Eleven Generations and Still Going
STORRS, CT, Nov. 9, 2015 — Josh Stearns is up at 5:00 a.m. delivering milk and doing what needs to be done.
Josh is just doing what comes naturally – making sure he does his part to keep up his family’s 243 year tradition of working their farm and distributing their own milk under the Mountain Dairy brand. Josh is the 10th generation of the Stearns family to be a part of Mountain Dairy and the land where it stands. And he has no intention of leaving. “I’m a lifer,” he proclaims. He’s one of seven members of the Stearns family working the farm today. And there’s another generation not far behind.
Mountain Dairy is part of a vanishing breed: The family-run, fully integrated farm and dairy plant. Josh, like the generations of Stearns family members before him, is dedicated to carrying on the legacy. Most recently, that’s meant bringing in local businessman Paul Brody to help the family expand the dairy plant and manage the business side of the organization. “Paul is a long-time friend of the family who we brought in several months ago to insure that our long-time commitment to this land continues,” says Arthur B. Stearns, Chairman of the Board and the last member of the family’s 8th generation. “This land has always been, and will always be, 100 percent owned by the Stearns family.”
Also part of Mountain Dairy’s growth is an increase in the size of their herd; an expansion of farm operations; updated packaging for the products; an expanded retail customer list and a new Director of Marketing and Sales. In addition, Mountain Dairy has applied to Connecticut’s Farmland Preservation Program to preserve its prime farmland in perpetuity. This will guarantee that the land is always used for farming.
The family’s farming tradition goes back to 1772 when Boaz and Lydia Stearns first settled on the farm. Early on, the family raised mulberries on the land for the region’s silk industry. Eventually, the family switched to the milk business and the use of the name Mountain Dairy came about in 1871. That’s when Jared Stearns began selling milk to his neighbors and friends in the local community. Later, the family-owned dairy expanded into production, not only milking their own cows, but processing and delivering milk to customers from their own plant. Today, there are only 40 dairies like theirs in the countrythat take their milk from the farm to the bottle. Called Producer-Handler dairies, these farms raise and milk their own cows and produce and market their own milk. Unlike most dairies across the country, Mountain Dairy pasteurizes, homogenizes, and bottles milk from its own cows. Bucking the trend among small dairy farmers, the Stearns family farm is still self-sufficient in the production and marketing of their own milk to their customers.
Over the years, those customers have changed, but the milk hasn’t. It’s still produced and bottled at the family’s 1,000 acre farm in Storrs, CT. The family still maintains 100 percent quality control of all of its dairy products from cows to the store. Today, their customers are supermarkets, groceries, convenience stores, restaurants, hospitals, colleges and public school systems.
Ten generations of the Stearns family have been actively involved in the farm, taking their turn milking, raising crops to feed the cows, processing the milk and delivering it to their customers.
Why have these ten generations fought through long winters, droughts, changing market conditions and tough economic times to keep their farm? Josh Stearns puts it this way: “Keeping this farm is very important to this family. It’s ours. Owning your own land used to be called the American Dream. For me it still is. This place was here a long time before me and I hope it’s here a long time after me.” His dad, Leslie, echoes that sentiment: “We want to make it viable for the younger generation to come into the business and make a decent living. It’s what we want to be. What we want to do.” His brother Conrad adds: “It’s more than just dollars to us. It’s in our DNA.”
And it looks like that DNA has been passed down, as the next generation of the Stearns family is already getting involved. Josh’s son, 12-year old Ethan, has already shown an active interest in continuing the family tradition. Both his Uncle Wallace Stearns and cousin Tim Stearns recently started working full-time at the farm, feeding the cows, making and delivering milk, and working on the farm equipment.
Like many members of the Stearns family, 12-year-old, Ethan started his involvement early. “When he was younger I used to bring him to the farm,” recalls his father. “Today, he goes on early morning milk runs with me. He says he wants to work in the business. He likes the farm side, doing things like working in the barn and feeding and working with the cows. I want Ethan and all the next generations of this family to have the opportunity to work our own land.”
Dairy-farm life isn’t for everyone. Those who work on a dairy farm-even in modern times-must contend with weather and long hours. It is a choice that requires strong dedication.
So, while dairies across the country are closing or banding together into cooperatives, the Stearns family farm remains independent and 100 percent family owned. It’s something that the members of the family feel strongly about continuing. Josh sums it up this way: “I’d do just about anything for this place because it’s part of me. Generations of my family gave their whole lives to this farm. It’s important that we keep the legacy going.”
About Mountain Dairy
Mountain Dairy and the Stearns family have produced and distributed milk and milk products locally and throughout Connecticut for over 144 years. Mountain Dairy is one of only 40 licensed Producer-Handlers in the United States. This means that Mountain Dairy has 100 percent quality control of all its dairy products, from the cows to the bottle. For over ten generations the Stearns family has maintained the integrity of Mountain Dairy products from their family farm in Storrs, CT. For more information, visit www.mountaindairy.com
Andrea Obston firstname.lastname@example.org
(860) 243-1447 (office) (860) 803-1155 (cell)