Maine Farmcast Episode 05: 2023 Maine Dairy Farm of the Year with Heath Miller

On this episode of the Maine Farmcast, Dr. Glenda Pereira, Assistant Extension Professor and State Dairy Specialist for the University of Maine Cooperative Extension, has an on-farm conversation with Heath Miller. Heath and his family were awarded the 2023 Maine Dairy farm of the year and New England Green Pastures Winner for the state of Maine. The Green Pastures program began in 1947, when New Hampshire’s then-governor Charles Dale bet that his state had greener pastures than anywhere else in New England. For 76 years, the Green Pastures program has recognized one extraordinary dairy farm in each state. The GreenValle Farm began when the Miller’s settled in Newburgh, Maine, in the mid-1850s.

Episode Resources


Glenda Pereira: 00:18

Welcome to The Maine Farmcast. I am your host, Dr. Glenda Pereira, an assistant extension professor and dairy specialist for the University of Maine Cooperative Extension and an assistant professor within the School of Food and Ag at the University of Maine. This episode is being released during June dairy month. So this month, we celebrate all things dairy.

In today’s episode, we will be talking with Heath Miller who is a co owner of GreenValle Farm in Newburgh, Maine. Heath and his family are the 2023 Maine Dairy Farm of the Year as well as the green pastures winner for the state of Maine. The New England green pastures program begin in 1947 when New Hampshire governor Charles Dale pronounced the following words, I challenged the other New England states to produce better pastures than New Hampshire. 75 years later, this program has involved selecting hundreds of dedicated farmers and farm families and recognizing them yearly at the Eastern States Exposition in Springfield. So today, I have the pleasure to sit with Keith Miller who is one of the owners of the GreenValle Farm in Newburgh, Maine.

Heath, can you please let us know how long you have been a dairy farmer for?

Heath Miller: 01:47

So, I’ve been a dairy farmer since I was able to walk. I’ve been on the farm, constantly, since I was, able to get into the barn and milk cows. And, I was full time, you know, I was in my twenties. And we were only milking 40, 50 cows at that time and we’ve grown the farm. Now we’re milking 240 cows. So 35 years, I would say.

Glenda Pereira: 02:16

Awesome. And you have some newer generation on the farm. So what’s the current generation?

Heath Miller: 02:22

So currently, my dad is still on the farm. And then, of course, I’m on the farm and, I have twin, children, Ethan and Makayla, who are both on the farm here at least this summer, after returning for the summer from school. So

Glenda Pereira: 02:38

So they are the

Heath Miller: 02:40

They would be the 6th generation. Awesome. Yeah. So,

Glenda Pereira: 02:52

how did you choose to diversify into what you are currently doing? So namely, it’s predominantly beef.

Heath Miller: 02:58


Glenda Pereira: 02:59

You do some sales of manure compost.

Heath Miller: 03:02

Yeah. Yeah. So it’s just kind of something that we didn’t really think about diversifying, and and it’s could go a lot further. When pandemic began, there was that shift away from producing as much milk as you could to what how do we make more money without producing more milk. So, we started breeding some of our cows to cross bred to Angus, and raise those calves. And so, you know, probably 15 months after the pandemic, so in 2 thousand the late 2021, we started marketing wholes and haves locally, and we sell a little bit, in our farm stand. And and that could we could do so much more with that. I think it’s something that all farms could do a little bit of. If we could all sell our neighbors a few wholes and haves, there’s a market there for everybody. We’re really not in competition with farms that are so spread out that we could all sell 20, 30 a year and and and give us a little niche market.

Glenda Pereira: 04:02

Yeah. And I think there’s room in in Maine, like you mentioned. There’s a lot of ways to diversify. I mean, there’s a lot of opportunity because we do have people that are interested in, you know, consuming products from their local farms, so there’s always that opportunity. And I think there is that support from your community to be able to sustain this market.

Heath Miller: 04:20

Yeah. People really love to be able to drive by the farm that they believe their food came from. And, you know, we don’t really know when we go to the grocery store exactly where that food comes from. So if you can actually go to the farm or talk to the farmer before you buy that food, people really love that.

Glenda Pereira: 04:34

Yeah. Making connections. Yeah. Can you give us sort of a 30,000 foot view of what the main dairy industry looks like?

Heath Miller: 04:44

Yeah. So so we have around 20 to 24,000 cows roughly in the state of Maine, dairy cows, producing about £550,000,000 a year. Most of that milk is going, conventionally, it’s going to Oakhurst or Hoods. Some of it’s going to the, old garlic plant in Massachusetts. And then, organically, there’s some milk that’s going to Stonyfield, in in New Hampshire.

Glenda Pereira: 05:10

What excites you about this industry?

