In 1992, my News colleague Bob Buyer wrote a column commending Patrick and Linda George for going against accepted practice in managing their dairy farm. The Georges maintained only 50 cows on their 120 acres in Wyoming County. This was in the face of the rule that you must milk at least 150 and preferably 300 cows for a dairy farm to survive.
By a variety of cost-cutting and production-raising techniques the Georges, then in their mid-30s, were able, as Buyer put it, to "maintain their home, pay all their bills and spend time with their children, Kara, 3, and Kevin, 2, without working themselves into early infirmity." In this they were carrying on a family farming tradition passed on from Patrick's parents.
I have the highest regard for farmers. My own agricultural experience was a single week on a Bristol Hills sheep farm. Never have I worked so hard. I still shudder when I think of those wriggling, lanolin-coated sheep we had to hold for worming and those huge hay bales we had to load onto a truck and then into a barn loft.
That regard was reinforced when I taught in the Wyoming County Village of Warsaw. There I learned how much better disciplined were farm kids. They fit school activities into a program of hard farm labor, but they did as well or better than their classmates. Given a choice of youngsters of equal ability, I would take farm kids every time.
To see how the Georges are doing now, 18 years later, I visited them at their Perry Road home. It became immediately clear to me that these are the kind of people we celebrate in this country. The Georges are now in their 50s and they continue to manage their farm and cattle. They are hard-working folks and I felt embarrassed taking time from their few opportunities for leisure.
Patrick's cows are pasture fed. He milks twice a day and, unlike many dairy farmers today, between those times in good weather moves them out into fields to graze. I was pleased to find that this farm does not produce liquid fertilizer. The cattle are not fed the diuretics that turn them into constant squirters. Instead, manure is collected in the old-fashioned way and spread on his fields. (We birders approve because that manure attracts wintering birds like snow buntings and horned larks.)
I met Kara, who has graduated from Berea College in Kentucky and will now attend graduate school at Canisius. She continues to pitch in to help with the many farm chores. Kevin was not home. He is an agriculture student at Berea College. He plans, at least temporarily, to join his dad on the farm. Both of these youngsters had earned scholarships, which made a substantial contribution to the costs of their education.
Although the Georges continue to maintain their operation, they live on that narrow edge between success and failure that makes farming a chancy endeavor. To help balance the books, Linda, a nurse, rises at 3 a.m. to commute to a job at the Buffalo airport. She worries about sickness in their future. Working a farm is a 365-day operation.
And the Georges have an ongoing water problem. The commercial operation that borders on their property has contaminated the ground water and fouled their well. For five years, the Georges have had to bring in bottled water for drinking and food preparation. Even after promises were made to correct this situation, nothing has been done to assure a safe water supply. The Georges find themselves drawn into a legal battle against a wealthy and politically well-connected opponent. State and local agencies have not helped them.
There is a simple edict in British law that ought to apply here: "Let right be done." As of now, it appears that right is not being done in Wyoming County. I will continue to monitor this situation.