Fred Hardy has always known what he wanted to do

NEW SHARON – Fred Hardy grew up and lived in poverty, but says he didn’t realize it because nobody told him so. He was interested in becoming a dairy farmer at a young age and pursued it.

Though his dairy herd is gone now, the work ethic remains and he continues to lead an active life fighting for dairy farmers, as well as overseeing county business. He also continues to cut wood and help his son, on occasion, do haying.

Hardy, wearing a flannel shirt and red suspenders attached to green work pants, sat at his kitchen table overlooking a field of green grass. Across the room, another window overlooked a field, not so green, with some scattered hay escaped from a hay ring and some bare trees in the orchard.

Hardy joked that he should “have been a total failure,” what with his parents divorcing in 1939 when he was 9 and with growing up poor. He stayed with his dad, who remarried. Hardy and his new siblings moved to East Wilton while his biological, younger brother went with his mother to Waterville with her family.

Help in high school

From the age of 5, Hardy had wanted to be a dairy farmer. He worked as a farmhand as a young boy, continuing to do so as he grew older. He took a four-year course of agriculture while attending Wilton Academy. He shook his head, as he talked about how they don’t teach those courses in high school now. Farmers represent about 2 percent of the population, Hardy said, but they want everybody to learn about computers and other things. Only about one-third of the people knows where their food comes from, he said.

“It’s a fact; it’s sad,” he said. He wondered aloud about what will happen when the farmers are gone and U.S. has to purchase all food from foreign countries.

Hardy and his late wife, Phyllis, bought their farm in 1960, on Perham Hill, now called Weeks Mills Road. By the time the couple finished, they owned 275 acres touching three towns.

“I think the thing with farming is you really have to have a desire to farm,” Hardy said. “It’s a tremendous amount of work.”

He worked at Farmington Shoe for 17 years, until he was 47, to help put food on the table while farming cattle on the side. He started with about six calves and eventually grew the herd to 75 registered Holsteins, about 35 of those milkers. He sold milk commercially to four different companies over his career. His oldest son bought the herd and operation in 1992 but sold it due to ill health in 2001.

Hardy reflected fondly on his wife, who was his best friend and companion for nearly 52 years before she died two years ago of lung cancer. She was an integral part of the farm’s success.

It took teamwork

“Phyllis was a big part,” he said. “It’s what a wife is willing to go without. Any money we got the first 15 years was plowed back into the farm. We raised a garden. She was the one who had to can the food and take care of the kids.”

In order for a farmer to be successful, he said, it’s essential to have a wife who is understanding and certainly willing to be part of it.

His black and white border collie, Pepper, 13, stirred from her nap under the table as he talked about farming. It’s hard work, he said, but it has its rewards.

Hardy, who didn’t shy away from civic duty, worked his way up to Franklin County commissioner, a position he’s held for 10 years.

These days, Hardy keeps a calendar in the kitchen and a datebook in his pocket to keep track of his appointments. He recently returned from a trip to Washington, D.C., to discuss reinstating a dairy compact to aid dairy farmers in the Northeast. He’s raising money for cancer and belongs to numerous social service, conservation and agricultural organizations.

“No question, I’m extremely busy,” Hardy said. “Either that I’m slowing down like hell.”

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