Monday, January 17, 2011

Past and Future of Bovina Farming

Bovina, as any community, has had occasions over the years to review its livelihood. In the late 19th century, the reduced demand for butter, a major product of Bovina farms for much of that century, led to an address by Bovina farmer Thomas Ormiston in 1896. Mr. Ormiston, the father of Lois Davidson and Ruth Monroe, spoke at the annual meeting of the New York State Dairymen's Association in Delhi. He sounded the alarm about the reduced demand for Delaware County butter and suggested some ways to deal with it. Ormiston noted that “the demand for dairy butter is growing less and less every year. Last fall having lost an old customer...I went to New York to try and get another place for the butter. I found that the majority of the stores were overstocked with butter. With this condition of affairs, and the extremely low prices for other farm products, the dairymen of Delaware County are in a bad way.” Ormiston put some of the blame on the farmers themselves for keeping the butter too long before selling it. He also noted that “there are too many persons between the producer and the consumer.” He noted that “there are three classes of men who have been taking from the consumers in the butter trade. They are the creamery man, the creamery supply man and the hocuspocus man." Ormiston had nothing against the creamery man but said that "The second is a shark to do the farmers and the last man is seeking to steal the reputation of the others.”

Ormiston noted that "there are a good many farmers who are very sensible as producers, but who would utterly fail as salesmen in working up a trade." He suggested working cooperatively. "Cooperation in producing, cooperation in selling, cooperation in buying." In this way, he hoped to avoid the middle man.

Ormiston suggested a cooperative creamery, though with caveats. He noted that at the 1893 World's Fair, "old fashioned dairy butter (i.e. butter made at home) was proven to be the best." His remedy for that was to have each cooperative member still make butter at home, but follow rules for its production. In this way, butter from Delaware County would be of a uniformly good quality.

Six years after Ormiston's speech, the Bovina Center Cooperative Creamery was established. Milk was processed and contrary to Ormiston's advice, the butter was made at the creamery by a butter maker. In 1905, the butter maker was paid a salary of $800. The creamery operated until 1973.

Over the past few years, Bovina farmers and those interested in the future of the town have again looked at cooperation as a way to save Bovina farming and thus preserve the community's rural and agricultural flavor. In Tom Ormiston's time, and well before and after his time, Bovina's primary farming activity has been dairying. Today, farming in Bovina has a more eclectic mix. While there still are three dairy farms in the town, there also are farmers dealing in beef, pork, eggs, Christmas trees, organic vegetables, maple syrup, hay and agri-tourism.

On Saturday, January 15, I attended a meeting organized by Evelyn Stewart at which the creation of a not-for-profit organization to help farmers in Bovina was discussed. The goal of this effort is to keep the over 200 year old tradition of farming in Bovina going well into the 21st century. This new cooperative venture is following the historic footsteps of people like Thomas Ormiston. Come back to this blog for updates on Bovina's rich farming history - and its farming future.

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