Maine Farm Thrives, 10 Generations Later

  • Article
  • 2 min read May 1, 2014

Farmers have a saying that goes something like this: They didn’t inherit their farmland from the generation before them; they are borrowing it from their children.

The saying speaks to farmers’ commitment to passing their land to the next generation in the same – or better – condition in which they received it. It’s this respect and care for the environment that allows farmers to continue providing food for a growing population, generation after generation.

For some U.S. dairy farms, this commitment has been going on for quite some time … as in before George Washington became president!

Most U.S. dairy farms can trace their lineage back a handful of generations. Some farms, however, have quite the family tree:

Daniel Briggs settled in what is modern-day Turner, Maine, in 1777. Like many of that era, he became a farmer.

Nearly 240 years later, the farm remains in business on the same plot of land where Briggs started. Dairy farmers Betsy Bullard and her husband Bill represent the farm’s 10th generation. Their two young children could potentially bring the farm its 11th generation.

Betsy said the secret to Brigeen Farms’ centuries-long resilience has been the family’s longstanding commitment to environmental and economic sustainability.

“If the farm is not providing an adequate level of profitability, it won’t last very long,” she said. “For our farm, that’s been proven over time.

“When my husband and I got here in 2000, we decided we needed more cows if we were going to be able to buy groceries and not rely on off-farm jobs. We wanted a business that was healthy enough that if the 11th generation thought this was something they wanted to do, it would be a viable option.”

Betsy said the farm’s rich history is “extremely special” and is a major reason why they’ve never chosen to farm elsewhere. Turner is a small town of less than 6,000 residents and is located on the “outer edges” as Betsy likes to say.

“A lot of things have to travel a long way to get to us, but it is a great place to live. A lot of that has to do with the beautiful landscape,” she said.

Obviously, much has changed at the farm through the generations and will continue to do so as farming practices and technology advance.

“It was always fascinating listening to my grandparents talk about the changes they witnessed in their lives and how roles changed over time,” Betsy said. “In the 1700s, it was kind of a multi-purpose farm with all sorts of critters running around, as well as dairy cows. They grew apples for a time here, but the dairy portion eventually became the sole purpose of the farm.

“The sense of the land and history and the sense of community is a huge part of our lives or else we wouldn’t continue to farm where we farm.”