Profiles in Business: The Robb Family

Profiles in Business: The Robb Family

Marcel, Joyce

The setting is almost too perfect. It’s a gentle, blue-sky day in early October. The sun is shining. The cows are mooing. An old yellow Lab is lying stolidly in the sun on the steps of the 1912 farmhouse, and a calico cat is nursing five kittens in a rocker on the flowerbedecked porch. Other dogs and cats wander freely in the yard. A pregnant Holstein grazes in a meadow next to the milk house, along with a sturdy chestnut draft horse. Across the road and through the bushes, you can see a falling-down cider shack that was here in 1907, the year the first generation of the family purchased the farm. Nearby is a new sugar house and a gift shop.

This is the Robb Family Farm, Ltd, on Ames Hill Road in West Brattleboro, the picture-perfect epitome of a working family dairy farm. Life here would be pretty good if it weren’t so damn hard to earn a living.

Dairy farming in Vermont is a brutal business. Although governmentset milk prices are on a slow upswing right now, they are recovering from record-setting lows, especially in the last two years.

Nationally, there is a glut of milk . The Northeast Dairy Compact has collapsed. Vermont farms, which tend to be small, face fierce competition from huge dairy farms in the West. Monopoly food processors are eliminating the competition for milk and fighting to keep prices low. Of course, the price of grain is regulated as well, said Helen Robb. John F Kennedy once said that farming is the only business that gets paid wholesale for their product, buys retail, and pays the transportation costs both ways.

He said that back in the 1960s, and he was right on the money, said Charles Robb, Sr.

The Robbs – Charlie Sr, 67, his wife Helen, 58, and their son, Charlie Robb Jr, 38 – are the fourth and fifth generations of the family to work on the farm. However, they represent a brand new breed of farmer: one who depends on diversity and creativity as well as hard work. When you get desperate, you just let your imagination go, Helen said.

The Robbs milk about 55 cows and send about 6,340 pounds of growth hormone-free milk to market through the Agri-Mark, Ltd. dairy cooperative every other day. They have a closed herd, which means they breed their own replacement heifers through artificial insemination. They log their land, run a 1,600-tap sugar bush, make and market their own maple syrup, candies and pancake mix in their own gift shop, and have turned themselves into a popular tourist attraction. Their motto is Where education and adventure meet. They give sleigh and hay rides, hold seasonal events like September’s Apple Fritter Fest, and offer educational programs for the area’s school children. Away from the farm, they also own two apartment houses that have long been in the family.

The income from the properties is what Helen and I have actually lived on during drought periods on the farm, to buy groceries, Charlie Sr said.

Vermont Secretary of Agriculture Steve Kerr has known the Robbs for many years; he believes that their success at diversification proves that small farms can continue to thrive in Vermont.

They are a wonderful family, Kerr said. And they are so dedicated to agriculture, it’s just a pleasure to work with folks like that. Some folks in agriculture are downbeat, and they have a reason to be. But some people, like the Robbs, have the ability to look at the harsh realties of farming and ask the right question, which is, ‘What can I do so that the harsh reality doesn’t crush me and force me out of farming?’ That’s what they’ve done, and they’ve done it brilliantly. At one point, Kerr said, Helen told him that the family was close to giving up.

But they’re not quitters, Kerr said They want the farm for themselves and their kids. Theyve diversified a typical Vermont dairy farm and it’s working. As Alexandre Dumas the Elder said, ‘Nothing succeeds like success.’ And with the Robbs, you’re looking at a successful dairy farm operation. They’re living proof that the smaller farms in Vermont can continue to farm. But they may have to diversify, as the Robbs have chosen to do.

Roller Coaster Ride

Vermont has 1,395 dairy farms and 80 percent of its agriculture is dairy-derived.

Of that 1,395, 1,371 are bovine, said Byron Moyer, chief of the diary section of the Vermont Department of Agriculture. Twenty milk goats, some milk sheep, and one person milks water buffaloes. But 99.9 percent of the state’s milk production comes from cows.

The attrition rate of dairy farms in Vermont is approximately 4 percent per year, Moyer said. This year so far, the state has lost 38 farms, or 3 percent.

The attrition rate pretty closely follows what’s happening on the economic scene, Moyer said. In years when milk prices are good, the attrition rate is typically lower. In -years when it is not so good, it is typically higher. We were fairly stable this year in terms of the number of dairy farms going out.

