The Brach Dairy
By Shawn Dell Joyce
There aren’t many men like Harrison Brach left here in Montgomery. In fact, there aren’t that many dairy farmers left in all of Orange County. According to Cornell Cooperative Extension, there are only 43 dairy farms left in this once mainly agricultural county.
Brach is a dedicated dairyman who, at 81, still gets up early every morning in all seasons and all weather to milk his cows. He’s been at it for more than 40 years.
Brach was born in Newburgh to an English mother and a father who aspired to be a dairyman on an estate farm. It was Harrison Brach’s father, in 1941 around the outbreak of World War II, who first purchased what would come to be called the Brach farm. Unfortunately, he later sold it, and his son Harrison had to buy it back – something he accomplished with a grand total of $400 in his pocket.
Brach tells me all this as we sit on lawn chairs outside his milking parlor on a day of 93-degree heat. He shows me a photo of a cute young boy with a big green tractor. It’s him at age 7. He leans close to me and cackles: “If you told me then that I’d be a dairy farmer now, I’d say no way. I never dreamt I’d be here.”
A fire in 1979 sealed his fate. The barns burned and all the old farm equipment was destroyed. Brach brought his children and wife Esther together to discuss what to do. The family committed to rebuilding and modernizing the farm, adding the milking parlor and several pieces of other machinery.
“If it wasn’t for my family, I wouldn’t be here,” Brach says of his brood of six children, 11 grandchildren, and 5 great grandchildren as he sits back contentedly. “I’ve been blessed.”
Indeed he has, as Brach’s Dairy became one of the more profitable farms in the area. The old dairyman chalks it up to the fact that he doesn’t feed corn to his cows. Instead, he feeds them mainly alfalfa, which results in healthier cows producing richer milk.
Brach’s daughter Dawn joins us, and wonders aloud why young farmers don’t come and study how her family has streamlined their operation. We agree that there really aren’t any young farmers interested in dairy.
Dawn notes that only she among her siblings showed interest in the farm. She worked beside her father for many years, hoping to take over the farm one day but found she couldn’t do it by herself.
What does the future hold? Harrison Brach suffered a mild heart attack two weeks ago and I can’t help wonder how long he’s going to keep up with the rigors of the job and how long Orange County will be home to the few dairy farms we still have.
“I’m going to work until the very end,” Brach says. “I don’t have to do this, I want to do this. This is the good life.”