In the heart of Middlesex Township, just east of Carlisle in Cumberland County, lies Stover Farms. It’s a place where the timeless traditions of farming meet the demands of modern agriculture. As I arrived at the farm one sunny afternoon, I was greeted by a scene of bustling activity. Farmers had already been hard at work for nine hours, a testament to the dedication that defines life on the farm.
Stover Farms stands as the last dairy farm in Middlesex Township, a community that has seen significant transformation over the years, with more truckstops and housing developments than traditional silos. However, within this evolving landscape, Stover Farms remains a beacon of agricultural heritage. During my visit, I encountered four generations of the Stover family, all actively involved in the daily operations. The farm is a true family affair, with uncles driving tractors, cousins and a neighbor’s boy mending fences, and Grandma overseeing the care of young calves while keeping a watchful eye on the kids.
At the forefront of Stover Farms today is Amy Brickner, a dynamic force in the family’s agricultural legacy. As she guided me through the various barns, it was evident that she was in constant motion, always inspecting, carrying, or shoveling something. Stover Farms boasts a herd of 175 Holstein cows, making it larger than the average family farm in Pennsylvania. This growth was necessitated by changes in the 1990s when a nearby farm sold out, and the dairy processor that bought their milk ceased operations. The Stovers expanded and joined Mt. Joy Co-op to adapt to these shifts.
Amy’s journey back to the farm was not one she had initially planned. Armed with degrees from Cornell and the University of Wisconsin, her intentions were originally set on agricultural research. However, fate had other plans, and she met the love of her life in Carlisle, ultimately drawing her into the rich tradition of Stover farmers.
Upon her return, Amy faced a family reluctant to embrace her feeding ideas. She humorously reflects, “I had the academic knowledge but lacked practical experience.” Nevertheless, she has now developed a deep connection with the cows, introducing each one like a cherished friend, recounting their lineage, offspring, and daily milk production.
One particular calf’s birth story left a lasting impression on Amy. It was a challenging birth, with the calf coming out in a backward position. Amy vividly remembers the moment when she was unexpectedly squirted in the face with birthing fluid. Today, that calf has matured into a fully grown cow and is preparing for her second pregnancy.
While the daily routine of farm life demands dedication 365 days a year, with at least two people required for the 3:30 a.m. and 3 p.m. milking sessions, Amy maintains her enthusiasm. She acknowledges that it might sometimes feel like Groundhog Day, but the joy of witnessing a calf’s birth and watching it grow is a reward that keeps her spirits high.
Beyond the daily challenges of farming, Amy also navigates the ever-present hand of government regulation. She expresses concerns about potential interference in their marketing strategies, a worry shared by many farmers in the industry. The intricacies of the agricultural business extend beyond the farm, and Amy occasionally wishes she had paid more attention in her college business classes.
Family farmers like the Stovers often find it necessary to diversify their income sources beyond dairy farming alone. In their case, they cultivate crops on 1,400 acres and sell the grain. While milk prices have been favorable this year, feed prices have skyrocketed, with the cost of cottonseed, a critical feed ingredient, doubling since Amy’s return in 2006.
Environmental regulations, especially those related to Chesapeake Bay protection initiatives, pose an additional challenge. During my visit, I observed the family cleaning out manure from the barn, a task supported by a partial grant for a new manure management technique. The agricultural landscape is constantly evolving, with new regulations emerging each year.
Stover Farms is not just a farm; it’s a living testament to the enduring spirit of family farming in the face of change. Cumberland County’s heritage, though shifting towards the western part of the county, continues to thrive in places like Stover Farms. The story of Amy Brickner, her family, and their commitment to preserving tradition while embracing modern farming practices is a story worth celebrating.
As someone asked Amy’s young son, Graeson, if he aspired to be a farmer when he grew up, his candid response spoke volumes: “Why would I wait until I grow up? I’m already a farmer.” It’s a sentiment that encapsulates the deep-rooted connection between this family and the timeless tradition of farming that defines their lives.
So, next time you pass by Stover Farms, take a moment to appreciate the enduring legacy of a family dedicated to nurturing the land and the animals that call it home. In a rapidly changing world, Stover Farms stands as a beacon of resilience, where the past and the future of farming converge.