cows in field

Introduction to Liz Bawden, the NOFA-NY Farmer of the Year, at the NOFA-NY Winter Conference, Syracuse, NY on January 20, 2024

By Mary-Howell Martens, Lakeview Organic Grain, Penn Yan, NY

Mary-Howell Martens, Lakeview Organic Grain, Penn Yan, NY

I have the pleasure of introducing Liz Bawden, long-time organic dairy farmer from Hammond, NY as the NOFA-NY Farmer of the Year. A native of Springfield, MA, Liz is not from a farming background. She worked throughout the US and Canada as an interpretive naturalist until she and her husband, Brian, bought a dairy farm in Hammond in 1999. They were first certified organic with NOFA-NY in 2000. Currently, they are 100% grass-fed, shipping milk to Maple Hill, and farming 1000 acres, milking 100 cows. Their adult son, Nathan is in the process of taking over management of the farm.

In addition to the daily work of dairy farming, Liz has been very involved in the organic dairy community through her leadership in the Northeast Organic Dairy Producers Alliance (NODPA) - the largest farmer-based organization of organic dairy producers, advocating for sustainable pay price; transparent, fair treatment of farmers; and protection of the integrity of organic regulations and principles.

Additionally, Liz was a member of the New York State Organic Dairy Task Force for many years and served on the NOFA-NY Board of Directors for 2 terms. She and her family have mentored numerous young and transitioning farmers, both through the NOFA-NY mentorship program and on a more casual basis.

Liz Bawden has served on the NODPA Board of Directors for many years, as Board President or Co-President for most of the time. She has been engaged in all aspects of NODPA, including writing two columns in the newsletter: Odairy Update and From the President’s Desk. She actively helps to edit the print and online newsletter, reliably spotting those elusive typos and misprints that others missed. She serves on the NODPA Field Days Organizing Committee and facilitates the Field Days educational program.

Nora Owens of NODPA says about Liz “Perhaps the most important thing Liz does is listen. She responds to many calls from producers who call for help and advice, to complain, or to present their worries. In turn, she greets everyone with kindness, good cheer, empathy (“Boy, I sure know what you mean!”), a hearty laugh, experience and real help (“I’ll give so-and-so a call and see what I can find out…). She brings the gossip, complaints, fears and knowledge back to the NODPA Board and staff so it all can be considered. It is this intimate knowledge of what is actually happening in the organic dairy community that keeps NODPA relevant and effective, and helps drive our mission to represent organic dairy farmers and their families.”

During the pandemic, when we NOFA-NY Board members hunkered down in front of zoom for our evening meetings, I always enjoyed seeing Liz sitting at her kitchen table, her face pink and hair tousled from having just come in from the dairy barn on a snowy North Country evening, chore boots, supper dishes and farmer-clutter evident in the background. All the stuff of a farm family, working together with their animals, doing a relentlessly demanding job in a challenging location.

Defined the best way I can describe Liz – AUTHENTIC.

Like me, Liz married into this farming life, this was not something she grew up with. Organic dairy farming is her chosen career and lifestyle, learned “from scratch” as an adult. This is not a simple thing, for dairy farming is a very difficult way to make a living.

Liz has actively embraced the hard work of dairy farming, the community of farmers, and the advocacy of organic integrity with commitment, endurance, knowledge, and good humor.

For many years, Liz Bawden truly has been there faithfully for the organic dairy community - listening, representing, and working for the good of us all.

Of course it is important to be a good farmer, which is why we are all here this weekend.

But it is more important to be a good person – and Liz Bawden is that.

Congratulations, Liz.