Typically, 75 percent go out of business from mid-March to mid-June. Once we get into May and June, the dairy fanner has to make the command decision: ‘Am I going to invest in seed and feed and fertilizer to plant and raise crops for another year’? Moyer said. Once they make that commitment, it makes much better business sense to grow those crops and feed your animals over the winter and sell them in spring, when your feed is running out.

This fall, however, there has been a slight increase in the number of dairy farms that have gone out of business.

The logic behind that is that milk prices are on the upswing, and cattle prices tend to follow milk prices, Moyer said.

So, if a month ago this cow in the barn was worth $600, and now it’s worth $800. Same animal, same production level. So if you’re thinking of getting out of the business for whatever reason, say you’re thinking about retirement, now might be a good time to let old Bossy go.

Dairy farming is always a struggle, Moyer said.

There are times when you’re literally beating your head against a wall, he said. How long do you want to keep that up? Not all businesses make money every year, and it’s acceptable and normal to have a bad year every now and then. But when you put them back to back, and look at the history of dairy farming in Vermont, with its short peaks and long valleys, there is a time when people say it’s enough.

The Robbs

It’s morning, and the smells of coffee and bacon are hanging in the air. An old wood-burning stove is heating the kitchen. Several dogs and cats are moving around underfoot. Helen, Charlie Sr and Charlie Jr are sitting around the table, discussing the economics of dairy farming with an equal mix of affection, humor and frustration.

The Robb farm has been handed down through the generations, each time with the understanding that the younger folks will care for their elders and gently help to see them out. Helen and Charlie Sr are the fourth generation to carry out this compact; Charlie Jr and his wife Karen will be the fifth. If the farm survives, one of Charlie Sr and Helen’s eleven grandchildren will be the sixth.

Helen grew up on a farm down the road from the Robbs, one that her brother and nephew still farm. She and Charlie Sr have been married for 39 years.

I grew up a mile down the road and I vowed I would never marry a dairy farmer, Helen said, laughing. And just before going down the aisle, my father whispered that to me.

They have four children. Charlie Jr, the oldest boy and the only boy, is also the only one who wanted to farm. His wife, Karen Robb, is also a partner in the farm, but she works in town.

Charlie Sr’s great-grandparents, the Betterlys, came from Guilford to Ames Hill Road in 1907.

My great-grandfather was a Civil War veteran, he said. My greatgrandparents sold their farm to Uncle Fred Betterly and came here. This was supposed to be the retirement farm. They bought it from a lumber dealer, 100 acres with a key stipulation: they had to leave the maple trees in for sugarbush.

Charlie, Sr.’s grandfather, Isaac Robb, started building the house in 1912; he finished it in 1914.

It was all done by hand, Charlie Sr said. This was way before power tools. He was a finish carpenter. He loved to do cabinetwork. He built this house for his inlaws, the Betterlys.

After that, Charlie Sr’s grandmother owned the farm for a brief period of time.

She took care of her parents, seeing them out, Charlie Sr said. Then my father and mother bought the place in the early part of the Depression. And Helen and I bought it in 1973 from my parents, and we’re going to be in the process of turning it over to the next generation very shortly. Turning the farm over to Char Charlie Jr and Karen does not mean that Charlie Sr is going to retire.

Not retiring, he said. Never retiring. My father worked up in his 80s. He died six years ago at 92.

It’s a matter of turning it over for the inheritance taxes, so everything is in order, Helen said.

It’s one of those things that you know you have to move it along, Charlie Sr said. You know the good Lord is going to take us one day or another at some point, and if you can figure out how to keep it from going through probate and having to be taxed – and taxing is what kills it, the operation, because there’s not that cash flow there.

We took care of Charlie’s parents, especially my father-in-law, for five years, Helen said. We lived down the road, where Charlie and Karen now live. But while Charlie’s mom and dad were still living, we took care of everything.

Being able to see them out, that was big, Charlie Sr said. That’s how we were brought up.

Charlie Sr has scoliosis, or a noticeable curvature of the spine, that has increased with age. It is an inherited disease, but one that has not stopped him from working.

Grandpa Betterly had it, and Grandmother Robb had it, and my father had it, Charlie Sr said. Hopefully it’s gone from the family now. None of the children have it. There are things like ibuprofen that I take once in a while and it’s fine. You can out-think things and use your head instead of your back. You’ve just got to have focus. And a strong will.

Even with a bad back, Charlie Sr works the same hours as his son, from 5 a.m. until after 7 p.m.

I’m probably in better health than my two older brothers, Charlie Sr said. They went to the city.

Management of the farm is done communally.

