For Kate and Travis Fogler, nothing encourages loved ones to come home for the holidays like … cows.
Their home is Stonyvale Farm, a 4,200-acre, fifth-generation dairy in Exeter, Maine, that they share with 1,000 milking cows, about 200 dry cows and 800 youngstock. On top of that, they farm 2,500 acres of cropland, growing corn, alfalfa and grasses. And when relatives — and not just relatives — visit the farm for Christmas, inevitably they end up at the barn, with some bearing gifts.
“The holidays are always fun because some of our family members from farther away come to visit the farm, come to visit the calf barn — they just love to come see the cows and to reconnect with their roots,” Kate Fogler said. “And there’s always tons of goodies from the neighbors that end up at the barn in the break room.”
Stonyvale Farm, at one time operated only by Travis’ grandfather, John, has grown over the years as members of the family found their way back. Today it’s run by nine members of the Fogler family spanning two generations — including Travis’ father, uncle, brother-in-law, and a number of cousins, as well as 25 employees. Along with more workers, there’s now a lot more work to do: What originally started out as a very small farm milking a side-opening four parlor, later upgraded to a double-eight parlor, and is now a double-twenty.
For the Foglers, it has always been important to find places for the family to fit in, in ways that meet their own needs.
“We do a pretty good job of having diverse interests and make sure that all parts of the farm are covered,” Fogler said. “For example, I work with the cows. I understand the cows, I know how to treat cows, how to take care of cows — but some of our other family members don’t share that same interest and are much more interested in crops or machinery. Since that’s not my focus or area of expertise, I trust them to do their portion of the farm, and they trust me to do my portion of the farm.”
Embracing the family’s many interests has allowed the Foglers to diversify, helping Stonyvale Farm thrive. In 2012, it became the first farm in Maine to build a methane digester, producing enough electricity to power as many as 800 households and heat 300 New England homes.
“We were starting to look at digesters in New York, and beginning some of the research for that,” Fogler said. “Travis’ cousin who is an engineer was looking to come back to the farm around that time. He helped us with the research and others in the family got involved, too, and we decided it was a good fit for the farm.”
From that, the Foglers have started a waste procurement business and a separate trucking business. That, Fogler says, turned out to be an excellent way to let people practice their passions and still be involved in the farm.
“I think with farming overall, you have to have an open mind, and you have to be willing to change, and you have to be willing to look at the opportunities out there,” Fogler said. “We’re now in a place where we’re trying to figure out if the next generation has any interest, and what that is, and what they would like to see and how things are changing or might need to change. We’re keeping our eyes open for opportunities to see how many of the next generation might want to come back and what roles they want to play.”
Fogler also stresses the importance of giving back to the community and being involved — whether that’s the local community in Maine or the dairy community through industry organizations. Almost everyone in the Fogler family is involved in some way with outside organizations. Travis sits on the Dairy Farmers of America Board of Directors and serves on the National Milk Producers Federation Board of Directors, as well. Kate serves on the Maine Dairy Promotion Board, the National Dairy Promotion and Research Board (NDB), the Dairy Management Inc. Board, and is very active with the Maine Community Foundation, an organization which brings people and resources together to fund community initiatives across the state.
“That’s something that is different from my day-to-day on the farm, but allows me to add my ag expertise,” Fogler said. “It’s not only important for us to be involved on the farm, but also outside the farm.”
But when the holidays come, it’s time to bring the outside world home — for family, and for celebration.
“I love when family and friends can see our hard work and the business we have built,” Fogler said. “I also enjoy educating them and our community about our family farm, the cows, the people, dairy products, and the things we are doing to be sustainable.”