In this day of highly mobile, highly connected business executives, Breanna Fulper Lundy may not seem that unusual as she balances two fulltime jobs based four hours away from each other.
One side of Lundy’s career seems typical of a 20-something Ivy League graduate — serving as a financial advisor with Edward Jones in upstate New York near Saratoga Springs. The other side is less typical — managing the Fulper Family Farm between Hopewell and Lambertville and guiding its transition from an old-fashioned dairy farm into a modern and more sustainable agri-tourism business.
One important new element of that enterprise is a thriving summer camp that gives kids from the suburbs some exposure to the experience Lundy had growing up on the farm, including an understanding “that milk comes from an animal.”
Lundy conceived the farm camp when she was a sophomore in high school, started it that summer, and, jointly with her father, has developed the Farmstead Adventure Camp into a staple of the farm’s operation, which is co-owned and managed by her father, Rob Fulper, and her uncle, Fred.
Explaining the genesis of the camp, Lundy says, “I was doing farm tours and a woman said, ‘Oh, my, my kids would like to spend a week here.’ A light bulb went off in my head, and I said, ‘Why don’t we?’”
That summer they offered three one-week sessions (she also worked fulltime on the farm all summer, and of course worked on research to develop the program while she was playing sports in high school — good preparation for a two-career future).
To gather ideas, she used the contacts she had developed as the 2004 New Jersey State Dairy Princess, where her main job, she says, “was to promote the dairy industry around the state.” Of course, she also replicated activities she had grown up with. “Growing up on the farm as a kid, you work harder than any other person in your grade,” she says. “I can remember getting up at 4:30 in the morning to milk and working till 9 at night stacking hay — missing friends’ birthday parties or not getting to do everything that every other kid gets to do.” Even as a school kid, Lundy tried to expose her friends to farming. When friends visited, they played in the milking parlor and learned how to show cows.
Lundy decided that the primary focus of the camp week would be taking care of a single calf, two children per calf.
First, the campers teach the calves, which range in age from one to three months, how to lead on a halter, which requires the strength of two children. They also learn “how to wash the calves and how to clip them to make them look beautiful,” Lundy explains. At the end of the week the campers present their calves in front of a judge.
When possible, the campers get to watch a cow give birth, which happens fairly frequently on a farm of 120 cows. “Some kids think it’s disgusting, and some love it,” Lundy says
Running from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., the camp also includes hayrides, scavenger hunts, obstacle courses, a huge homemade slip and slide down a hill in a field; milking cows; making ice cream, butter, and milkshakes; making pots and growing crop plants; water games, including a water fight in the milking parlor; and water balloon tosses. The camp offers full week and three-day sessions, with an “early cow special” through February 28. For costs and other information go to www.fulperfarms.com, E-mail email@example.com, or call 609-651-5991.
The traditional business of the 103-year-old Fulper Farms is to feed and milk the cows, to grow the crops, and to sell the milk as a commodity and to supply milk for the consumer dairy product line. Fulper Family Farmstead was formed two years ago to expand activities in agri-tourism — the camp, farm tours, field trips for Scouts and other youth organizations, and birthday parties — and to expand the dairy product line. “Two years later, it is still in the growing stage; we are trying to increase our customers, based on dairy tourism and products,” Lundy says.
Lundy, with the help of Gina Davio, sales and marketing manager of Fulper Family Farmstead, are aiming to supply their dairy products to grocery stores and outlets within a 40-mile radius of their farm, primarily in Hunterdon, Somerset, and Mercer counties in New Jersey and Bucks County in Pennsylvania. Today the farm itself has 1,200 acres of crops, about 400 of which are devoted to feed for their cows. The rest is hay (and straw), corn, and soybeans, which are sold as commodities.
Lundy and her father had two reasons for ramping up agri-tourism and commercial sales activities.
The first was the need to educate consumers about what happens to their food at the farm level. “Consumers are so disconnected from what their food comes from,” Lundy says, noting that about 1 percent of the population are actually farmers today. “Most consumers have never milked a cow, have no clue how you grow a crop, to feed a cow, to make high-quality milk to produce high-quality dairy products, to pick up in a grocery store,” Lundy says. “Most consumers don’t have hands-on experience of that whole process from soil to a grocery store’s shelf.”
The second reason for expanding the agri-tourism and commercial side of their business was purely economic — “to be able to control the price of our dairy products,” Lundy says.”When you’re not producing your own products and selling to consumers yourself, you’re selling milk as a commodity, and when you’re selling as a commodity, you’re told what the price is.”
As a commodity raw milk used to benefit from subsidies that helped keep farmers in business. But in the early 2000s the government allowed milk prices to follow market demand, partly in response to global trade rules and partly to the decline of political support for agricultural subsidies.
What that meant for the business was that in the 10-year period from 2002 to 2012, the milk price was only above their costs 2 out of the 10 years (although interestingly, during the recession, 2009 was one of the best milk price years in a long time). “That’s why we have hay, straw, corn, and soybeans,” she says. “We were lucky we were diversified, and the crop side brought up the slack.”
