“The Cows are Out! Two Decades on a Maine Dairy Farm,” by Trudy Chambers Price; Islandport Press; paperback, $15.95.

The cap on your milk bottle reads “100 percent Maine milk.” You may have not noticed that label as the milk flows into your morning coffee. Open a copy of Trudy Chamber Price’s memoir on Maine dairy farming, “The Cows are Out,” at the breakfast table. That label will then make you think of haying summer meadows, the first fiddlehead ferns, late-night calving and early morning milking.

Sipping that coffee, you might read the scene where Price is jumping up and down dressed only in her yellow nightie and Tingley farm boots. Flashlight in hand, Price is trying to herd her group of Holsteins back into the farmyard after a midnight fence break. A long “moo-oo-oo!” opens the chapter. She explains that that these particular “excited, high-pitched moos are different than the moos of confined cows” and that difference sent her running from her bed without stopping to get dressed.

Price’s memoir is a compilation of small scenes like this one from her 23 years on Craneland Farm in central Maine. What one takes away from reading the memoir is that she survived the endless work and financial pressures of farming by being constantly open to the wonderment of the land and the animals around her.

Losing the dairy farms

In earlier chapters, she describes her utter exhaustion during the years that she worked the farm while raising her two boys, running the house and holding down a full-time teaching job. Balancing that, she describes the joy of riding out early mornings through her fields bareback on her horse, Jud.

The memoir spans an important period in Maine farming.

In 1966, Trudy and her husband, Ron, took out an FHA loan for $50,000 to purchase an operating dairy farm. By the 1980s, the cost of farming had risen so drastically that a tractor alone could cost $75,000. The high cost of production has pushed an alarming number of small, family dairy farms out of business. In the 1960s, when Ron and Trudy became dairy farmers, there were close to 3,200 dairy farms in Maine. By the 1980s, when Trudy left Craneland Farm, that number was cut in half.

In 2003, the number of dairy farms had fallen to 395.

Price’s memoir personalizes these statistics. When she collapses in bed each night, knowing that everything that could be done for the animals, for the farm and for her boys was done, she also knows that the hard work does not earn a profit. As the memoir closes, her son Kyle has graduated from college, and he and his wife have come to work the farm alongside Trudy and Ron. Despite Kyle’s innovations on the farm and their combined labor, the farm cannot support two families as it would have in generations past. Kyle is forced to leave and take a job away from the farm.

You wish at some points in the memoir that Trudy would tell you more about how she felt about disappointments like this. After a chapter’s description of a fight she has with Ron, you wish for more details on their relationship.

What did they say together at the end of the day? But it is not that type of memoir. It is a memoir of mowed fields, stubborn cows, small triumphs and hard work. It was work she loved, surrounded by those she loved.

So, raise that coffee cup high and salute Trudy, her family and the Mainers who have kept the small dairy farm alive.

Kirsten Cappy is a bookseller in Portland.


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