Seven generations of farmers
by Don Eno, Reporter
Aug 02, 2012 | 374 views | 0 0 comments | 5 5 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Parent family slideshow
- SJVT photo / Don Eno
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July 25 edition: HAMLIN - Gerard Parent, 87, said it was the early 1980s when he last planted and harvested potatoes as the main farm owner, although up until 10 years ago he had continued to help out on the family farm located in Hamlin.

By that time his son Rudy had taken over, and the hard work put in by Rudy and six other generations was recognized Friday evening, when the Maine Potato Board present Rudy and his wife Dinah with the 2012 Farm Family of the Year award at the annual industry dinner.

The old homestead, where Gerard was born, was located just down the road from where he now lives in Hamlin. That old house and barn are no longer there, although the land is still farmed by a Parent, another of Gerard's sons, Bill.

Parent, along with Rudy and Dinah, took some time late last week at their homes to share some thoughts about more than a century and half of farming, as well as the recent award.

The elder Parent began running the farm shortly after getting married at the age of 20, he said, eventually buying the farm from his father.

Holding back some tears, Gerard added that he lost "the light of his life" when his wife of 66 years, Isabel, passed away last fall. Isabel, whose father was a carpenter, grew up in St. Leonard, New Brunswick, Gerard said, but moved to Van Buren as a young woman.

The two would raise eight children over the years, all the while building a farm business that is still strong today, even though it has seen many changes since then.

Gerard recalls his father having different kinds of animals on the farm over the years. Some, like cattle, chickens and pigs were for food, but the horses were for working.

"I remember taking care of the horses when I was young," said Gerard. Part of that job was cleaning out the manure from the barn, which would be used as fertilizer for the crop fields.

"It was one of those jobs we really didn’t like to do," he said, although he added it got better once a mechanized manure spreader came on the scene.

"My dad's first tractor was bought with two other farmers," Gerard said. That first Farmall was used for harrowing and would be brought from farm to farm as needed.

"Tractors were scare, they had to be shared," he added.

When asked if farming has gotten any easier over the last seven generations, the older Parent gave it a bit of consideration before answering.

"It's not as strenuous nowadays. But mentally it's probably worse. I couldn't take it now," Parent said. "A lot has changed, oh golly."

Gerard recalls a time when his father would plant potatoes with a horse and a one-row planter.

"It's totally changed nowadays," he said.

Among the modern changes that newer generations have brought to the farm are bigger tractors and sprayers and an irrigation system, installed just a few years ago.

Rudy's father said keeping the farm in the family was important to him.

"It was always the intention. My father sold it to me, and I'm glad it was able to keep going," he said, although he does not think there was any pressure to do so, and some of his children would go on to have careers in education and other non-farming fields.

Gerard Parent said farming has been "great" for him over these many years.

"We've been able to survive, that's the main thing. It's been up and down. But the good years help you forget about the bad ones," he said.

As for the thing he is most proud of as a farmer in the St. John Valley for all these years, Gerard is quick to say, "Having such a great family."

Parent said of his son Rudy's family being honored at the recent Maine Potato Board dinner, "Its great. Well placed, well deserved.”

Rudy and Dinah's oldest son Jamie runs the farming operation these days. Rudy, who is now 60 and in what he refers to as "semi-retirement," is still involved quite a bit on the farm.

His father offered an opinion on retiring, which Rudy agreed with. "It's hard to quit all at once," Gerard said.

"We're quite honored and surprised," Rudy said about receiving the farm family award.

"It's an honor for the whole family," Dinah added.

The couple said that all of their four children worked on the farm while growing up, although only Jamie and Nick remain actively involved in the operation today.

"Our daughters (Heather and Michelle) come back at harvest to smell the soil," Dinah said.

"Growing up here taught them how to work hard, and what it means to work towards something," Rudy added, values that he said have been of value to his children in all aspects of their lives.

The couple is very aware of the family’s farming heritage and connection to the Valley, and is happy that another generation is continuing it into the future.

"So in a hundred years people can say, 'It's been another five generations,'" Rudy said.

In 1846 the first Parent in the family was giving a land grant in the Hamlin area, they said. Those early years involved a lot of hard work, clearing the land and establishing homes, the couple said.

"Boy oh boy, they worked a lot harder than us," Rudy said.

In the 1940s there were 43 farmers in the Hamlin area, Rudy said, which he said is a lot fewer than today.

For the Parents, the link to farming in the area goes back seven generations, beginning with Jean Parent the second. Through successive generations including Jean the third, Abel, and Joachim, and more recently to Rudy's father Gerard, the lands along this stretch of the St. John River have been both home and business to the Parent family.

With more than 1,700 acres, which included some woodlots and about 1,200 of cropland for potatoes and grains, Rudy, and now Jamie, have a lot to keep track of. Even so, the family finds time for things outside of farming, such as participating in this year's Potato Blossom Parade and regularly hosting a harvest mass in early September at their farm.

"We are proud of the family and what we've accomplished," Rudy said.

Farm families stick with each other through rough times, the Parents said.

"That family glue is thicker," they said, than what is often found on corporate farms.

"Look all along the Valley, it's family farms you see," said Rudy.

That makes it especially sad, they said, when one of these families is not able to make it out of tough economic times and has the sell the farm.

For the Parent's, family and "a lot of faith" has allowed them to endure through more than 166 years of making a living and a home in the Valley.