The Elmer Richards & Sons Farm
Looking out at the hundreds of acres that make up the Elmer Richards and Sons Farm, Craig Richards is thankful. Richards and his brother, Jim, have made lifelong careers out of farming their land, and raising dairy cows just as their father did years ago. Every day is a busy day for the Skaneateles dairy farmers. And as far as Craig Richards is concerned, that’s a good thing. His determination and will to keep the farm growing, along with his brother, Jim, and their families has made their farm one of the largest dairy producers in Onondaga County for Byrne Dairy.
Life on the Elmer Richards and Sons farm, located on more than 2,000 acres of rich upstate New York land, is full of hard work, family ties, dedication, and a good sense of humor. On a given morning, Richards will joke with his employees about their grandsons being put to work – even if they are only six years old.
The Elmer Richards and Sons Farm joined Byrne Dairy in the 1980s. One of the driving motivations of working with Byrne Dairy is that milk goes to a local, well-known market. The Richards also like that Byrne Dairy is a high-quality, family owned company. “Back then as a farmer, you were always dealing with a Byrne, so it made sense to partner with them,” Craig said.
Working with the Byrne family today, according to Craig, means being on the forefront of milk production technology, getting a reliable and competitive price for milk, and, simply, “they produce great milk.” His family will only drink Byrne Dairy milk.
In the 1950s when Elmer Richards and his wife, both Cornell University grads, chose to start a dairy farm, they were able to support their family with 18 stalls. But as the families grew and dairy economics changed, the Richards family chose to expand. They liked the challenge of running one of the largest dairy farms in Central New York. “Dad,” Craig says wistfully, “had a vision that lead the farm to where it is today.”
There are now enough stalls for about 1,110 cows. And a Byrne Dairy truck is at the farm daily picking up the 70,000 pounds of fresh milk from those cows.
Though quantity means a lot in this family, the true emphasis is on quality, from the health of the cows to the way the children are raised. Craig talks freely about the quality of life in the country, and is happy he is able to work alongside his wife, Rhonda, and their three boys. “In most farm families the spouses are a driving force, or at least an active partner on the farm,” Craig says. Craig’s mother raised four children on the property under shady maple trees and amongst brightly colored gardens, while his father worked with Craig and Jim following close behind. Even when Craig was young he knew he would work on the farm, “There was never, ever a doubt in my mind.”
A Family Legacy
When Elmer Richards died, the family was hit hard. But Jim and Craig knew they had to keep the farm going. The brothers still find themselves asking on occasion, “What would Dad do?” when making decisions about the farm.
Keeping the farm in the family is important to Craig, though he can’t say for certain which of his sons will want the full-time life of being a dairy farmer. Jim’s son, Christopher Richards, a recent graduate from Cornell University, is fully employed on the farm and plays a large role in keeping the family farm going strong.
For now, Craig’s youngest son, who is still in high school, will work on occasion, and another son, Eric, shows up to work when he’s on break from his studies at Cortland State University. “I can see myself teaching during the day and working on the farm in the off hours,” Eric says. When he was younger it was tough not always getting to hang out with friends, but “you learn in the long run, it’s worth it.” And with a Richards family smile, Eric is off to work.