Ever since the dairy crisis in 2009 that put many of America's dairy farmers out of business, farmers have been struggling to bounce back and make a decent living. Carroll Wade, a New York organic dairy farmer is experiencing these challenges first hand. But he still dedicates his time to being a farm advocate, helping other farmers when times are bad.
Since 1967, Carroll Wade has been running Wade Farms on 660 acres of land in Jasper, NY. Having been in the family since 1941, the farm was Carroll's childhood home and the place that sparked his passion for farming and being outdoors. The land, he describes, is "the biggest theater in the world to perform your life's dream."
Today, Carroll and his son operate an organic dairy with 45 cows. He utilizes 240 of his acres for growing hay, while the rest is pasture for grazing and woodland. A typical day on the farm for Carroll includes doing fieldwork, checking on the heifers to make sure they're healthy, and mowing, raking and bailing hay. But of course, every day on a farm is a little bit different and unexpected surprises always arise.
Carroll is realistic about the position that dairy farmers are in today, as an unfair, and often volatile pricing system continues to provide dairy processors with very healthy profits while dairy farmers are squeezed out of business. As Carroll puts it, "the three main challenges for dairy farmers are money, money, and money."
When asked what he thinks the solution is to the dairy crisis, Carroll musters up a simple, "More money in the farmers' pocket" answer. However, he doesn't believe the problem can be completely cured with legislative action. He believes that farmers themselves have to take some responsibility for the amount of milk production they put out there, to prevent surpluses of milk beyond what can be consumed.
In addition to his day-to-day work, Carroll plays an active role as a farm advocate, maintaining leadership positions in the National Farmers Organization and working closely with us at Farm Aid (in fact, the photo at the top of this page was taken at a Farm Aid concert!). As a farm advocate, Carroll works to spread the word about the benefits of family farmers and good food. He also encourages farmers to keep going when times are hard. "I try to inspire them to know that if they work together with their fellow farmers they can make a greater difference than by working by themselves," says Carroll.
Carroll not only remains committed to the Farm Aid mission of keeping family farmers on the land, he has attended 10 Farm Aid concerts. He enjoys the variety of music at a typical Farm Aid show, but the true highlight of the day for him is the people he meets there. He is thankful for the lifelong friendships he has built since participating in his first Farm Aid. Carroll also plays an important role in the decoration of the concert venue each year. Ever since Farm Aid's 20th anniversary concert in 2005, Carroll has used his network of farmers to rally them to bring their tractors to the concert. The tractors range from antiques to state-of-the-art, and concertgoers enjoy viewing them and having their photos taken with them. The farmers who own the tractors can usually be found milling around them, telling concertgoers about their history and features.
Even during these hard times for dairy farmers, Carroll's fierce dedication and independence sustains him in creating a viable and prosperous enterprise with limited outside help. As for the future of his farm, Carroll claims that, "no farmer ever completely retires," as he or she is always in the process of passing down the family business to the next generation.
Carroll would like readers and eaters to know that farmers are not in it for the money; they are in it for the passion. They are in it to improve a food system that they have worked at their entire lives—to make it even better for the next generation. This is the life's work of Carroll Wade, making him our farmer hero.
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