Learning by Doing
Chris Dutton thinks the only way to learn something is by doing it.
That’s how he ended up with a herd of cows and the lease on a Randolph Center farm’s barn and land.
He’s renting the farm from John Osha as the longtime dairyman was preparing to retire. John sold his herd to Chris, who named his new dairy enterprise Abdie Farm, for his daughters Abby and Sadie.
John and Chris are co-managers. While the herd is overseen by Chris, John takes care of the other chores – haying, field maintenance and whatever he can manage.
Several years ago, John had offered his farm to graduates of nearby Vermont Technical College to house their cows and learn the trade. Today, it remains a place of learning. Just as business incubators allow fledgling software developers or marketing wizards to get their companies up and running, Abdie Farm is now the place for aspiring dairy farmers to learn their craft.
It’s here at this idyllic dairy farm that the dairy farmers of tomorrow are getting hands-on, practical experience. Four students each semester, five during the summer, will work with Chris, a practicing veterinarian. They’ll also live on site, since as most dairy farmers know, the job is a 24/7 commitment.
Chris also was recently named director of Vermont Tech’s Institute for Applied Agriculture and Food Systems. The Institute focuses on research and education related to agriculture, food production, waste disposal and energy production in Vermont and New England. The Institute is initially funded by a $3.4 million U.S. Department of Labor grant.
“Students want to learn by doing,” says Chris, as he surveys his herd. Most Vermont Tech faculty are practitioners, he points out, and can share first-hand experience with their students.
High tech meets low tech on this Vermont farm. Sure, cow milking is mechanized these days, and more than a few dairy farmers can be spotted texting a family member or checking emails as they make their way from the milking parlor to the barn.
Still, no machine or fancy gizmo can replace hard-working humans willing to get up with the sun to care for the land and their herd. There’s no better classroom.
There’s also no better partner for Chris and his team than Booth Bros.® Buying local is important to many people these days, and it’s the way Booth Bros. has always done business. Our milk comes from local farms that make up the Central Vermont Producers Association, a 25-farm cooperative providing milk from farmers who pledge not to use artificial growth hormones. Thanks to the dedication of farmers like Chris across the state, you know that Booth Bros. Milk meets the highest quality standards.
Those standards are important today and to the dairy farmers of tomorrow, like Chris’ students. “We discovered that by working with students in the farm and the classroom, we’re able to ensure the competence of our graduates and quickly understand the effectiveness of our classroom teaching,” says Chris.
“It makes for an unbeatable educational product and, for me, it’s total fun. As a non- land grant institution, we have no research mandates. Our students are our first, best and only product. This makes me care more about my students’ abilities than the students themselves do at times.”
Chris also believes that dairy farming and other agricultural careers are here to stay.
“Agriculture is and will continue to be a very stable, highly remunerative field,” he points out. “I have always had more jobs to fill than graduates. There are a lot of mouths to feed in this world, and that means more farms, more opportunity and lots of investment in agriculture. Our countryside is booming.”