At the Farm Aid 2018 festival (and preparing for it all summer), we met so many inspirational family farmers from all over Connecticut and New England. On top of that, you, our readers, have introduced us to dozens more farmers through our Farmer Hero nomination form. We shared a few of these nominations in the past, and we’re happy to share just a few more submissions from our readers below.
Mark Phelps nominated Jerry Grabarek and it sure sounds like he deserves the title Farmer Hero:
Jerry Grabarek is a third-generation dairy farmer in Preston, Connecticut, where agriculture and farming are the backbone of the community. Jerry and his wife Deb took over the dairy farm in the 70s and since then have worked tirelessly to maintain the highest standards in the industry. Jerry’s is a herd of 100% registered Holsteins. Jerry grows most of the feed for his cows and they graze rotationally, ensuring they have new grass each milking. His milk consistently wins awards for quality and he takes great pride in how his cows are treated and in his stewardship of the land.
Jerry and his family have also found a way to keep agriculture “relevant” with the institution of their annual Corn Maze. The Preston Farms Corn Maze has become a destination in eastern Connecticut! For almost 20 years the maze has reconnected those who have walked the paths between the stalks to the land and life of its stewards…the Farmer!
In the “spare time” between milking, calving and designing corn mazes, Jerry gives tirelessly to the Town of Preston, serving on its many Boards and Committees. Jerry understands the importance of having a voice for agriculture in a town that sits between two giant casinos. Each year Jerry invites the school children of Preston to his farm to let them see what it’s all about. He is always ready to share a story or a laugh with the kids or anyone who visits his farm. He is woven into the fabric of Preston and his legacy of service, stewardship, and a smile are unmatched in town.
Jerry is my “Farmer Hero” because of the time and care he gives to nourishing the cows, the land and the people of Preston.
Christine Peckham wrote this moving tribute to her husband:
Matthew is a sixth-generation farmer of Elm Farm. He is also my husband and father of our four children. Our farm is a dairy farm in Woodstock, CT. We enjoy our 400 dairy cows and handful of beef cows, two goats and chickens! Matthew was selected as one of the top 10 nationally for young farmer of the year, he has also won the green pasture award, he has earned top quality for milk production and also is always willing to testify for farm bills at the capital.
Beyond all the awards and working with politicians and NRCS [USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service], Matthew loves getting up at the crack of dawn to milk his 150 milking cows. The sounds of the milking machines and tractors in the barnyard working to feed the cows in the morning makes him feel like he is proud to be feeding America!
We have recently diversified and opened our own Farm To Table Market in East Woodstock, CT. This is a way we can provide our farm with sustainability for our children, the seventh generation! Ever since Matthew took over the farm at a young age, his drive to improve the efficiency of the farm and the production level of the herd has been in preparation for his children to take over.
To live your passion even though the stakes are hard means our children have a wonderful example to learn from! Through and through Matthew has taken great strides to better his farm and promote agriculture in our state and in New England.
Nancy Strong nominated Mystica Schaub and I’m inspired by the tremendous hard work she’s described along with the community that Mystica and Charlie have created:
Mystica helps run their small family farm with her husband, Charlie. He wakes up each morning and works 60 hours a week at his job as a Master Diesel Mechanic, for our Local 478 IUOE, then comes home and works side by side with Mystica into the night (sometimes as late as 11) and starts again the next morning. Mystica takes charge during the full day, raising four children, keeping her husband on track with bookkeeping and marketing, and running the farm all day long – 24/7. [When Farm Aid told Mystica about being nominated as a Farmer Hero, she added: “Charlie is amazing and never tiring, and has allowed me the luxury of staying home and raising my children here on the farm and with the animals we love and care for daily.”]
Mystica is just like the Paul Harvey video!
Mystica is amazing and does it all out of love – family, farming, animals. She never stops or gets discouraged – even when their barn caught on fire in the spring of 2018 and they lost their pigs. The community rallied for them and they succeeded in raising enough to build a new barn. I don’t know where she gets her energy or how she manages everything she does successfully. She is my hero! I know her through our farming community connections. When we stopped raising turkeys, they were just starting and we shared our sales list. She also helps me out whenever I reach out – and enters our annual scarecrow contest here at our farm!
Mystica Schaub’s Reply
After we informed Mystica about her Farmer Hero nomination, she wrote back with the following story that neatly and emotionally sums up why we shine a spotlight on Farmer Heroes to begin with.
Thank you so much for using Nancy Strong’s nomination! It means so very much to me and honestly brought a tear to my eye.
I love that you do this. I think that it is a fantastic way to bring knowledge and more hearts to farming and all we do, and all we want to share with our communities!
Just the other day I met a mother and a little boy. The little boy held the mothers hand looked directly at me and said “Momma, why does she look like a farmer?”
I was caught off guard, I had to chuckle. I knew I had checked my shoes for “mud”, or should I say poop! I was wondering if I still had hay in my hair.
Part of me almost couldn’t understand this boy’s statement because I had on my funeral jeans, clean sneakers, and a tank top that was mostly white. (Not farm white either, like actually crisp white!)
The mother to this little boy hushed her son quickly and apologized for any disrespect or rudeness I may have perceived from this innocent child.
But I couldn’t help but smile, actually I think I was beaming! I had thought to myself, could it be possible, after these 8 years of working on a farm and being the proud owner of my husband’s third generation beautiful farm in Ellington, trying hard everyday, could someone have finally noticed! In my eyes I felt like I had hit the lottery – I finally made it – I have strived so long and hard to be like my heroes, our other fellow farmers.
I started to wonder what it was that this boy thought made me a farmer. Sure I have a big truck, there is probably a lingering aroma or cloud that follows it. My tank top showed my broad shoulders and muscles. I know I have never been stronger in my life. I work along side my husband everyday lifting hay and buckets of feed. I know I can finally see a bit of definition in my arms. Or perhaps it was my sun kissed skin, or as I like to refer to it as leather.
But for someone to guess that I was a farmer off the bat, that blew my mind! Maybe it was my smile lines around my eyes, I have crows feet so deep I could hold a quarter between them. Most days I spend squinting in the sun, I must look 15 years older. It could have been my messy bun. I am sure I had pieces of hay in it somewhere! Either way whatever brought him to draw this conclusion it lit up my world!
I know that people often look at farmers as dumb, or uneducated, all around silly to choose this hard life style. But I for one feel honored to be thought of in this way. The smartest, kindest, best men and women I have had the pleasure to have known in my life are farmers. They all work 2-3 jobs and raise respectful, kind, caring children. Farmers have the strongest arms and gentlest hands. Farmers would give their shirt off there backs for anyone in need.
If a fellow farmer is in need they will ban together and help each other whether it be for a fire, or broken hay baler, or saving a new calf. Farmers will work to help each other with anything, at any hour, into any night.
So if I am considered a farmer in any ones eyes, whether it be a 5 year old boy, Nancy Strong, or something as amazing as Farm Aid, then I guess I am on the right path. Thank you so much for your recognition and time.
We love reading your explanations for why you’re nominating Farmer Heroes in your lives. We’ll be featuring more of them soon, so go ahead and tell us about the family farmers who inspire you.