GORHAM – At 4 a.m. on Tuesday and with 60 Holstein cows waiting, Eddie Benson was troubleshooting the vacuum component of the milking system at his dairy barn in Gorham.

Handling the emergency repairs himself, Benson said the closest technician with knowledge of vacuum systems was in Skowhegan. Adversity has been no stranger. Two years ago, a large barn at the farm was flattened the day a tornado cut a swath through Gorham. But, Benson and his wife, Becki, rebuilt.

It’s all been part of the long tradition of milking cows at Benson Farm.

“We’ve been in production 24 hours for 365 days for 95 years,” Benson said Tuesday. “The cows are producing 24 hours a day.”

Today, Benson Farm has survived as one of only four, active dairy farms left in Gorham – the town once had 50 dairy farms. Benson, 56, is the third generation at the farm his grandfather, Ed Young, founded in 1918. Now, Benson and his wife, Becki Benson, carry on the family’s commitment to dairying.

“You have to make a lot of sacrifices to live this lifestyle,” Becki Benson said.

Their dedication was recognized earlier this fall when the farm received the New England Green Pastures Award as the outstanding dairy farm of the year in Maine.

“It’s a great honor,” Eddie Benson said.

The New England Green Pastures Committee and state university cooperative extensions sponsor the award. Benson said Glenn Wildes, a retired cooperative dairy specialist in Maine, nominated them for the award.

The Bensons received the award in September at The Big E, the Eastern States Exposition, in Springfield, Mass. Walter Whitcomb, commissioner of Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry, was on hand for the presentation.

Wildes said on Wednesday a committee of five previous Maine winners selected Benson Farm.

Criteria for the award includes a quality dairy herd, feeding program, and land stewardship.

“I would like to congratulate the Benson Farm as the recent recipient of the Green Pastures Award,” Ben Hartwell, a new Gorham town councilor and Cumberland County Farm Bureau president, said this week. “While the dairy industry has seen a trend of fewer and larger farms, the Benson Farm has hung in there, keeping farmland productive and available for future generations.”

Wildes said Benson’s father had received a similar award.

His father and mother, Alton and Katherine Benson, were awarded the Governor’s Trophy in 1967, and Becki Benson said she’s proud of his parents’ accomplishments. Katherine Benson is 86.

Eddie Benson graduated from Gorham High School in 1975 and Becki Benson, 1984. They have three children – Kati King, who lives in Gorham; Erica Benson, who has a business degree and works in Boston; and Eben Benson, a junior studying history and political science at the University of Massachusetts.

Counting baby calves, heifers and dry cows, Benson Farm has 140 registered Holsteins, a herd Wildes called “outstanding.”

Last year, Benson Farm had the supreme champion cow at Fryeburg Fair – “one of the bigger shows in the Northeast,” Eddie Benson said.

The Benson cows produce 1.6 million pounds of milk annually for Oakhurst Dairy. With Benson Farm cows weighing up to 2,200 pounds each, plenty of chow is needed.

The Bensons work 300 acres, and crops to feed the cattle include 75 acres of corn in addition to alfalfa and clover.

“We lease a lot of land from other farms,” Benson said.

Through the years, Benson Farm has diversified. “Much of their success can be credited to their willingness to change with the times and diversify their farm income,” Hartwell said.

Besides shipping milk, Benson Farm has marketed its purebred stock in Lancaster, Pa., Newfoundland and in Canada. The Bensons have sold embryos, produced from their cows, through a broker for breeders in European countries and Japan.

Becki Benson said the embryo process involves non-surgically removing a fertile egg from a cow, placed in a straw and frozen in liquid nitrogen to be shipped out.

“The United States has high quality genetics,” she said.

Diversification has also included a compost business, marketing its product, “Surf N Turf,” that blends cow manure with seafood. Eddie Benson said their product is approved for use on certified organic crops.

In addition to keeping the dairy herd records, Becki Benson oversees the compost business, marketing their product to garden centers, and at the farm to customers with pickup trucks. The farm delivers large amounts.

Benson Farm has four full-time employees and two or three part-timers.

The farm has persevered, weathering the years and an unforgettable storm. In a story about a tornado that struck Gorham, the American Journal reported in July 2010 that “a pregnant cow and a calf were crushed” when one of Benson’s barns collapsed. But eight cows were rescued.

This week, the Bensons recalled the dilemma. “I had to find a home for calves and pregnant cows,” he said.

They rebuilt and he praised the community for its outpouring of help.

A CLOSER LOOK

For more information about the farm, visit www.bensonfarm.com The farm can be reached at 892-6446.

Farmers Eddie and Becki Benson of Gorham are winners of this year’s New England Green Pastures Award. The cow at the left is Dolly, supreme champion at Fryeburg Fair last year.Dairy farmers Eddie and Becki Benson of Gorham were presented the silver trophy pitcher, right, as winners of this year’s Green Pastures Award. It sits next to the one his parents won in 1967 at the same farm.


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