By Cindy Atoji Keene
With less than 2 percent of the U.S. population involved in farming today, there is a lot of misinformation about dairy farms, said Doug Stephan, owner of Eastleigh Farms in Framingham, one of the few raw milk dairies in eastern Massachusetts. With a herd of over 200 Jerseys, Guernseys, Holsteins, and Brown Swiss cows that graze on pastures surrounded by suburbia, Stephan said he bought the 114 acres over a decade ago to stop proposed development. “I remember when this area was mostly farmland. Now people love to visit the bucolic setting of a farm but many are clueless about what it takes to run a farm, including the smell of manure as well as the dust, noise, and running of loud equipment that is needed,” said Stephan, who uses the cows to naturally improve the soil and sustain the land.
It is far from easy to run a farm, said Stephan, who on a typical day might fix a tractor with a broken hitch; mow acres of hay before dusk; and move cows from one barn to another. Providing the best care possible for his cows, of course, is an around-the-clock job. “I love looking at the cows and seeing that they’re healthy. Cows are sensitive, kind, loving and smart animals. Most famers look at them as machines that give milk, but I have become very connected with them, which I think leads to quality milk.”
Q: What is the most difficult part of farming?
A: The hard physical labor is no surprise to me but because I am selling raw milk, I am amazed at the amount of government intrusion and the state and federal regulations which make it difficult to survive as a business. We have become so far removed from where food comes from, and the maze of food safety controls makes it difficult for the ‘little guy’ like me – and then consumers wonder why food is so expensive.
Q: Why did you decide to become a farmer?
A: I’ve been around cows all my life. When I was a kid, my first job was sweeping out a local farmer’s school buses for 50 cents a piece. It was a tradition in New England that most farmers took time off chores to drive buses. I spent every waking moment, when I wasn’t in school, at my neighbor’s farm. Most of my values in life came from farmers who were my mentors, so I can’t imagine not living on a farm and having animals.
Q: What ensures the quality of raw milk that you produce?
A: Raw milk from grass-fed animals has a lot more nutritional value if properly produced. It takes constant vigilance over the cleanliness of the animals and the bottling plant. The cow’s milk goes down a pipeline into a holding tank, then into a cooler. In minutes, the milk goes from the temperature of a cow, which is about 101 degrees, to 34 degrees. This is how the milk is preserved and bacteria is prevented.
Q: Who is your favorite cow on the farm?
A: Our cows all have a personality and names based on their lineage.
The grand dame, Peaches is the oldest. She has a wonderful intellect and curiosity. She follows me around and watches everything and if she doesn’t like a pasture, she’ll make a lot of noise and let you know.
Q: You’re also host of a syndicated radio program called Doug Stephen’s Good Day. How does that fit into farming?
A: Everyone who listens to me knows that I’m a farmer in addition to being a broadcaster. The spirit of the show is flavored by my agrarian background.
Q: The farmer look has become vogue – canvas coats, plaid shirts, and work boots – is that your attire?
Q: I’m not campy and don’t want to set any fashion trends. I don’t want to look the part but just be comfortable and warm.