Everybody has to come to an agreement before we come to a decision, and everybody looks at it differently, so all sides of it pretty much get looked at before we move, Charlie Jr said. We don’t move very fast sometimes.

As an example, Helen said, a few years ago she objected when their veterinarian told the Robbs to dock their cows’ tails.

I balked and held everybody up, Helen said. My big thing was perception. People were going to see these cows with docked tails. They would think, ‘How can a cow swat the flies off and all of that?’ But Dr. Major said that when they swat the flies they’re putting more manure on their backs. And that brings more flies. And the cows’ production will go up if they don’t have to deal with more flies. So last fall I gave in and they docked the tails. And this summer we’ve had less flies around than we’ve ever had. It was a good management decision to make, but I held them up probably for two years on it.

Although some of the picturesque quality of milk cows was lost, the decision had positive benefits for the Robbs as well as the cows. The first cow in the morning who’s been soaking her tail in the gutter all night, you come in and she wraps it around your head, it kind of sets your outlook for the day, Charlie Sr said.

Early Life

As a boy, Charlie Sr did chores on the farm. His first real job was delivering milk. He still has some of the bottles lined up on top of the kitchen cabinets: HF Robb & Sons, they say.

I grew up helping peddle milk during World War II, Charlie Sr said. We had three guys who had been help on this farm who went to the war and never came back. Toward the end of the war, my brothers and I had to help. I remember my dad was so tired at some points there, I’d come down In the old kitchen, and he’d been going all night, and working, and he’d just take a couple of hours and sleep on the floor next to that old stove there. You’d find him lying there in the morning. It was a tough time, but we got through that.

While doing the milk route, he learned how to make change in his head. That’s one thing dad made me do, to stop and figure your numbers, Charlie Sr said. I had to think numbers.

Although Charlie Sr learned to save as much money as he could, there was never enough for the Robbs to invest in the stock market. Grandpa always said the only stock he had were four-legged, Helen said.

And had hair on them, Charlie Sr said.

Charlie Jr learned about finance from his father.

Just common sense, I think, he said. Figuring income low and out-go high and you just come out in the middle. No schooling on it. just use your head. Breeding, though, is pretty technical. Now I read all kinds of articles. And some things work for this farm, and some things don’t. Common sense will tell you.

The Farm

When Charlie Sr and Helen bought the farm from his parents in 1973, it had 300 acres. With the land, cows, houses and machinery, it was worth about $75,000.

That $75,000 bought us all the headaches, Helen said, laughing. But if we ever paid what it was worth, we wouldn’t be able to do it. And the same is true for Charlie and Karen. If we had to put a price tag on it, they wouldn’t be able to do it. If you wanted to buy the animals and the equipment and the physical house and the land, it would probably be up around a million dollars, wouldn’t it? But that doesn’t buy you groceries. There are days when if you came with a check…

It depends on what day of the week you come, Charlie Sr said. Only Charlie Sr, Helen and Charlie Jr, work the farm, which is now 360 contiguous acres, with another 58 acres down the road. A student comes in at night to help with chores.

And we get a day off every two weeks, whether we need it or not, Helen said.

Karen Robb works as a paraprofessional in a local school; her job provides needed health insurance.

That’s a major concern, Charlie Sr said. I’m on AARP and Medicare, and Helen has to take her health insurance costs out of the milk check.

That’s a paycheck in itself, said Charlie Jr.

Most farmers don’t even have health insurance, Helen said. I’m just not that big a risk-taker.

I have to tell you this, Charlie Sr said. I know a fellow who’s one of the wheels in the Yankee Farm Credit system, and he’s concerned earlier this year that a lot of the farmers, all they are paying is the interest on their loans. They aren’t paying any of the principal. How bad is that?

Diversification

The Robbs keep a closed herd, which means that they breed their own heifers. These are called replacements.

When the cows wear out, we need to have one ready to step into her place, Helen said. Because we’re closed, it insures that the herd is disease-free and tested.

Like you’ve heard in the baseball world about the farm teams? Charlie Sr said. This is the same. The heifers are the farm team, about 50 of them, starting from a couple of weeks old. We try to get them started right after they’re two years old, after their first calf. The longer we can keep them the better for us, better for them. It used to be the average was around four years old. That would be the maximum. Now we’ve got cows that are up around 10 years old, and they’re still in pretty good shape.

The Robbs do not own a bull. Charlie Jr handles all of the breeding through artificial insemination. Salesmen regularly Visit the farm to offer genetic information on hundreds of animals.

