Organic Valley Farmer–Owner
Holter Farms is a 207–acre dairy farm in Jefferson, Maryland. Owned and operated by Ron and Kathy Holter, it is part of the farmer–owned Organic Valley Cooperative family.
We had the pleasure of visiting the farm and speaking with Ron and his son Adam. From the time we arrived until we left, it was apparent to us that Ron loved what he did—the farm, the animals, the land, organic farming methods—and was sustained by his belief in a Higher Authority.
Farming comes naturally to Holter; he is a fifth generation farmer on land that was acquired by his family in 1889. What started out as a general farm, was turned into a dairy farm by his grandfather in the 1940's. The cows were raised by the confinement method; which is to mainly confine them to the barnyard and feed them a grain based diet. Ron has worked the farm since childhood and in 1994, he and his wife Kathy purchased the family farm from his parents.
At the time, Ron's typical work day stated at 2:30 AM and ended at 7:00 PM. "I had no family life with that schedule and was too tired to read to the kids at night." In 1995 Ron took a Farm Management Course, heard about "grazing and pasturing the cattle and, with prayer, decided that was the way to go." He stopped planting corn for feed, established pastures with fences and started grass grazing (feeding) his cattle. By 2000 the farm was totally organic − free of fertilizer, pesticides, herbicides and chemicals. The cows were healthy and did not need hormones or antibiotics. In 2005, Holter Farms was certified organic and Ron was able to sleep late and rise at 5:30 AM!.
Ron told us, "This is how the Lord intended farming to be. We learn from the Bible how to farm. By matching the cows’ nutritional needs with the grass growth, it makes it a lot easier than fighting the planting and harvesting. Weeds are good for the cows and they eat them for the mineral and vitamin nutritional value." He only supplements the cows grazing, if necessary, in winter or during drought conditions. The biggest challenge he faces is "rain.", as he does not irrigate his land but depends on nature for water.
Holter Farms has about 100 Jersey cows. The farm pastures are divided into 65 paddocks and the cows are rotated systematically for grazing. Ron fallows one-seventh of the land each year from December to July; he allows it to rest and for the grass to naturally re-seed. When asked if it was similar to the Bible's requirement of every seventh year to fallow the land, he replied , "the Bible says to let the land rest and not to take back. We do allow the cows to graze but we do not harvest hay." We were able to visually notice the difference in the paddocks and saw the varying degrees of grass growth and even saw the paddock that was being fallowed.
Holter runs a "seasonal" farm and believes in working closely with the natural pattern of nature. He breeds the cows so they calve back in March or April. In January and February, there is no grass growing – "Look at the elk and other wild animals, they have their young on green growing grass. We push that season a little because when they calve (March/April), the grass is not green, but we are still trying to mirror the way G-d created things." The cows produce milk from March to December and are milked twice daily. In December, the cows are dry and produce no milk, thus giving Ron time to spend with his family.
KosherEye asked Ron: Why should a consumer buy organic milk?
"Most people think organic milk is about having no hormones and pesticides...that's true, but stewardship is the real key to organic production. It is deeper than not having herbicides, antibiotics...It encompasses everything – the land, cows health, milk production, human health; the entire environment is all tied together in our philosophy. There is a whole realm of stewardship behind it."
Apparently, the cows really are healthier as the oldest cow is 17–years old. That puts her birth year at 1993.
We came away from our visit at Holter Farms with a deeper understanding of organic farming and an admiration for Ron Holter; it was very evident that he loves what he does and is sustained by it. We also admired the way he calls the cows. "Hummy, Hummy, Hummy. Come on girls!" Ron says, "their ears perk up and they come running over."
And what of his son, Adam? He is currently attending college and majoring in Business Administration and fully intends to follow his grandparents and father as the next generation of Holter farmers.
For more information on Ron and Kathy Halter, visit the Organic Valley, Who is Your Farmer website.