Dairy farmers, students and a host of other community members gathered in Cole Hall, part of the University of New Hampshire’s (UNH) Thompson School of Applied Science, on the night of April 4, as they took in the premiere of the History Channel’s “The American Farm” featuring three Thompson School alumni.
Brothers Si, Nate and Bram Robertson, who graduated from the Thompson School over the last few years, currently oversee Bohanan Farm in Contoocook, New Hampshire, about an hour west of the Durham campus. They operate it alongside their parents Jamie – who also graduated from the Thompson School – and Heather Robertson. Bohanan Farm is a dairy farm of 200 cows, producing glass-bottled milk in a variety of flavors and several types of cheese through their creamery, Contoocook Creamery.
Last year, Bohanan Farm was selected for a docu-series highlighting farm life across America, joining four other farms from as far away as Alaska. The History Channel, working with production company Bobcat Studios, filmed the Robertsons throughout 2018.
As the Robertsons and representatives from the New England Dairy Promotion Board and their associated campaign Must Be the Milk, which focuses on New England and New York dairy farming, greeted attendees to Cole Hall, the premiere began with an hour-long reception. Tables showcased Contoocook Creamery products including chocolate milk, cheese, and pastries baked with cheese and prepared by Elizabeth Kramlinger, a culinary arts lecturer at the Thompson School, as video clips and photos of the Robertsons played on a TV in the background.
The crowd included a number of faculty, including those that teach dairy science and farming, and those that taught the brothers during their time here at UNH. One of them, Thompson School professor Drew Conroy, taught the brothers and their father in his Introduction to Dairy Herd Management course. He also taught Bram and Si in CREAM, or Cooperative for Real Education in Agricultural Management, a year-long course where students manage part of the dairy herd at the Fairchild Dairy Farm on campus. Conroy was excited to see his former students on the History Channel.
“For me it’s very fun. Because one, first of all, these boys were in school, they were always full of life, and they like to talk and tell stories, and I’ve known the family a long time,” Conroy said. “They have a really interesting story to tell, but they’re really good storytellers.”
After the reception, the crowd filled the auditorium for a question-and-answer session with the family, with Shawn Jasper, the Granite State’s commissioner of agriculture, kicking things off.
“What a great turnout tonight.” Jasper said. “This is a really great opportunity to showcase one of New Hampshire’s best…The only way that most dairy farms in New Hampshire are going to survive is doing exactly what they’re doing at Contoocook Creamery: is bottling their own milk and creating that brand.”
The question and answer session also featured compliments from Chef Kramlinger and others as they congratulated the family on their products and participation in the show.
When asked how they got involved, the Robertsons stressed their interest in showing the reality of farming.
“We sat down and talked about it, and really thought that there ought to be someone to tell the story of farmers of America, and what modern farming is really like.” Si said. “We thought we could do a pretty good job, and [we] want to try and let people know what really goes on to make the milk that comes into their supermarket, in glass bottles.”
The first episode of “The American Farm,” titled “Betting the Farm,” featured a poultry farming family in Utah, and eventually moved to Bohanan Farm and others throughout. The episode focused on the beginning of the farming season, a time fraught with careful planning and quick action that could have a large financial impact.
The clips of Bohanan Farm highlighted the farm’s ecosystem. Each brother has their own “dojo,” as they call it, or area of the farm they focus on. Si manages the forage crops, which feed the cows; Nate manages the cows; and Bram the Contoocook Creamery, with their parents focusing on the farm’s finances and overall coordination.
The brother’s antics appeared many times in the episode, receiving great laughter from the crowd; Si explained his relationship with manure, while Nate nearly got run over in moving cows from the barn to a grass pasture.
The episode ended with a focus on the family side of running family farms, with generations coming together to keep farming, but also relax and enjoy being with family.
“All farmers thrive on challenges. That’s how come we farm.” Jamie said in a clip near the ending.
The episode’s end saw great applause and many congratulations toward the Robertsons, whom expressed pride in the episode.
“It really seems like they are interested in telling the story we want to.” Nate said. “You can see that through the scenes they picked and through the progression of the storyline…there is a lot of agriculture happening…and we should all be represented.”
For those interested in dairy farming, the brothers said that getting involved is easy.
“You can come with no experience and learn. It’s all about the ambition and drive. If you show up and you really show that you can put the amount of time in and commitment, then we see that,” Nate said.
But farming is hard work. “When you deal with farmers, you deal with people that see the world in a little different, different way. We kind of see life as a big circle. We know that it’s going to start and we know that it’s going to end,” Jamie said in a promotional clip for the show.
New episodes of “The American Farm” premiere Thursday nights at 10 p.m. on The History Channel. Contoocook Creamery products are available throughout the state, including the Hannaford supermarket on Mill Road in Durham.