Ten years ago, Pennsylvania dairy farmer Edwin Shank decided he wanted out of the crushing conventional system, and made the switch to organic production, and to selling his milk direct to consumers, unpasteurized. Nine years ago, this blog described his initial transition.
Around the country, American dairy farms are in big trouble. So big and seemingly insurmountable is the trouble that some dairy owners are committing suicide. It is the same trouble dairy owners have faced on and off for the last fifty years: processors keep milk prices so low that dairy farmers can’t make enough to live on, and profits flow to the processors.
Now, in his dairy’s newsletter, Shank updates customers on how the transition came about, and how it’s gone. Let’s just say that, after making the move out of conventional dairying, Shank has never looked back.
by Edwin Shank
Rejoice with us!
It was early Saturday, during order packing, that it hit me. I immediately called out to my wife
“Hey Dawn! Guess what today is?”
“It’s December the 8th,” she replied with a quizzical tone… “What’s so special about it?”
“Yeah,” I said, “It’s Dec 8th 2018! Ten years ago today was our first day as a certified organic farm! Can you believe it?!” And the same date marks 13 years since we made the momentous, scary pledge to stop any and all chemical use on our soils and animals.
10 years… wow! What a flood of memories that brings. What a ride it has been. God is so Good! What blessings He had planned! Blessings that we could in no way comprehend when taking those first fearful steps of faith and trust.
I recall with chagrin my days as a young farmer in the early 90’s. Dawn and I had taken over the farm from my parents immediately upon returning from our wedding trip in August of 1990. As a still-wet-behind-the-ears 20-year-old, I naturally looked to those older and more educated for answers. Agricultural university experts, government extension agents and the always helpful chemical, hormone and antibiotic reps seemed like trustworthy sources. Since they all agreed, there seemed to be no need to look further.
But after 15 years of innocently trusting their ‘overly friendly’ advice… we were worn out, our cows were burnt out and our soils exhausted. We were tired mentally, emotionally and physically. Our spirits were crushed and we were broke.
We had tried so hard… so heroically hard to be successful industrial dairy farmers. And if you judge by the copious volumes of milk, we were successful. Very successful! We were milking 340 cows three times per day, pushing all the grain, corn, soy and hormones that we could, and producing a full 6000 gallon tanker truck of milk every two days.
Except for one small, insignificant detail.
The industrial dairy market that we were slaves to refused to pay more than 11 cents per pint for our milk. Yes, you read that right… 11 pennies per pint. We couldn’t even feed the cows for that piddling amount. It was totally disgusting. And no amount of pleading would help.
The bank was threatening foreclosure of our 5th-generation family farm. I was worried, discouraged, embarrassed and afraid. The children remember me telling them one bleak November that we had until April to be on our farm unless God worked a miracle.
So we prayed… and prayed some more. It was our constant prayer for direction those months. And God did work a miracle!
But the miracle vision didn’t come all at once. It came in bits and pieces. Sort of like a mosaic… the pieces fell in place.
I started pursuing an interest in Jersey cows. And I also revisited a long latent fascination with grazing and pasturing cows. Then one day a piece of mail crossed my desk inviting more organic dairy farmers to come on board.
Suddenly the picture fell together like an epiphany. I remember exactly where I was sitting. I sat back in my chair like struck and spoke out loud. “Grazing Organic Jerseys!” This is it! This is what we are supposed to do! This is our mission.
But I had a lot of questions.
Organic dairy farming… How would that ever work? Wouldn’t the cows and calves all get sick and die if the farmer didn’t use antibiotics to keep them alive? How do you ever grow crops without chemical weed killers? And seriously, how can a farmer grow crops without chemical nitrogen and other chemical fertilizers?
These and other questions flooded my mind.
And God had answers!
The answers came in the form of experienced organic farmers that had pioneered before us. Thank you Rodney Martin, Mark Nolt, Joel Salatin, Wilmer Newswenger, Roman Stoltzfoos, Steve Fisher, Stanley Heisey and others. Your open-armed, open-hearted sharing of organic philosophy and practice is valued and will not be forgotten.
So the dream and vision keep developing… 10 years later the mosaics are still falling in place. We’re not sure what the final picture will be, but we trust the One who knows. We know it will be beautiful because He has the Master plan.
Thank you… all of you who support our organic farming dream by sourcing your foods here. Words fail us… we try to express it sincerely and often but it still feels totally inadequate.
Your decision to focus your food dollars in an ethical, regenerative farming direction undeniably plays the most important role in the miraculous ongoing rescue of our farm, our soils and our local farming community of farmers. We will never undervalue our tribe!
For more information, Your Family Farm runs two web sites: This is the main farm and store info site and how the farm receives orders for delivery to its 54 PA Drop Points. This one is specifically designed for the eastern 30 states, UPS To-Your-Door delivery.