The first thing anyone should know about Jane Clifford is that she’s a teacher. She graduated in 1974 from the University of Vermont with a degree in education and taught elementary school. It’s an experience that’s given her a practical approach to farming. She reminded me of Mrs. Ferguson, one of my old middle school teachers who kept telling me, “Learn it first and learn it well, then ask questions.”
“To really learn about something, you have to be very involved with it,” Clifford told me when I asked her about her approach to serving on the Cattlemen’s Beef Board (CBB). “To serve the industry in the best way possible, I know I need to learn all I can about the Beef Board and be extremely involved in order to have a strong voice for both the beef and dairy industries.”
Jane and her husband, Eric, own and operate a dairy farm near Starksboro, a rural community just 20 minutes from Burlington, Vermont’s largest city. They own about 400 head of cattle and milk over 200 cows. The home farm consists of 500 acres, with an additional 200 acres of rental ground and a 700-acre tree farm.
It’s a family farm that stretches back eight full generations to 1791. In fact, her mother- and father-in-law live in the original 220-year-old home.
Through the years they’ve adjusted to change but some things remain the same. Clifford reminded me that 98 percent of all dairy farms are family farms. They milk 220 cows three times a day, have three full-time employees and hire additional part-time help. “Our greatest priority is our cows. We provide the best feed, the best housing and the best care which also equates to quality beef at the end of a cow’s life.”
When the conversation turned to talking about the ‘business of agriculture’, Clifford says at the end of the day, being in the dairy-beef business is a lifestyle and also a business where you have to trust you’re making the right decisions.
And as for “the rest of the story” – the non-dairy side – Clifford says, “We considered diversifying and raising beef cattle. We have access to pasture where we could feed and finish them, and there is a big demand for locally grown beef. The challenge was processing facilities aren’t plentiful in Vermont so for now we are concentrating on the dairy business.”
Clifford is humbled by her appointment to the Beef Board and credits past CBB Chairman Lucinda Williams, dairy producer from Massachusetts, for paving the way and showing her the ropes. Her first meeting was in the spring of 2010 and in typical teacher fashion, she jumped right in to learning and making the most of her time on the Board.
“There was a lot of information to soak in, and along with that, a lot of passion. My first meeting left me wanting more.”
Clifford is a member of the Executive Committee and Joint Retail Committee, and as she wends her way through her first term, she will learn a lot, of course. She’s inquisitive. She’s a teacher at heart, but also a good student, so you can expect great things from her time on the Beef Board.
Chuck Jolley is a free lance writer, based in Kansas City, who covers a wide range of ag industry topics for Vance Publishing.