At ‘This Place in History’, we’re in Ticonderoga, New York with Executive Director of the Vermont Historical Society Steve Perkins.
“We’re on an environmentally award-winning farm and dairy farmer Erik Leerkes is going to join us and tell us about his family history and what it means to dairy on this side of the lake,” introduced Perkins.
“My grandparents bought this from the Cook family. They bought it a piece at a time. Now we own about 600 acres. They moved here in 1968 and built the cow barn over here and they added the second half of the barn I think a year or two later. Eventually Dad bought Grandpa out and then I came back on the farm about a year after I finished college,” began Leerkes.
“The Cook family, from the stories I’ve heard, they weren’t farming anymore. So it was your ideal, old red barn left, but it really wasn’t in working condition anymore. So when my grandfather and father came here, they built it from scratch pretty much.”
“They moved here from Holland in 1956. In Holland, my understanding was that Grandpa was actually more of a vegetable peddler. They had a cow or two but they moved here in ’56, bought a farm where International Paper is back there, sold that to International Paper in ’68 and moved here. But as soon as they moved to America, they were dairy farmers,” said Leerkes.
“We rotationally graze our milk cows. So every day they get a new strip of grass. I would say we do make less milk per cow on the grazing model. First of all, I like the cow health. I like the cows out on pasture. Boy, every spring when you let them out, they just seem to perk up. I’ve shot video before. You just see them running around like bucking broncos. It’s really funny for the first day or two. I think they’re good and healthy. They have good feet that way. Now, I think it’s more of, I like it. Some days you wonder if you’d do it better the other way, but the cows like it, so I like it,” explained Leerkes.
When asked why Leerkes still dairies despite the well-known challenges, he jokes, “Probably the same reason we all do what we do. We don’t know any better. Because I haven’t run out of money yet, that’s why. Have you ever heard the story what would a farmer do if he won the lottery? Keep farming until they spend it all.”
“I like to joke, but it’s about family. You know, you grow up on the farm. I left the farm. I went to college for computers. I had another job and you just miss it. It’s in your blood. It’s hard to give up,” answered Leerkes.
“Growing up in a town like Ticonderoga, you appreciate American history. I actually run all of Fort Ti’s farmland. So if you go down there, I planted corn there last week. I planted their corn maze, so it’s kind of neat when my kids go through the corn maze. It’s neat to be part of that history. Our house is pushing 200 years old. It’s a landmark when you’re driving down Delano Road. When you called, I said just look for the stone house. There’s not a lot of them. They’re pretty easy to find when you’re driving down the road.”
“It’s a neat thing to be a part of the history of this area. I know all farms, even the ones that are brand new, they all have history in their roots. That’s a big reason why any of us still do it. We enjoy being a part of that,” concluded Leerkes.
At ‘This Place in History’!
For more from our ‘This Place in History’ series, click here.
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