But when they create consumer products-mozzarella, yogurt, ricotta-from their milk, Lundy says, “we know our price and margins and are adding another stream of income to the farm.”
“As long as demand for local dairy and local food products is there, as long as local consumers see the value and quality of our products and will pay a slight premium for it, that avenue will always be potentially more profitable,” she continues, adding that they are seeing a rise in demand and consequent growth in their business.
Lundy’s family has been able to invest in both consumer products and agri-tourism, she suggests, because they are more people-oriented than your typical dairy farmer, whose strengths lay in working with cows, crops, and land.
Fulper’s family came to the United States from Germany, finally purchasing at their Lambertville farm in 1909 — after periods in Philadelphia’s Germantown and then to Sergeantsville, New Jersey, where the Fulpers bought their first farm. Mary Fulper brought along one cow to the present location, on Rocktown-Lambertville Road, a mile or so west of Route 31.
In 1918 Mary’s son, Norman, and his wife, Harriet,took over the farm, purchasing their first tractor in 1923. Gradually expanding the farm, they were eventually milking 20 cows by hand and growing tomatoes for Campbell’s Soup
By the late 1940s the family was also regularly selling produce at the Trenton Farmers Market. “Back then it was normal to go to a farmers market-it was the only way to sell to the local community and consumers,” Lundy says.
With the appearance of the grocery store, farmers no longer had to physically truck produce to a farmer’s market. Today, in a sense, farmers have come full circle. “Now consumers want the farmers market feel again,” Lundy says. Hence today the Fulpers sell their dairy products at markets in Princeton, West Windsor, Montgomery, Pennington, Stockton, Wrightstown, and Stengel Pottery Factory and Dvoor Farm in Flemington.
In the 1950s Norman and Harriet’s son, Robert, and his wife, Sarah, bought the farm, which had grown to 80 cows and over 200 acres farmed, and used the latest technology and soil conservation methods. In 1958 they installed a state-of-the-art milking parlor.
Today Robert’s two sons, Robert II (and his wife, Cindi) and Fred Fulper (and his wife, Kim), own and manage the farm, emphasizing an environmentally friendly approach.
“We’ve been ‘Green’ before it was a buzz word,” says Lundy. “We have a solar renewable energy system that supports the energy needs for the entire farm.” The Fulper farm composts manure, utilizes the cows’ waste as a natural fertilizer, pumps the waste to the fields to lessen the amount of fuel if it were trucked, does soil sampling to monitor appropriate nutrient levels, uses fuel efficient equipment, recycles water, and follows practices that conserve soil nutrients.
The economics of farming have changed a lot, even since Lundy’s grandfather day as the primary farmer. “Back when he was farming, physically it was harder,” Lundy says,”but what he’ll tell you is that it was easier to make a profit because he just had to work harder, versus today when margins are so tight. The price hasn’t changed over the last 50 years but the costs to produce have gone up significantly.” Today, for example, tractors cost hundreds of thousands of dollars and more employees are necessary.
Lundy, the oldest of four children, looks back on what life was like growing up on a farm. “It was definitely different than your normal kid because we were raised and brought up to work hard,” she says, noting that they also learned early about life and death. “Working with live animals and caring about their health, you see cows that are old pass away.”
She continues, “We matured very quickly. We would work weekends, after school, early mornings if help was needed.” As a result, she says, “Efficiency is one of my strong suits; my calendar runs my life.”
At the same time, there were lots of fun times. “All of us kids remember playing in the haystacks, friends coming over to sleep in the hay barns on top of haystacks, life outside all the time,” she says.
Lundy’s generation is already showing a strong interest in the farm operation. Lundy’s Brother, RJ, works on the farm full-time. Her sister Chelsea works at a nearby day care center and also helps with birthday parties and other camp events. Her younger sister Mikayla is majoring in agri-business at Penn State. “She may return to the farm upon graduation,” says Lundy.
Lundy graduated from Cornell University in 2009. At Cornell Lundy used the family farm for a case study to develop a business plan for the expanded scope of activities and new business opportunities. Along with her degree in dairy business management, she also earned one in financial management. “That explains why I have the two different careers I have today; I love both,” she says.
After college she started work as a financial advisor, but the agri-tourism business didn’t get into full swing until two years ago. Last year, after marrying another dairy farmer, based in upstate New York, she transitioned her financial advisor business, and moved to her husband’s farm-a dairy operation, which focuses on breeding high-quality dairy cattle and genetics, although still selling milk. Lundy says she and her husband met at Cornell, but her husband claims they met as high school seniors at a 4H national dairy conference in Wisconsin.
Lundy makes the four-hour drive back to Lambertville for several days every other month, playing mostly a managerial role in the Fulper Family Farmstead.
Her father, she says, sometimes asks her, regarding her overly busy work life, “Does working so much really get you going every day?”
Lundy’s response: “I love to work.”