If you have a cow with poor legs, you can get a bull with good legs and breed them and come out with a better calf, said Charlie Jr. When Helen and I bought the farm, we were getting about 8,000 pounds of milk per cow per year, Charlie Sr said. Now we’re at 22,279 per cow, per year. No BST. I’ve signed an affidavit. We don’t use that stuff We don’t feel the need to.

It’s all done with genetics and feed, Helen said.

Good quality feed, Charlie Sr said. A happy cow is a very productive cow.

Every now and then, the Robbs weed out their non-productive cows. You can’t keep too many cull cows, Charlie Sr said. Every farm has a cull cow – one that needs to go whether you like it or not. It goes to those great golden arches in the sky.

After the Robbs have culled the herd, the non-productive cows are sent to the farmer-owned Northampton Cooperative Auction Assoc. The Robbs are members.

We run an auction every Tuesday down in Whately, MA, Charlie Sr said. We hire a professional auctioneer. It’s a big auction barn, and all the area farmers can send animals there. The packers come in to buy them. It’s quite a complex business. Everything from goats and sheep to cows.

The Robbs raise hay and feed corn for their animals, but nothing for themselves.

I don’t even have a garden, Helen said.

Not even a salad garden this year, Charlie Sr said. We’ve run ourselves so ragged with the farm.

The Robbs belong to the farmer-owned Agri-Mark dairy cooperative and send 6,346 pounds of cooled but unpasteurized milk to market every other day. They get checks from Agri-Mark twice a month. They also run a sugarbush with about 1,600 taps and are hoping to double that number.

Maple has opened a big window of opportunity for the Robbs, Charlie Sr said. It has allowed them to open a gift shop and market their own products.

We sell everything here, retail, directly to the consumer, Helen said.

So that Helen can mind the store, care for her grandchildren, cook, take care of the house and do the books for the farm, the Robbs have rigged it so that whenever a car drives up to the store, a bell rings in the house.

To further increase their income, the Robbs give sleigh rides and hay rides. They hold an Apple Fritter Fest in the fall; the one in September drew 300 people on a rainy weekend. Local school children come in groups to learn about farm life. They schedule other tourist events throughout the year. Their farm is listed on all the Vermont tourism websites, and they have their own Website, as well (www.robbfamilyfarm.com.) Karen’s brother is the Webmaster. To offset expenses wherever they can, the Robbs share a certain amount of equipment, like cattle trailers, with other farmers. And they trade pasturing for 12 heifers with a sawmill in another town for the logs that Charlie Jr cuts from their land.

The Robbs estimate that the farm grosses well over $ 150,000 a year, but nets welfare, as Charlie Sr said.

We don’t even come close to $20,000 per family, Helen said. We buy clothes, but very carefully, Charlie Sr. said. There’s no extra.

We don’t go out to cat or anything, Helen said.

The Robbs like to joke that the farmers on Ames Hill Road should charge greens fees to their non-farming neighbors for keeping the land open and green.

They’re putting in a half-million dollar house above us here, and you know they wouldn’t be building that house if this was all housing lots, Helen said.

We’re keeping up the aesthetics, Charlie Sr said.

Government Aid

The Robbs are alert to opportunities for government grants. This past June, through EQUIP (the USDA’s national Environmental Quality Incentive Program), they became the only farmers in New England to test a new $15,000 Canadian water purification system called the flocculator. The system removes milk solids from the water used for washing milking machinery. USDA paid 75 percent of the cost. The installer, Premiere Tech Environment of Quebec, discounted the installation, and the Robbs paid the rest.

Milky water, year after year, day after day, clogs leach fields very quickly, said Drew Adam, Brattleboro’s district conservationist for the Natural Resource Conservation Service, an agency of the USDA. This is a real problem that the Robbs had. Their leach field system was failing, an and the effluent was being discharged into a brook.

Now that the flocculator is busy working in the milk house, Adam will monitor it to determine its effectiveness. If it works, he will recommend it for other farms.

In the meantime, the Robbs have just won the 2003 Windham County Natural Resources Commission District’s Innovative Technology Award.

Debt

Debt is a fact of life for farmers. Three years ago, the Robbs borrowed money to build a large new barn and milking system. Their old barn was too small and old-fashioned – cows were injuring themselves, and the injuries were causing high bacteria counts.

One heifer that was projected to milk at 30,000 pounds per year when she was fully mature never made it, Charlie Sr said. She stepped on one quarter of her udder and the doc said, ‘That’s hamburger. ‘Then she stepped on another one. Byebye. She was a fancy-looking rig, too. It just made you grit your teeth. That was a bad day. She stepped on her own udder because of the smallness of the stall.

