Harris Family Farm
An Alaskan family goes organic in the Champlain Valley
“Coming from Alaska, it needed to be a pretty special place,” says Maeve Taylor, of her family’s search for the perfect farm. She and her husband, Ben Harris, both natives of Alaska, began looking for a farm shortly after their son, Finn, was born four years ago.
Ben, a commercial fisherman, was at sea for months at a time, and Maeve worked for the U.S. Forest Service, so quality family time was limited. Hoping to land somewhere in Vermont, New Hampshire or Maine, they put out an ad looking for a dairy farm to rent. Tom Salva, owner of the Marsh Farm in Westport, NY, got in touch with them and said, “It’s not Vermont … but I think you’ll like it here.” It was winter when Ben flew from Alaska to see the farm. He reported back that it was windswept, cold, a lot like home. They were sold.
What is now known as the Harris Family Farm has pastureland, two brooks, and a mixed woodland on nearly 500 acres. Lake Champlain is in the distance to the east, the Adirondack High Peaks to the west. “This farm has the essence of wildness that we were used to in Alaska,” says Maeve.
Balancing wildness is a young farming community that Maeve and Ben have come to know in the Champlain Valley. Mornings, they drink coffee paled with milk from their organic dairy herd and eat yogurt made by neighboring farmers, who use their milk as the main ingredient.
The couple milked their Jersey herd for the first time in May 2014. They currently have 55 cows in production and are Certified Organic through the US Department of Agriculture. “We wouldn’t have been dairy farmers any other way,” says Maeve.
Management of the farm is also guided by an Adirondack Land Trust conservation easement, a perpetual agreement with the landowner that ensures that the agricultural and forest lands will remain available for farming and forestry into the future. ALT holds 54 conservation easements across Northern New York, including 20 working farms totaling 7,363 acres that produce milk, apples, eggs, beef, hay and grains. Most of the farms are in the Champlain Valley, where the agricultural land base is important to the economy.
The bulk of Harris Family Farm milk goes to Horizon Organics, but if you’ve ever had North Country Creamery’s thick and tangy yogurt, then you’ve had the pleasure of tasting their Champlain Valley grass-fed milk.
The family’s favorite thing about living on the farm? Space. “Finn can play like kids his age want to play,” says Maeve. “We love being on a farm with a child. He has the freedom of space here.” As she talks, Finn descends a tree he has climbed and runs to see a chicken, a barn cat, the rain gauge. Maeve beckons him to help shepherd the cows from pasture to milking parlor. He grabs the temporary fencing and adeptly strings it along, like a true farm kid.
Story and photos by Erika Bailey