This blog was the winning entry in Alltech's My Favorite Farmer Contest. We are so proud of graduate student Melissa Woolpert who won a trip to Alltech's REBELation Week in KY in May, 2015 in addition to bragging rights.
Agricultural practices have made countless improvements over the last few centuries. Today, the average American farmer produces enough food to feed 155 people. In the 1960s, one farmer could feed just 26 people. This improvement is paired with a reduction in farm land, fewer resources used to produce the food, and a smaller environmental footprint. All of this would not be possible without the contribution of farmers who have come before us. One farmer in particular, William Miner, contributed substantially to the future of agriculture, and his legacy lives on today.
William Henry Miner was born in 1862 in Juneau, Wisconsin. He was orphaned at a young age and sent to live with his aunt and uncle at the family farm in Chazy, New York. When William turned 18, he moved west and found employment in the railroad industry. When William was still in his 20s, he designed and patented a rail car spring draft rigging that vastly reduced damage to rail car frames by absorbing concussion during hitching. William’s design was used across the country, and he earned a fortune for his invention.
In 1903, shortly after his 41st birthday, William and his wife Alice returned to the family farm, which they named Heart’s Delight Farm. Upon his return, Heart’s Delight Farm was only 144 acres. William poured his heart and soul into the farm, expanding it into one of the largest food producing centers of the early 1900s.
A man before his time, William was also concerned with soil health and conservation. The crops he grew were challenged by wet, poorly drained soils. William adapted tile drainage, a practice of burying small clay cylinders deep under the soil to help transport excess water out of the fields. Tile drainage is still practiced today and has greatly increased the sustainability of crop production nationwide.
William Miner’s animals lived in electrically lit barns before electricity was available in most urban homes. By 1914, the farm beat the national average yield in almost every crop. Heart’s Delight yield averaged 97 bushels of oats/acre, while the nation averaged only 30 bushels of oats/acre. In 1918, William Miner’s farm consisted of 300 buildings, 6 hydroelectric power houses, and employed about 800 people. That year, farm tapped 12,000 sugar maples, picked 50,000 quarts of blueberries, shipped 25,000 lb of sausage, hatched 35,000 chicks, and housed: 4,000 laying hens, 200 beef cattle, 100 dairy cows, 1,500 sheep, 1,200 pigs, and over 500,000 brook trout.
It goes without saying that William Miner was an outstanding farmer. His legacy lives on at the William H. Miner Agricultural Research Institute, located in the footprint of the original Heart’s Delight Farm. The farm milks 380 registered Holstein cows and ships over 4,000 gallons of milk to a local cheese plant every day. In addition to the dairy, Miner Institute hosts students of all ages for events ranging from day long farm tours to yearlong agricultural internships. Miner Institute is also home to several dairy and environmental scientists who research ways to improve and support the future of agriculture, consistent with William Miner’s vision of the farm.
William Miner understood the need to feed the world long before it was trendy to be concerned with the growing population. William Miner recognized the importance of environmental conservation decades before it became a hot button topic. While there are countless other important farmers in the Northeast that also deserve recognition, I truly believe that most have been influenced by William Miner’s legacy. Maybe they use tile drainage, or maybe they made improvements on their own farms based on recommendations from Miner Institute. Just like William Miner, today’s farmers produce nutritious food because they are passionate about agriculture, their land, and the success of the future generations. William Miner is my favorite farmer because he was a leader, an innovator, and a forward-thinking man whose significant contributions to society over a century ago live on in the spirit and passion of agriculture today.