Also, their milking system was antiquated.

We had an old stanchion barn, where the cows come in and have their individual stalls, Charlie Jr said. We’d lug the machines from cow to cow. We priced out a regular conventional pit parlor, and that was $60,000. Then we got hold of a used milking system, a step-up parlor. We put this system in for $16,000. And we haven’t had many injuries, and all the bacteria counts have come down. So we end up with milk premiums. We get paid a little extra for quality. Things just came together with that barn. Deciding to borrow money for a new barn and milking system was a tough decision. At the time, they figured that they needed a minimum of $12.25 per hundredweight (cwt) to pay off the loan.

What happened is the price dropped, Charlie Jr said.

We thought $12.25 was conservative, Helen said. And it dropped to ten dollars and something.

This could have spelled financial disaster, but the cows’ extra production saved the day.

What happened was the cows were so comfortable that production came up, Charlie, Jr said. It helped make up that difference. The Robbs have also borrowed money for a feed bunker.

Then we have a regular fine of credit for putting in crops, Charlie Sr said. For seed and fertilizer. That’s always an extra big expense at a certain time. You have to borrow for that.

But we’ve been careful not to borrow past the point where if we did, for some reason or another, have to sell out, we could still walk away with money in our pocket, Helen said. That’s the trick. That’s happened to a lot of farms. They’ve borrowed to the point where they sold out and they still wouldn’t have anything.

Tourism

When she was 16, Helen was already earning her own money running a gift shop in West Brattleboro. As an adult, she spent 11 years working for Holstein-Freisen Services, a commercial subsidiary of the Holstein Association. After that, she worked for a doctor.

Then one of our daughters was expecting a baby, and her husband was in a position where he didn’t have any health insurance and he had some health problems, Helen said. So I decided I would give up my job and take care of her little boy. She could stay-working, because she had good health coverage.

At the time, the Robbs were building a new sugarhouse.

My oldest daughter said to me, ‘You know, you’ve always wanted a gift shop. Why don’t you add a little on to that sugarhouse? Helen said. And that was seven years ago. So I run the gift shop. I help in the sugarhouse and I make maple candy, maple cream and pancake mix. One of my daughters makes maple drizzle – that’s maple candy with different kind of nuts in it. Maple is one of the greatest value-added products going. The Robbs bottle and sell their maple syrup in a variety of containers, from tiny nip bottles to glass maple leaves to jugs. They also sell maple cream, maple candy, Helen’s special pancake mix, gingerbread mix, locally made candles, and Cabot cheese. Helen makes labels for all these things on her computer. She also puts together gift boxes. For example, the Breakfast Sampler contains a pottery batter bowl filled with Helen’s pancake mix, a 250 ml log cabin of Grade A maple syrup, 2 oz of Grafton Goodjam’s Raspberry Jam, a 6 oz Vermont Honey Bear, and a pound of the local coffee roaster Mocha Joe’s Colombian Supreme. It weighs eight pounds and sells for $48.

With maple syrup, the smaller the container, the better the profit. Sometimes people walk out with a whole bag of those small bottles, the little nip bottles and the maple leaves, to give them as favors at weddings, Charlie Sr said. We do a lot of those things.

We used to sell syrup all out of the house in cans and containers, Charlie Jr said. People would come right to the front door.

We’d store it under the bed or in the closet, Charlie Sr said. When we put the gift shop in, it kind of came together because we give a lot of sleigh rides, Charlie Jr said. We get the folks from the bed-andbreakfasts, and they go in to the shop to warm up. They won’t buy a gallon, Helen said.

But they’ll buy something they can put in a suitcase, Charlie Jr said. We did it hit or miss.

Trial and error, Charlie Sr said. What flies good, we keep doing.

You’ve got to come up with things to sell in your shop, and have things that are local – or Vermont, anyway, Helen said. You’ve got to market. You’ve got to think.

Over the course of a year, the gift shop averages about $100 a week, Helen said. She also sells her products through the farm’s brochure, on-line, and through Pieces of Vermont, a small company that markets Vermont products.

We’ve done a huge amount of business with them selling maple products, baskets and cheese, Helen said. We had a corporate order last year, 100 baskets with cheese, through them. We got $19.95 a basket. The biggest mistake the Robbs have made was buying a professional mailing Est last year for $ 1,000.

We didn’t get the business back on it, Helen said. The best list is your guest book.

