Photo courtesy of the Places January 23, 2017
First generation farmers reflect on introduction to agriculture at UD
First generation farmers Amanda and John Place not only found their love of agriculture while undergraduates in the University of Delaware’s College of Agriculture and Natural Resources (CANR), they also found each other.
Now, 14 years later, they both have careers in what they studied as undergrads: Amanda as a veterinarian and the medical director at VCA Northside Animal Hospital in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, and John as the general manager of Profeta Farms, an organic farm in Readington, New Jersey that farms 1,300 total acres.
In addition, they also run their startup family farm, Keepsake Farm and Dairy, in Nazareth, Pennsylvania, where they raise wholesome food — such as grass-fed beef, raw milk, rose veal and fresh range pasture eggs — in a natural environment.
They credit UD for introducing a girl from Long Island and a boy from the suburbs of Philadelphia to the world of agriculture.
“The College of Agriculture [and Natural Resources] played a huge role in sending Amanda and I in this direction through the education and the guidance we had,” said John Place.
Originally a biology major, who had always aspired to be a veterinarian but was intimidated initially by the years of education needed to pursue a veterinary degree, Amanda (Satriano) Place took an Animal Science 101 class with Lesa Griffiths, the T.A. Baker Professor in CANR. The experience of that course convinced her to stick with her longtime goals and she changed majors and moved over to the CANR in her sophomore year. She met John through their involvement in the Animal Science Club.
John Place said he looked at CANR originally to work with horses but after interning on the campus farm with Scott Hopkins, farm superintendent, and Larry Armstrong, farm manager, he knew that was the direction he wanted his career to head.
“Ever since I got to college, agriculture was what I was going to do. I wanted to farm. I didn’t really have that experience until I got there and that changed the trajectory of life,” he said.
Both agreed that a study abroad program to New Zealand they took with Griffiths was a game-changer as it exposed them to pasture-based agriculture — letting cows roam and eat grass in a pasture as opposed to the practice of feeding them grain — something they carried with them when they started Keepsake Farm and Dairy, which is now an exclusively grass-fed raw milk dairy.
“When we went to New Zealand and were seeing commercial size dairies that were 100 percent grazing operated, a light bulb went off in my head because I had never seen it on that scale outside on grass and I realized ‘Wow, this can be done,’” John Place said. “From that point, it was learning progressive grazing techniques and management of grazing and applying it to a more finicky animal — the dairy cow versus the beef cow — and a lot of trial by fire. We learned some important lessons but in the end, it does work and it works well.”
Amanda Place said that it was “eye opening to see animals on pasture and how you can successfully do things so much differently than what’s standard here.”
Because their cows are all grass-fed and not given hormones or antibiotics, and they don’t use chemical pesticides or fertilizers on their farm, she said they tend to have healthier animals.
“Animals that eat grass produce healthier products, whether it’s meat or milk, just like humans who eat more than grains are a lot healthier. From the veterinarian’s perspective, mimicking nature produces healthier animals. We just don’t see sick cows. Many dairies have a standing veterinarian appointment once a week to take care of whatever sick cows have popped up and yet we rarely see our vet outside of our annual herd check,” said Place. “When cows are permitted to eat grass at their leisure, raise their own calves and be milked only once per day without any antibiotics or hormones, you’d be amazed how healthy they can be. That’s what they’re built for, so I think if you take some tips from how nature did it, you end up with a lot healthier happier creature.”
John Place added that even though he and Amanda chose to go the organic route, they are not disparaging toward conventional farmers.
“We’re all in this together. It’s not like I can’t talk to the conventional world, but we’re just trying to do something a little bit differently and provide a product that there’s a waiting customer base for,” said Place.
For more information on Keepsake Farm and Dairy, visit their Facebook page.