“I just developed a passion for it,” 22-year-old farmer Mr. David Jellen, says of farming, “I’ve always known I wanted to farm.” Overseeing Sherman’s Happy Acres Farm, Jellen has been featured in a new Connecticut Public Television series titled A Path Forward that highlights young adults who are following unique career paths.
“He’s got a farmer’s soul,” First Selectman Mr. Don Lowe says in the short film. Working sun up to sun down and beyond, Jellen says that managing Happy Acres, which involves maintaining 20 dairy cows, 9 pigs, and 3 calves, in addition to growing fields of hay and vegetables, is “a dream come true.”
A lifelong pursuit, Jellen learned throughout childhood to milk cows and drive tractors from his cousins in upstate New York. He took those early experiences and applied them to studies in the agriscience program at Nonnewaug High School, which he credits for so many of his skills. The program opened a number of connections and opportunities for Jellen, who found inspiration in their teachings and in competing nationally for the school.
Remarkably mature beyond his years, Jellen started to build his herd as a junior in high school, taking care of the cows before and after school each day, beginning a pattern of milking cows daily, every 12 hours that continues today. In our interview he described a busy 5 years following the purchase of the first two cows with more cows being purchased each year, supported by part-time jobs and by trading labor for pasture space. “Cow management is one of the most important parts of my life” Jellen said. He disregards the heavy time commitment to the process, saying “I don’t think twice about it.” A combination of remarkably hardworking and laid back, Jellen describes rolling with any occurrence on the farm, from pigs getting out to crop failures, simply putting it down to needing “to love farming.”
In a world of increasing big-agra usurping small farms, Jellen describes a need to be creative and find balance. He explained that the industries systems–one that supported 22 area dairy farms in the mid-1900s–has broken down for small farmers. For example, he shares that his milk production is too small for dairy trucks to be willing to pick up and his herd is too small for feed to get dropped off. In reaction he has begun to make Happy Acres more sustainable, from feeding the milk to the pigs to create milk-fed pork to sell to growing fields of vegetables that support an active farm stand. Jellen uses natural practices at the farm, while turning to conventional methods where needed.
Jellen is pragmatic about the future of independent farmers saying “I don’t think anybody truly knows what the future of agriculture will bring,” but he is hopeful. In an ideal world he sees himself starting to bottle milk in the future, when there is money to create an infrastructure and bring in help. Regardless, he knows that there are a host of mentors who are rooting him on, such as Beatty Construction, who lend him excavators and brush mowers; farmer Mr. Dick McGoldrick, who is a former boss that has taught him so much; and many teachers at Nonnewaug with whom he in still in touch, especially the agriscience program’s recently retired director, Mr. Bill Davenport.
“A year ago, our Board of Selectman made a new plan for Happy Acres, which is a town-owned farm. Our goal was to make the farm look like it did when Tony Hapanowich owned it for 85 years, to bring back agriculture, and to eventually make it accessible to the public for events and visits.” Lowe said of the farm, going on to say of the film, “We are extremely fortunate to have David Jellen as the farm manager and I think this feature puts that clearly on display. He’s a terrific young man.” While Jellen says plainly that he is “just so grateful that the town gave me the opportunity to be here.”
You can find the film on CPTV’s website, ctpublic.org/american-graduate-getting-to-work/.
By Sarah Opdahl