The Robbs also create events to bring tourists to the farm. For example, they recently hosted 70 7th graders from the Brattleboro Area Middle School and entertained them with pumpkin decoration, a hay ride, a compass lesson (the children were hay-rided out and had to find their own way back to the farm), and a hay bale toss.

Then there is the Apple Fritter Fest.

That one just came to my mind, Helen said. I felt we needed a fall event. I’d never made a fritter before in my life. We figured it out. And we did all right.

Community Action

The Robbs are politically active on both the state and local levels. Charlie Sr or Helen are members of the Vermont Chamber of Commerce, the local Chamber, the Vermont Farms Board, the Brattleboro Agriculture Committee, and the board of Brattleboro’s Strolling of the Heifers.

A friend was asked to be on it, Helen said. She called me up and said, ‘Helen, you’ve got to get on there. They’ve got to have some farmers.’ Because when she came to the first meeting, they literally had a dictionary out and they were looking up the meaning of the word heifer. So I’ve been active on that. It doesn’t do a whole lot financially, but it’s very reaffirming.

Awareness, Charlie Jr said.

It’s very reaffirming when you take a nice heifer up the Main Street and you have these thousands of people cheering, Charlie Sr said. It just boggles your mind. Absolutely. I guess we’re still in Vermont. When I was brought up, there were still more cows than people. Now we’ve got more people than cows.

It couldn’t come at a worse time of the year, though, Charlie Jr said. In June.

That’s when we’re trying to get our crops in, Helen said. Political activity is a family tradition, said Ron Allbee, formerly Vermont’s commissioner of agriculture and ;now an agricultural consultant. He grew up on a farm in Windham County and has known the family for many years.

When I was commissioner, Herman Robb, Charlie Sr’s father, used to call me about six o’clock every Saturday morning and talk about the dairy industry, Allbee said. I could count on it. It was my alarm clock. Allbee credits Charlie Sr with saving the Brattleboro Retreat Farm a few years ago.

When the Retreat was going to close down their farm operation, one of the first people who called me was Charlie, Albee said. I was in a federal position at that time. He got the community geared up and saved the farm. He was the spark plug. They’re just a wonderful family running a diversified Vermont farm. Farmers like them are the backbone of Vermont.

Competition

Farm diversification is already a reality in Vermont. Some farms have turned their farms into petting zoos. Some have added additional cows and depend on economies of scale. Some make cheese and yogurt. Some stick to maple. Some bottle and deliver milk, although that turns them into a bottling and trucking operation. Some turn themselves into B Bs. ‘Mere are all kinds of operations out there that are competing for the consumer’s dollar, Charlie Sr said. One advantage we might have is that we’re really the real thing.

We should be in a museum, Charlie Jr said.

We’re a working dairy farm, Helen said. You’ve got to make a choice. Do you want to be a diary farm or some other type of farm? We’re trying have a happy medium, where we can have the tourists, the tourist dollar, and the cows.

Over-commercialization of the farm will always be a concern. Also, I’m always afraid that as we market ourselves, people will expect more touristy things than what we are, Charlie Jr said. I always tell people who call that we’re a working dairy farm, Helen said. When they come, I take them through the barn, explain what we do, where the cows are milked, how they’re milked, show them the calves, and show them our new flocculator.

The Future

In the next five years, the Robbs hope to double their syrup production, increase their herd to about 60 or 65 cows, have extra heifers for sale, and send out 10,000 pounds of milk every two days. It is only by increasing), in size that they will be able to keep up with the cost of living.

Trouble is, we’ve gotten to the point where the farmers are real efficient, and we can’t get more efficient, Charlie Jr said. You can only go so far.

I know we could make our own ice cream in the summer and sell it here, Helen said. But it’s nice to be able to sit on the porch in the evening. If we were selling ice cream, I’d have to be at the shop, scooping.

Some days the Robbs get frustrated with the lack of free time and money. But if they had their fives to live over again, they would not change a thing.

I’d like to do it all again, Charlie Sr said.

It’s the job itself you love, Charlie Jr said. Even if I still had all the money, I don’t mind the work. I love it.

I’ve got my health, Charlie Sr said. I’ve got my family. Even though I don’t have a lot of pocket cash, the children are all here, all within 10 miles, and you can’t ask for anything better than that.

I always said I’d never marry a farmer, Helen said. But no, I don’t have any regrets.

Copyright Boutin-McQuiston, Inc. Nov 01, 2003

Provided by ProQuest Information and Learning Company. All rights Reserved