May 18, 2011

This Land is Their Land

Phil Ferdinando’s grandson, Mason, tries his hand at feeding the cattle.

Union Leader Correspondent
DERRY -- Phil Ferdinando steps back from the barn where his yearling steers are under the spell of his 4-year-old grandson, Mason.
The pint-sized farmer-in-training towers over his bovine minions, having scaled the barn railing.
“Watch,” he says to no one in particular, banging his small fist on the metal bar. Although it doesn’t make a sound, Mason swears the young cows hear it, and obey.
“Grampa, your cows are staring at me,” he says, about to climb down the railing and run for a third handful of long grass, which is key to keeping them eating out of the palm of his hand, in more ways than one.
“I thought they were your cows,” says Ferdinando, the permanent wrinkles on his sunworn face growing deeper with his smile. 
"Farmer Phil" spreads another row of plastic for crop protection.
This has been the family farm for more than a century, founded by Ferdinando’s grandparents in 1906. Making sure it remains in the family for at least a few generations more is what keeps Ferdinando moving forward. 
Plowing and planting is only a fraction of what it takes to run a modern-day farm. 
In addition to his farm stand, and regular local deliveries to retailers, the farm is on the Web now. Ferdinando’s three daughters are constantly 

promoting produce, eggs, beef, chicken 
and pork products on Facebook. Selling at weekly farm markets, which took off last summer, will continue this season, not only in Derry, but in Salem and Plaistow, as well. 
 Phil Ferdinando with grandson, Mason, who Ferdinando
 hopes will one day carry on the family farm business.
And next weekend, J&F Farms will host the first annual 5K for FFA, a cross-country run/walk fundraiser for the New Hampshire Chapter of Future Farmers of America. 
“They approached us about having the race here, and we thought it would be a great way to promote the farm,” said Amanda Ferdinando, who, at 23, has fully embraced her place as a third-generation Derry farmer. 
“What better place to have a race for the Future Farmers of America? It’s a gorgeous setting, and we will have the farm stand open, and our petting farm. This is the future of farming. Everything’s changing. Just look at the whole buy local, eat local thing,” she said. 
In New Hampshire there are more than 800 FFA members. 
Nationally, there are more than half a million kids excited about the future of farming, said Debbi Cox, N.H. FFA secretary. 
“In other parts of the country, FFA is hugely popular. 
They wear their FFA jackets like other kids wear their football jackets. We’re not as well-known here, so we’re trying to promote agriculture education and help make the group more visible,” Cox said. 
“Truly, the face of farming has changed.” 
That’s not all that’s changing. As an industry, farming is no longer just about keeping chickens in their coops and crops clear of caterpillars. 
It is entrenched in technology, and today requires a farmer to approach his work as part science, part art form. 
Cox said both her daughters joined FFA through Pinkerton Academy. Both went on to serve as state chapter presidents. 
And both have found a niche in agriculture, career paths they never would have considered without FFA. 
“One of my daughters graduated from UNH with a degree in agricultural communications and then accepted an internship with Disney, as a conservation education presenter. Now, she’s working full time at Disney in Environmental Initiatives. 
My other daughter went in a different direction. She’s currently attending Manchester Community College to get her associate’s degree in welding — she got turned on to farm mechanics at the national convention and is really excited about her future,” Cox said. 
Her daughters reflect the national trend toward agribusiness, which includes biotechnology, agricultural mechanics, horticulture and agricultural education. 
Established in 1928 as FFA, the organization eventually changed its name to National FFA Organization to reflect the expanding definition of farming, said Cox. 
“Membership in the organization nationally was declining for a while, but in the past six years or so, the numbers are up. I believe nationally, we are at record membership right now — and growing,” Cox said. 
On Ferdinando’s farm, it’s the farmer’s daughters who are elevating the operation to farming 2.0. 
“These girls are doing a great job, and that’s the whole idea, to make the farm viable for the next generation. They do everything different from the way I did it — mainly, it’s the communication with customers. They are finding more ways to connect with the public, through the farmer’s markets and here at the farm stand,” Ferdinando said. 
“And it’s not just about the farmers. There are bakeries and maple producers; small businesses struggling to get their products out there. That’s what will keep us all going, working together and supporting each other,” Ferdinando said. 
Advance registration for the May 21 5K for FFA is $12 and officially closes May 13. After that date, the cost is $15. Onsite registration at J&F Farms, 120 Chester Road in Derry, begins at 8:45 a.m. on race day. Forms can be downloaded online from
For more information, contact Cox at 

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