A world of experiences help form new vision of family farm

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EDITOR’S NOTE: This is another installment in a series of columns to run weekly highlighting the area’s agricultural community.

Hello everyone, my name is Stephanie Finn! I am 23-years old and the herdsman on my family’s fourth generation dairy farm in Holland Patent.

My love for animals began at a very young age. For as long as I can remember, there has never been anything I loved more than taking care of my animals. I have been privileged to grow up on a farm, where my passion has been fostered and nurtured — to the point that I want to make farming not only my career but also my way of life.

I grew up learning the value of hard work from my parents, Travis and Debbie, who taught me that the best things in life require sacrifice, dedication, and love for what you do. I also had the opportunity to learn and grow with my brother, Nicholas, and learn how to problem solve, work together, and dream of our future together on the farm.

All of these played a large role in my decision to pursue an education in agriculture and return home to my family’s dairy farm.

My role on the farm began at a young age — and my tasks included feeding calves, washing buckets, mowing lawns, and any other miscellaneous tasks I could manage. Most of my time spent with animals took place at the Boonville Oneida County Fair, where I enjoyed showing beef and dairy cows, goats, and pigs.

When I was 12, I got my first job milking cows on Mike and Lisa Dwyer’s dairy farm where we milked 30 cows in a tie stall. The Dwyer farm is where my love for farming was really instilled. The farm was just the right size for me to be immersed in all aspects, and the Dwyers became two of the most important people in my life. They worked so patiently with me, teaching me everything they knew about farming and loved me as if I was their own family.

That is what I love the most about farming: It is a community composed of people who are generous and hardworking. The more time I spent in the industry, the more I knew that this was the lifestyle I wanted to live for the rest of my life.

After I graduated from high school, I attended Cornell University, earning my degree with a major in animal science and a minor in agricultural business. Before college, I had really only viewed the dairy industry as it existed in my hometown.

At Cornell, I was exposed to the dairy industry on a national and international level. I had the opportunity to complete an internship on a dairy farm in Muleshoe Texas, where I learned how to be a herdsman for a herd of 2,500 cows. I fell in love with Texas, and its way of dairy farming which was so much different than anything I had done before. It opened my eyes to larger scale dairy farming, and I was able to learn new ways to make everyday things more efficient. Much of what I learned, I have implemented on my home farm today.

I also had the opportunity to spend a semester abroad in Greece. This experience taught me on international agriculture. My biggest takeaway from my experience abroad was the depth of culture that agriculture contains. I realized that many of the practices that we implement in agriculture are based off of our ideals and values.

Here in the United States, agriculture is expanding rapidly and we are becoming increasingly more efficient to try and keep up with an exponentially growing population. In Greece, most of their practices still take place in a manner that we would consider old school. Most of their planting, harvesting, and manufacturing is still done in traditional ways as to preserve the value and the standards that the farmers hold their products to. They may not be able to produce wine or olive oil as efficiently or rapidly as we can, but they are content as they believe the extra labor put into the products makes them that much higher quality.

This experience gave me a whole new appreciation for the end product that we as dairy farmers produce. It taught me to take a step back from the race that most businesses in the U.S. are in and to remember why we do what we do in the first place: to make a nutritious wholesome product for people to consume while taking care of the animals that produce it.

It is also nice to step back and enjoy things every now and then along the way.

Following graduation in May 2018, I returned home to work full-time on my family’s dairy farm. My day to day responsibilities include overall cow and calf health, artificial insemination, employee management and training and field work when I can sneak away from the cows. Although the crops and equipment are definitely my brother’s area of expertise, I do enjoy planting corn and helping in the fields whenever I can.

My favorite part about farming is that every day is different, and you never know what problem solving may be needed to successfully complete the day.

Over the past three years, I have also obtained a master’s degree in agricultural education online through SUNY Oswego.

Education has also played a huge role in my life. I love promoting agriculture and teaching people about where their food comes from. To help myself become a more effective educator, I chose to pursue a degree in teaching. Teaching agriculture to students during my time as a student teacher was more rewarding that I could have ever imagined. It taught me to be a better leader, and educator to my employees. It showed me how best to convey information in a manner that could be understood by all.

I am very excited to be writing this column, as we live in a community heavily rooted in agriculture. Even though agriculture surrounds us, there are still many misconceptions surrounding the industry. If nothing else, I hope these articles spread some positive light on the agricultural industry and provide a reliable source of information to those looking for it.

My best advice is to gather your information from the source. No one knows farming better than a farmer.

— For comments or suggestions on the Farming in Central New York series of articles, e-mail Daily Sentinel
photojournalist John Clifford at jclifford@RNYmedia.com
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