a copy of the book, call the Historical Society at (860) 535-9448.

j.hanckel@theday.com

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