Jacques Parent's farm - all 2,000 acres - borders Lake Champlain in Vermont and is just a five minute drive to Canada. For New England, that's a very large agricultural operation.
He started out in 1979 with just 77 cows on 140 acres. "Now, we milk 1,000 cows," he said when I asked him about his dairy. "We have approximately 1,800 total head and we grow all our own forage. We grow some corn and alfalfa and supplement our feed by purchasing some grain."
When he started out, he was one of six dairymen in that stretch of land between Swanton, VT and the Canadian border. Today, he's the only man left, a trend that he wants to stop. "We're leasing most of that land, though," he said.
Sitting where it does, in some of the most beautiful and pristine parts of the state, brings some serious rules and regs about protecting the land and water.
"Around here, you can't get around it so you better learn to like it," he said with just a hint of a smile in his voice.
Being a second generation farmer with strong ties to the land under his stewardship, he takes his obligations to heart. "A portion of our farm lies along a marsh that's part of Lake Champlain," he said. "We're required to maintain a buffer strip of 75 feet to help keep run-off from entering the waterway. We're in the process of expanding that to as much as 800 feet in higher risk areas."
He's done a lot of other things, too, to help keep his property environmentally stable. Two years ago, he outlined what he's doing in a written testimony for the Vermont Agency of Natural Resources. It was an impressive list that went beyond the basics.
"We discontinued the use of certain feed storage bunkers that could have generated uncaptured leachate. We've maintained a nutrient management plan to insure appropriate nutrient application on our fields. To keep rainwater out of one of our outside feeding areas, we constructed a roof to help us better manage and control manure in that area. In addition, when we built our milking facility, we made very effort to responsibly recycle the water we utilize on the farm."
If good stewardship is defined as leaving the land in the same shape as you found it, Parent has gone well beyond what's expected by even the most severe environmentalists.
It's a family-run operation, too. His wife, Mariel, who he described as a townie when he met her, has managed the books and the bunkers for 31 years. "She started out on a 55 horsepower tractor and she's retiring on a 250 horse tractor," he said as he talked about her part of the business.
"We have three daughters and seven grandchildren with an eighth on the way," he said. "My daughter, Lise, and her husband, Alex Howrigan, work the farm with us. She helps with the books."
His journey to the Cattlemen’s Beef Board (CBB) probably started at least 10 years ago with his volunteer work with the Vermont Beef Council. His current position as the Vice Chairman of the St. Albans Co-operative Creamery gave him some important credentials that helped make him a valuable CBB member representing the dairy industry. It was the Co-op that recommended him, a suggestion that USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack agreed with when he appointed him to the Board last December.
"My first meeting was this spring in Denver. I was appointed to the Innovation Committee," he said. "I'll spend the first year just learning how things work. They encourage us to be very involved so I hope to be able to wrap my hands around all the things CBB does."
Asked if his wife was retiring soon would he be following suit, he said, "I've been dairying all my life. I look forward to another day of it every morning. I love my industry and, hopefully, I can continue for a long time."