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Fifth-Graders Interview Local Farmers to Gain Insights on Milk Production and Catskills Culture

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Due to the unique nature of the Manhattan Country School Farm, it’s sometimes difficult to provide a contemporary experience of modern farming for our students. Even though we operate a farm with very diverse agricultural practices and products, everything we create is self-consumed by the MCS school community. As our founder Gus Trowbridge was often heard saying, “the only things we ship down the road are kids.”

MCS Students at Del Rose Famr
MCS fifth-graders at Del Rose Farm.

Some of our fifth grade students had the opportunity to visit Del Rose Farm, just over the mountain from Roxbury in the town of Bloomville. Del Rose Farm is a multi-generational farm run by the Hanselman Family. What started as a 60-head dairy farm has grown to add sweet corn, tomatoes, peppers, pumpkins and eggs to their saleable items. Barb Hanselman also runs The Farmer’s Wife, creating and selling delicious baked goods.

Del Rose Farm
Students interviewing Barb Hanselman.

Interviewing Barb is part of a larger project of collecting oral histories from current and retired farmers, which the fifth-graders began in the fall. On their fall Farm trip the kids spent an afternoon with Dan Underwood. Dan, now in his 80s, shared stories of growing up on the family farm and being responsible for milking up to seven cows by hand each morning before school. Dan explained how, during that time, the milk was stored in large 25-gallon cans and placed in spring water to keep cool until pick up. Dan went on to a career managing Mountainside Farms, a high-tech milk processing facility in Roxbury. These conversations provided our kids with a historical context of farming in the Catskills.

Dan Underwood milking before school.

On their visit to Del Rose Farm, they toured the cow and calf barns and milk room with Barb. While there are several similarities to our own farm, clearly the scale was different. While milking 60 cows is considered quite small in today’s “factory farm” environment, it’s actually reflects the scale of most family farms in the Northeast. Barb explained that the farm is currently run by her, her husband Ernie, and their three sons Seth, Kale and Ladd. Each son has a college degree in an area that complements the others on the farm.

Carrying milk at the MCS Farm
Transporting milk to the MCS Farm creamery.

The students were able to compare the production scale of Del Rose Farm with that of the MCS Farm. Del Rose produces approximately 25,000 bales of hay each year compared to our 2,500. This hay is fed to their 140 dairy cattle of various ages and their 40 to 50 beef cattle. Their Holstein cows produce 80 to 90 pounds of milk each per day compared to the 40 pounds produced by our Jerseys. One gallon of milk equals eight pounds, so the kids did some quick math and concluded that the Del Rose Farm cows produce 600 gallons per day. This milk is stored in a large “bulk tank” that is picked up each day by a large tanker truck and delivered to the dairy. The MCS Farm milk is hand milked directly into a stainless steel bucket and transported (i.e. carried across the driveway) to the farmhouse for pasteurization. Much like the 600 gallons at the Hanselman’s farm, our milk comes under the supervision of NYS Agriculture and Markets and is tested regularly for antibiotics and bacteria.

On their April farm trip, the fifth grade will compile these stories and oral histories and create several folk songs. As part of our traditional folk music program and work with local musicians, the kids will put these stories to music and dance to be performed for an audience.