Heath Miller: 05:14

Well, I I think it’s I think that the industry is gonna be changing in the next 10 years. We’re seeing rapid change, consolidation, which isn’t always good, but you have to, take what’s what we’re dealt with. And, you know, I think a lot of farms will will grow whether that’s diversifying or getting bigger. I think it’s I think it’s exciting that we in Maine can feed Maine people, and I think it’s important that we that we stress that that we need food in Maine, because we’re at the end of the United States. We can’t bring in food from Canada as easily as we can bring it in from the United States, but we don’t wanna bring food in from the rest of the country. So I think it’s I think it’s, you know, exciting in Maine that I think the majority of Maine people realize that we need food in Maine. So I think it’s it’s exciting to see that we can provide that food.

Glenda Pereira: 06:06

Yeah. And you’re right. We not only have the ability to, you know, sustain the market here in Maine, but we also actually produce a lot of fluid milk for the Greater Boston area too, which is kind of neat because that’s obviously got a lot of you know, it’s it’s a big US city. It’s got a lot of, it’s got a big population, and we’re able to sustain that with, milk that’s made here in Maine.

Heath Miller: 06:25

Well, and we see our cities growing geographically. They they’re growing further and further. So you obviously can’t milk cows in the city. So I think that’s an advantage for Maine and Vermont and New Hampshire, that we are still rural enough that we can Produce forage. Produce forage. Yeah.

Glenda Pereira: 06:43

Yep. What skills did you learn that helped you succeed in your role as a dairy farmer?

Heath Miller: 06:49

Well, I think the biggest thing that we dairy farmers do is we just work really hard. And, you know, sometimes that’s the only way to get through something. You know, labor’s, really expensive. Not a lot of folks wanna do this. So sometimes during, you know, key times of the year, sometimes you just have to work really hard and you have to work really smart, I think. You’re not able to just get up in the morning and go do something and and not really have a a focus. Sometimes I get my focus at, like, midnight. And, so I think it’s important that you, you know, really wake up and and go with a with a drive and, a focus in a day. Yeah.

Glenda Pereira: 07:31

The thing that I noticed is you’re able to adapt. Right? Something breaks down, we still gotta get that forage harvested somehow. We’re gonna work around it. You know, something in the parlor might break down. You’re gonna take something, you know, pull something together that day and then, you know, get through that and then, eventually fix it. But you I I think a word that I would describe dairy farmers is adaptable and resilient.

Heath Miller: 07:55

Yeah. Yeah. I would say I mean, a friend of mine once asked me, how do you know how to fix this? Well, lots times I don’t know how to fix this, but we don’t have any choice. And we’ve milked cows on this farm 2 times every single day. And to my knowledge, we’ve never missed a day since, you know, the forties fifties when we had mechanized milking equipment. And sometimes that you have to tie it together with bail and wire and keep going, but you have to milk the cow. The cow has to be milked. And, that’s not always the case, especially in today’s climate. You know, people work 4 days a week and 8 hours a day. And if something breaks, they may not even work that 8 hours, but we have to.

Glenda Pereira: 08:30

Right. Yeah. Yeah. What advice would you give to new and beginning farmers that are entering the industry?

Heath Miller: 08:40

I think with with dairy farmers especially, I think you need to partner with somebody, whether that’s a family member or somebody that needs a family member. There’s a lot of farmers that are around that, you know, that their children don’t wish to participate, but they wanna see that farm go on. And they’re not looking to, you know, retire with 1,000,000 of dollars, but they would they would work with younger folks to, be able to keep the farmer going. Yeah. Yeah.

Glenda Pereira: 09:06

And do you have a skill or a free tool that you might use every day to share with other farmers that can help improve their bottom line?

Heath Miller: 09:14

Oh, I I don’t know that I have any one skill. If I had any one skill, I probably wouldn’t be a farmer. But I I think it’s the ability to take a whole bunch of skills and and put them together to, you know, run the whole farm and, you know, take care of a few employees, make sure that the cows are all fed probably. You have to you know, so there’s so many different things. I wouldn’t I wouldn’t say that any one skill. If you, you know, you couldn’t be successful if you only had that one skill.

Glenda Pereira: 09:41

Yeah. Well, awesome. How can folks, reach out to you? So are they able to find you on social media or that way?

Heath Miller: 09:51

We do we do have a, a Facebook page, Green Valley Farm Facebook page. So that’s Green Valley Farm in Newburgh, Maine. And, we we spell Valley, V-A-L-L-E. I call it Valley, but we spell it Vale. But yeah. So that’s how you can reach out, and, we’d love to talk to anybody that wants to talk.

Glenda Pereira: 10:11

Yeah. Well, thank you so much, and congratulations again for being the 2023 Maine Dairy Farmer of the Year.

Heath Miller: 10:18

Thank you.

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