Five Farms: Stories of American Farm Families Five Farms home page

Hager Brothers Farm
Chip and Sherry Hager
Colrain, Massachusetts

Susannah Lee, field producer
WFCR Amherst

Steve Schapiro, photographer

The Hager Brothers Farm is set on more than 700 acres of rugged, hilly terrain in Colrain, Massachusetts. Chip and Sherry Hager run the farm, along with daughter Kim and son-in-law Aaron, and another son, Todd. Both Kim and Aaron --- college graduates with degrees in agriculture --- bring to their passion for farming a new understanding of the science of dairy herd management. The family continually merges traditional and innovative approaches to dairy farming.

The Hager farm has approximately 110 milkers. Like most farms in the Northeast, the Hager farm has had to diversify its production into other areas in order to succeed. In addition to their dairy operation, the Hagers tap nearly 12,000 maple trees, relying on maple sugar production for a portion of their income. Recently, they have added beef from their small herd of twenty-five Herefords to their home front store.

Meeting rising production costs in the face of unstable milk prices is just one of the challenges the Hager family faces. With limited pastureland, keeping cows well fed, healthy, and producing the optimum amount of milk without causing stress on the animals are all major concerns. Affordable labor is usually limited to neighborhood youngsters who eventually move on to higher paying work in tech or service industry jobs. With a day that begins at 4 in the morning and ends around 7 p.m., the Hagers are an excellent example of the kind of dedication it takes to produce one of our most important staple food products.

Wise Family Farm
Eddie and Dorothy Wise
Whitakers, North Carolina

John Biewen, field producer
Center for Documentary Studies at Duke University

Tom Rankin, photographer
Center for Documentary Studies at Duke University

Eddie and Dorothy Wise raise hogs on 106 acres near Whitakers, in east-central North Carolina. Eddie is a fourth-generation hog farmer but the first to own a farm; his father and grandfather were sharecroppers. During a career in the military, and as an ROTC instructor at Howard and Georgetown Universities, Eddie raised hogs in his spare time. It was his dream to return home to North Carolina and farm full-time. When he retired from the Army in 1991 at the age of 48, that's what he set out to do. Dorothy Wise grew up in Washington, D.C., but she too hoped to one day live on a farm. When she and Eddie met at Howard University in the 1980s and she discovered he was a farmer, it seemed that her wish had come true.

Still, it took the Wises five years, until 1996, to secure the loans they needed to buy their farm. They were repeatedly turned down by local government loan officers who, the Wises are convinced, did not want African American farmers to succeed. It was only through determined effort and much research and legwork that the Wises were able to receive the financial help for which they qualified.

Today the Wises have 250 hogs, which they raise from birth and sell to a black-owned pork processor in their area. Eddie's lean pork, raised without hormones or antibiotics, is sold at a premium in area supermarkets. Finding such a market niche is the only way the Wises can compete with the much-larger farms that mass-produce hogs for the large meatpacking companies.

Griffieon Family Farm
Craig and LaVon Griffieon
Ankeny, Iowa

Rob Dillard, field producer
Iowa Public Radio

Elena Rue, photographer
Center for Documentary Studies at Duke University

Craig and LaVon Griffieon operate a diversified, 1,100-acre farm with beef, chickens, turkeys, pigs, sheep, and horses in Ankeny, Iowa, north of Des Moines. Their farm has been in the Griffieon family since 1868. Craig and Lavon raise corn, soybeans, oats, and alfalfa. Their Limousin beef herd comes from stock that has been on their farm since 1960. Their children --- Autumn, Nick, Phillip, and Julia --- are the sixth Griffieon generation to farm here. The Griffieon children are active in all phases of the farm, and have themselves raised pastured poultry for 10 years.

The Griffieons are active in raising awareness of the growing pressure on farmers to sell their land for development. They hope to increase consumer appreciation of the world-class soils that exist around Ankeny, and to help people realize the importance of local food security and a community-based food system.

The Griffieons rent two acres of land to immigrant Hmong farmers from Des Moines.

Davis, Alma, and David Pecusa
Bacavi, Hopi Reservation, Arizona

Camille Lacapa, field producer
Native Public Media/KUYI The Hopi Foundation

Andrew Lewis, photographer

The Pecusa family is Hopi and Pima from the village of Bacavi on the Hopi Reservation in northeastern Arizona. Their immediate family has been farming in their area for at least four generations. Before them, ancestral people farmed their land intermittently for nearly a thousand years. The Pecusa family farms in a largely traditional manner, using little farm machinery and employing ancient dry land farming practices that allow them to grow corn in an arid environment that receives only 8-12 inches of rain per year. When not farming, Davis Pecusa also serves on the Hopi Tribal Council. The Hopi Tribe recognized Davis recently as "Farmer of the Year." His son, David, has studied under him for as long as he can remember and recently has begun to study western organic and permaculture farming practices. He also has a strong interest in the growing and preservation of heirloom native seeds from the Southwest. David recently left his job as kitchen manager at Hotevilla Bacavi Day School so that he can pursue his farming interest full-time. His dream is to teach and introduce younger generations to farming and sustainable living practices.

Good Humus Farm
Jeff and Annie Main
Capay, California

Ben Adler, field producer
Capital Public Radio

Alix Lowrey Blair, photographer

Good Humus Produce is a certified organic farm owned and run by Jeff and Annie Main along with a small crew of employees. Jeff and Annie raised three children on the farm: Zach, Alison, and Claire. The Mains started farming on rented land in 1976, shortly after their graduation from University of California at Davis. They bought their 20-acre farm in 1983. On their farm, located near Capay, California, about an hour northwest of Sacramento, they grow about 60 different fruits and vegetables, as well as herbs and flowers. They deliver to farmers markets, to area subscribers through a program known as Community Supported Agriculture (CSA), and to wholesalers in the Bay Area.

Sustaining the land is Jeff and Annie's top priority. They've poured more than 30 years of their lives into their farm, and don't want to see it disappear or get paved over. To that end, they've been working on an agricultural easement. Under its provisions, a publicly funded land trust will purchase the property at its nonagricultural value, and legally binding restrictions will be placed on the farm's deed, with terms set by Annie and Jeff. The land would be kept in active farming use, farmed with environmentally responsible methods, and evaluated solely on the basis of its agricultural value in setting any future resale price.

The Mains frequently open up Good Humus to the public, hoping to teach the rest of the community about farming --- and perhaps to inspire future farmers. They invite second- and third-grade students to the farm for treasure hunts, host a group of inner-city youths for several days each year, and host a Peach Festival every summer. On any given day, visitors may find they're not the only ones interested in what goes on at Good Humus.


Five Farms: Stories of American Farm Families, Center for Documentary Studies at Duke University, 1317 W. Pettgrew Street, Durham, NC 27705,

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