A Dairy Do-Over
By buying a local farm in need of repair, John Hornstra realizes his lifelong ambition to be a dairy farmer.
Hornstra Farms had been a family owned and operated business for four generations. In 1912, Anske and Agnes Hornstra, together with their six children, left their native home in Holland and boarded a ship bound for America, the land of opportunity. Eventually, the family made their way to Hingham, MA and Hornstra Farms was born.
The family dairy farm thrived for years, but by the 1980s the Hornstras’ farmland was sold for development, like so many other family farms at that time. The family continued to run a declining dairy home delivery business, and thanks to young John Hornstra, the business survived, with expanded routes and a stable customer base.
Milk delivery wasn’t John’s idea of dairy farming, however, so in 2009, he bought an abandoned 80-acre farm in nearby Norwell. After renovating the barns and fields and restoring the farmhouse, John hired recent ag school graduates, Ethan and Laura Pratt, to help him build and care for a growing herd of beautiful Red and White Holsteins.
Today, Hornstra Farms is thriving. In 2013, it was named the Massachusetts Dairy Farm of the Year, receiving the New England Green Pastures Award. The award is given every year to one outstanding dairy farm in each of the New England states, with winners evaluated on production records; herd, pasture, and crop management; environmental practices; contributions to agriculture and the local community; and overall excellence in dairying.
“It was a nice thing to win this,” says John, “although I’m not a veteran. There are a lot of other farmers who have been doing this a long, long time, and I can’t help but feel they really deserve an honor like this.”
Still, while 49-year old John may consider himself a novice, he’s wanted to be a dairy farmer all his life. “I’ve always wanted to do this, and I’m passionate about dairy farming. I don’t ever want to see it disappear completely.”
As the herd grows, the Hornstras have begun to outgrow the original 60-cow barn. They plan to build a barn for heifers and dry cows to support their growing herd and they’ll reclaim 40 acres of overgrown fields to grow more feed. Much of the farm’s current cropland is rented from the Town of Norwell’s open space conservation program.
The operation is also sustainable. Semi-solid manure is pumped through an underground pipe into a covered manure storage shed. The manure is then spread in the spring and fall on the 20 acres of corn and the 100 acres of hay fields.
John and Lauren Hornstra continue to expand their plans for Hornstra Farms. They have begun to experiment with making their own ice cream to better utilize excess cream. A farm store with adjacent ice cream shop will open in the near future and on scheduled visitation days, the Hornstras plan to share their beautiful property and their love of farming with the greater community.