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October 06. 2013 8:55PM

Acworth owner of Dairy Farm of the Year is the king of cows


John Luther of Parnassus Farm in Acworth, with Brown Swiss cow Vibrant, never considered any other career other than dairy farming. (MEGHAN PIERCE PHOTO)

ACWORTH -- JOHN LUTHER, owner of the New Hampshire Dairy Farm of the year, grew up knowing he wanted to be a dairy farmer, like his father.

"I don't ever remember thinking about doing anything else," the 52-year-old said.

The New England Green Pastures Committee cited Luther for being conscientious about environmental issues that arise for hillside farms such as his Parnassus Farm. The award, started in 1947, was presented to Luther and farms in the five other New England states at the Eastern States Exposition in West Springfield, Mass., last month.

The son of Earl Luther Jr. and Esther Luther, John owned his first cow at 17. He became the full-time manager of the farm in the late 1980s, when his father retired. "My parents never pressured me into farming or discouraged me to it, but they made it possible for me," Luther said.

He keeps a small herd of about 70 cows; 40 are currently milking cows. He owns Jersey and Holstein and also cares for a handful of gentle Brown Swiss owned by a woman in town.

He said he never wants operations to grow so large that he can't milk his own herd.

"It's never been our goal to milk a lot of cows here. I enjoy milking cows too much to milk too many," he said.

Luther runs the farm with the help of his wife Robin, who works full-time for University of New Hampshire Cooperative Extension, primarily in 4-H youth development.

"Even though she has hay fever, if I need help bailing hay she'll help with that," Luther said of his wife. "And she'll get on a tractor on the weekend if she is not working."

Their 23-year-old daughter Karyn Luther also lives on the farm.

John Luther's grandparents, Earl and Katherine Luther, moved to New Hampshire from Rhode Island in the early 1940s and purchased a neighboring 210-acre farm for their son. They had hoped Earl Jr. would go straight from studying chemistry at Brown University and into farming, and avoid World War II, Luther said. But Earl Jr. wanted to serve. He joined the Navy and became a bomber pilot.

After the war, he came to live on the farm with a goat as his only companion for the first year.

A friend suggested that he name the farm Parnassus, after a mountain Utopia of Greek mythology.

Earl Jr. died about six years ago, but his 83-year-old wife — Luther's mom — continues to live in one of the farm houses and stays active driving a town school bus.

A dachshund named Diamond is Luther's constant companion on the farm — as long as it's not too cold. Luther said Diamond likes to nap in the hay in the morning when Luther milks, and then rides all day with him on the tractor.

Over the years, Luther has served as town moderator and as a deacon of the United Church of Acworth for 25 years. He also was a Sullivan County Conservation District supervisor for 15 years.

Luther is lead singer for his rock 'n' roll band, The Longjons, established 20 years ago. He recently took a role in a half-hour comedy television show a local woman is producing. A public access TV station in nearby Bellows Falls, Vt., plans to air the show, Luther said.

He and his wife organized an open barn day for Acworth and neighboring towns that included farm tours, cider pressing, barbecue and live music.

"It's a great place to live. There are easier places to farm, but there's no better place to live," Luther said.

In honoring Luther, the Green Pastures Committee said milk quality is his management strong point. He has won several Milk Quality Awards, including the 2012 Milk Quality Award from his cooperative last year.

Luther said he also thinks it worked in his favor that he recently stopped growing corn and instead tries to grass-feed his herd as much as possible, with rotational grazing in his green pastures.

Michal Lunak of UNH Cooperative Extension in Grafton County said the committee that chooses the top farms is made up of New England Green Pastures award winners of the past three years.

mpierce@newstote.com



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