While most dairy farmers tend to keep to themselves, this farmer is the exception. She will do just about anything to be heard; and therefore she may be no stranger to you. She’s a go-to resource for urban consumers and reporters. She’s a regular attendee and speaker at foodie conferences. She isn’t afraid to fight the fight to have farmers’ voices heard. (In fact, she went back to school to do so in a more official capacity.) Her words are honest, her photos are serene, her energy is endless, and she has more Twitter followers than cows and acres combined. She is a farmer on a mission to educate the public about rural communities and the role and lifestyle of today’s farmer. She is an inspiration to me and many, and I enjoy learning from her and witnessing her ability to personally connect with consumers from her remote, rural location. So without further ado, please meet dairy farmer, attorney and farmer advocate, Lorraine Lewandrowski, probably better known in social media circles as “NYFarmer”.1. Who are you?
I’m a lifelong dairy farmer and also a lawyer for many farmers in our area.
2. Why are you a dairy farmer?
Because I love it and it is in my blood! My family has been involved in agriculture for literally centuries, both here and in Europe. Around the turn of the century, my grandparents came from Poland. In New York City, land agents approached the young Irish and Polish immigrants and asked them if they would like to buy farmland. So, together, these young Irish and Polish “twenty somethings” set out for the Tug Hill Plateau where they farmed some of the roughest land in the state. My grandparents ended up dismantling the barn on the Tug and brought it by horse and wagon to Herkimer County where we farm now. I guess you could say farming is really something that we are determined to do!
3. How would you describe your farm?
Our dairy farm is focused on grazing. We’ve got plenty of land that is best grazed and not all that great for crops. The barns are old. The main barn was built the year after the Civil War in a community barn raising, and the calf barn is the barn my grandparents hauled down from the Tug. We’ve expanded with a Coverall. It’s a wild and pretty place. We are currently milking about 60 cows in a tie-stall barn with about the same number of young stock.
4. What is your favorite thing to do on the farm?
I like to take care of the calves. I also like fieldwork. Baling and raking hay is a favorite. Most of all, I like to spend time outdoors, observing nature and making a crop at the same time.
5. Did you go to school to be a farmer?
Although my brother and sister both went to ag schools, I set out for Boston where I got a different kind of education. The highlight of my education was being able to study under Dr. Ray Goldberg of the Harvard Agribusiness Program. Dr. Goldberg is a “one of a kind” person. Anybody and everybody related to food and agriculture were invited to give their perspectives: farmers from all over the globe, giant corporations, cooperatives, and food businesses. I never forgot Dr. Goldberg’s inclusive approach to food and farming.
6. What do you for fun off the farm?
I like to think of innovative ways that we can communicate about farming to the great public. I enjoy doing this with fun people from all sorts of farm organizations, including Animal Agriculture Alliance. I like placing other farmers in the right spot to speak and I like diverse voices. As farmers, we don’t get much vacation time, but I do like to take short trips into New York City to see what is said about farmers and to speak myself. In March of 2013, a group of us from the Mohawk Valley spoke at the Just Food conference. Also, as is common with rural people, I have put some of my personal time into public service projects. My friends and I worked for years to have an illegal landfill in our area cleaned up. I also served on the New York State Solid Waste Management Advisory Board reviewing how garbage is handled statewide. Recently, I served for several years on the Mohawk Valley Heritage Corridor Commission promoting the Mohawk Valley.
7. What personality trait makes you a better farmer?
To be a farmer, you have to be an optimist and grateful for what you have. We don’t have the fanciest farm in New York, but we love our cows and our land. Being grateful for what we do have has given us the strength and patience to get through adversities.
8. When was the last time you took a true vacation that didn’t involve a farm meeting?
My last vacation was a few years ago when I visited my college roommate in Los Angeles. We get together every few years and take a walk on the Pacific Ocean. It is very nice to have long time friends. Her husband is a professional photographer who showed me how to do digital photography. The next time we get together, I will ask him to show me how to use drones to photograph landscapes.
9. Is your glass of milk – half full or half empty?
My glass of milk is half full. I am lucky enough to live in an area surrounded by beauty and to work on many projects. Working as a farmer advocate has been really great because I have met many wonderful people. I am thankful to all the people who helped me get a good education. Being an older farmwoman, I am proud to be “older and bolder.”
10. What challenges you as a dairy farmer?
My biggest challenge is machinery, which is an area that my brother takes care of. (Thank goodness.) I took welding at BOCES, but barely passed it.
11. What is one thing you are most proud of in regards to the farm?
The thing I am most proud of is that 25 years ago, we beat an all-out attempt to eminent domain our farm to build a regional landfill/incinerator complex. This involved an entire year of legal battles, public hearings, and geological testing and environmental review of our farm. We managed to stand our ground and with the help of the farm community, we saved our farm from becoming a landfill. Everything else seems easy in life compared to having the power of the government focused on trying to take everything you have. It was then that I decided to go to law school.
12. What is the next innovative thing you plan to implement on your farm?
Our next project involves direct selling more farm products, such as meat. Last year, we raised several veal bulls on pasture that we sold to friends by the half, and we are exploring ways to do more of this. New York dairy farmers have the potential to produce some fantastic dairy beef with the animals we already have. I would like to see New York dairy beef on the menu with farmers getting a premium for “local” meat, rather our animals solely going into commodity sales.
13. Do you do anything special for your cows or calves?
For a special treat, sometimes we like to go around after dark and give all the calves a dash of real yogurt (usually Chobani, sometimes Siggi’s). It seems kind of weird, but the calves like it and maybe it helps their immune systems. Our border collie likes it, too.
14. What is one thing you recycle, reuse or repurpose on the farm?
After the landfill ordeal, we recycle everything through our local “single stream” recycling program. I also enjoy repurposing. My most recent repurposing project was to take sheets of a dismantled grain bin and make them into little “lamb shacks” for my small flock of sheep.
15. What do you usually wear to the barn?
I like to wear red flannel shirts, bandanas, and muck boots. For kicks, I am thinking of wearing more of the old-fashioned Polish scarves this summer to shock the newer people who have moved into our town.
16. Do you like the smell of manure?
Of course, I like the smell of manure! Farm smells in general are great – silage, fresh hay, healthy cow smells and more.
17. Do you have a nickname for your cows?
Everybody has a name in our barn, and many have nicknames. We always have one red and white Holstein nicknamed “Big Red” in honor of Cornell University where my sister, Dr. Noreen Dmitri, DVM, went to undergrad and later studied veterinary medicine. We have a few Jersey cross calves that we were given, and we call them “the butterfat sisters.”
18. What is your favorite dairy product?
Artisan cheeses are my favorite dairy product. I’ve been to some cheese tastings and am aware of a great variety of cheeses. During the milk price crisis of 2009, it was the cheesemongers in the big cities who spoke up for us. They really work as “ambassadors” for dairy farmers out in the countryside. So, I have enjoyed learning about their trade and how milk from farms ends up as artisan cheese on someone’s cheese tray.
19. Do you volunteer locally?
I volunteer with a local country Christian radio station, called WGLU-LP, in our area. I have a show called “Faithful Farming,” where I interview people associated with food and farming. You can listen to us online.
20. What is the last thing you do on the farm before calling it a day?
At the end of the day, we usually review if there is any animal who needs to be checked up on. Sometimes, we are really tired, but even if we have to go out in our pajamas to check a cow, it needs to be done.
Want to follow Lorraine daily? Find her here on Twitter.