The Dairy Farm
When asked if he always wanted to be a dairy farmer, Louis Escobar laughed and offered a resounding, “YES! I’ve never worked a day doing anything else.” His parents have been farming this land since 1937. Jane said she started dreaming of becoming a farmer when she was five years old. Jane and Louis Escobar run award-winning, Escobars Farm, a 96-acre dairy farm in Portsmouth, RI.
Best Management Practices (BMPs)
Using BMPs help minimize input costs and maximize revenues. Soil tests help farmers add minimal fertilizers or mineral supplements for high-quality hay. That hay and other forage will be analyzed so that supplemental animal feeds can be custom blended to offer optimal blends of nutrients, protein and energy.
Antibiotics are NOT routinely used on dairy farms. When an animal occasionally gets a mammary or other infection, she will get antibiotics. She will be separated from the others and her milk will NOT be blended with the farm’s milk. The antibiotics have a standard waiting period after the last dose before the milk is deemed safe to blend in again. Farmers like the Escobars, ensure antibiotic-free milk by running their own verification tests before blending recovered cows’ milk into their main tanks.
The biggest financial decision the Escobar family made was to retire the development rights on a large portion of their farm through a perpetual conservation easement. The Escobars had a great experience working with the Aquidneck Land Trust and Portsmouth Open Space Committee. A variety of private donations and public grants helped make this transfer possible. The proceeds from that transaction were largely used for inheritance taxes. Some remaining funds helped start side ventures, which will keep the farm viable well into the future.
Like a good stock portfolio, this farm is successful because it is diversified; it operates a variety of enterprises. RI’s Right to Farm Act provides for a variety of side businesses and activities that keep farms viable businesses. The Escobar’s daughter, Lori, manages the Corn Maze; their grandson, Jason manages the farm. They will take over the farm some day. Longtime employee, Heidi Small, is the Herd Manager.
To support the farm, family members manage a variety of other businesses including a Bed & Breakfast run by “adopted” brother Stuart MacNaught, a Christmas Tree Farm, and a Pick-your-own Pumpkin Patch. Chickens provide eggs for sale all summer long. The Escobars also breed and sell Portuguese Water Dogs.
Each year since 2000, from late August through early November, eight acres of Escobar Farm are turned into a Corn Maze bringing in approximately 10,000 to 12,000 visitors including families, church and scouting groups and school field trips. (For more information, see www.escobarshighlandfarm.com/maze.html)
Visitors love the maze concession offerings like corn-shaped lollipops, popcorn, drinks, animal crackers and tee shirts commemorating A-MAZING visits.
Birthday parties are welcomed at the Corn Maze. Special theme days include Harry Potter Day, a Pumpkin Festival, a Halloween party and a charity fundraiser to help send local high school students on a humanitarian trip.
At the Corn Maze, Lori Clarke offers visitors picnic tables, a hands-on milking demo and a Hay Play area. Hayrides Iast 15 to 20 minutes and includes a complete farm tour, a discussion of what it means to be a “Real Farmer” and an age-appropriate explanation of the diverse operations needed to keep the farm viable. Visitors are thrilled to see calves, learn the difference between heifers and milking cows, rumble past silage storage, corn and hay fields, the milking barn and learn the benefits of a free-stall barn. Riders learn about the farm’s chemical input use (minimal or none) and see diverse wildlife including top predators like hawks and, occasionally, coyotes. Louis takes the opportunity to teach people about shopping locally to support open space, community economies and to describe the many pressures on American family farmers.
These days, most consumers understand that buying locally is a good thing. Farmers can remind customers that buying locally not only supports their local economy, it keeps family farms viable, builds local economies and community tax bases as well as protecting open space and a community’s rural character. Many local food products are available at farmers markets, neighborhood stores and even regional grocery chains.
Rhody Fresh dairy products are distributed to local retailers at the same price points as other regional dairy products. Most retailers then set their prices so that Rhody Fresh becomes a premium brand. While farmers are happy to see the products jumping off the shelves, they wish farmers could share more of that premium retail profit.
Diversity Equals Viability
“We couldn’t make it just on our dairy operation. This farm remains viable through Agritainment and our diverse operations,” the Escobars agreed.
This family also offers farm and barn tours. Jane handles bookings and Louis leads tours for preschoolers, school groups, clubs and families. On a recent visit by preschoolers, Louis explained that ice cream and cheese came from milk, and milk came from cows. When asked if they liked cows, the kids all yelled in unison, “YES!” Louis continued, “Me too; that’s why I’m a dairy farmer.”
Using Best Management Practices help minimize dust, smells and other potential nuisances to suburban neighbors. The Escobars make a point of visiting each new neighbor and explaining their farming practices. Being proactive with neighbors helps the Escobars feel welcome in their neighborhood rather than the recipient of complaints and nuisance calls. When they started farming, there were 55 abutters; now there are over 80. Each one has learned to appreciate, or at least accept, the sounds and smells of the farm.
The Escobars have been active in local 4-H program for decades. Students, who lease and work with a calf for a season, change their lives forever, even if they do not go on to become farmers.
The Escobars host the town’s Fourth of July fireworks display, shooting them off from a back field each summer. An old-fashioned milk jug collects donations outside their front door throughout the year.
“Start with a great product! Never offer anything inferior or cheap, whether it is a food product or an agritainment experience,” advised Louis Escobar. “Never let a customer be disappointed; you want them to come back and to bring friends.”
Share Your Story
While many farmers are shy and prefer to work on their farms rather than speak with the public, Louis Escobar is the opposite. Louis Escobar is a tireless advocate for dairy and family farm sustainability. At every opportunity, he explains how Escobar’s Farm remains successful even in a poor economy.
Escobar always reminds audiences that American food is among the safest and cheapest around the globe.
A long-time milk supplier to Agri-mark and Cabot Creamery Cooperative, Escobars Farm is now a favorite destination for Cabot Creamery Cooperative executives and salespeople for on-farm training. Their employees visit the farm for a day or two, participate in feeding, milking and cleaning up and learn about family farming in suburbia. They discover the painful impact of variable (mostly skyrocketing) grain and fuel prices and witness dairy management practices that yield healthy, happy cows with plentiful milk.
You can read about other RI farmers and their challenges in “Brand RI” starting on page 14
Create Your Own Business
In 2004, Escobar Farm was one of five farms to form a dairy co-operative called Rhody Fresh. The Co-op has since expanded to nine farms and sells through stores and at college campuses across RI and southeastern MA. The Co-op offers a variety of milk, creams and butter. This November, their new soft cheese, Butterkase, was released to rave reviews at a series of celebrations around the state. Butterkase will be available wherever Rhody Fresh milk, cream and butter are sold.
The Escobars strongly recommended that all dairies ensure their products are made in a kosher facility so their products can be sold as Kosher.
For the third time since 1987, Louis and Jane Escobar won the RI Department of Environmental Managements “Outstanding Dairy Farm of the Year” in 2012. The RI Green Pastures Committee commending the Escobars for their strong community relations, sound financial and agricultural management practices and powerful commitment to agriculture on Aquidneck Island.
For more information
Learn more about Escobars Farm or read about the Farmhouse Inn. You can email the Inn or call 401-683-1444. Visit the Escobar’s Corn Maze, Pumpkin Patch, and Christmas Tree Farm. Check the websites for day and hours). Dairy farms operate 365 days a year; visit Escobars Dairy Barn on Middle Road in Portsmouth, RI. Please call ahead for group tours at 401-683-1444.
A similar story ran in the December 31, 2012 New England edition of Country Folks.