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January 19, 2009

 

Family marks century of farming

Groton family recognized with state award for 100 years of ownership

Family Farm

Joe McIntyre/staff photographer
Marlin Houston Sr., right, and his son Marlin Jr. together on the family farm Saturday in Groton. Marlindale Farms of Groton has received the Century Farm Award from the state Agricultural Society.

By ANTHONY BORRELLI
Staff Reporter
aborrelli@cortlandstandard.net

GROTON — Marlin Houston Sr. was raised in the same farmhouse his mother was born in. His grandfather, John Sincerbeaux, bought the 64 acres of land in 1905 and started out small, raising chickens and producing butter.
Five generations later, Marlindale Farms has since grown into a 500-acre property and shifted into dairy production. There have been some differences in the job since his grandfather’s time, but Houston, 58, said there are certain aspects of being a farmer that never change.
“The work ethic has stayed the same,” Houston said. “Some parts of it are more intense than when I started, but that’s the way it is.”
Marlindale Farms was named Jan. 8 as a Century Farm by the state Agricultural Society for its continuous operation and ownership.
The long family tradition has kept the Houston family’s roots firmly set in its farmland.
That lifestyle has passed on to Houston’s three children, Marlin Jr., 36; Marlene, 34; and James, 27; all of whom have pitched in to keep the business running.
When asked what has kept him and his family so dedicated to dairy farming for so many years, Houston laughed and answered, “I don’t know enough to do anything else!”
The farm does not employ outside labor and the chores are divided among Houston’s children.
Running the farm alongside family makes the work neither easier nor more difficult, Houston said.
“It’s all about everybody getting along, just like any family,” he said.
It takes commitment, he said.
“I’ve never seen anyone doing well in a business by getting in and out,” Houston said. “Being a farmer is my life.”
Marlin Jr. said he thinks the dairy business is much safer than growing crops. Weather can sometimes have harmful effects on crops, even destroy large portions of them.
“Dairy is a steady income,” he said.
Marlin Jr. has begun to take the reigns from his father and lives in the original family home with his wife, Nicole, and their three children.
As the fifth generation to live on the farm, Marlin Jr. said his love for the work is just as strong as his father’s.
“It’s really great to be a part of it,” Marlin Jr. said of the tradition.
An Irish immigrant, Sincerbeaux started the farm with mostly chickens and eight cows. When Robert Houston married into the family and took over in 1946 after serving in World War II, the farm steadily grew over the decades as more parcels of land were purchased.
In 1956, about 100 acres were added, along with several adjoining properties. One of which became Houston and his wife, Patti’s, current residence at 718 Sovocool Hill Road, a short distance from the original property.
Houston began working with his father when he was 16 years old, milking cows and helping out with shipments.
Today, the farm has 120 cows and has about 200 acres of cropland filled with grain used to feed cattle.
Houston does not view farming much differently than when he took over the farm in 1978, mostly because the basic work has stayed the same.
“Technology has made the work take up less time,” he said. “Some jobs that used to take three hours at first now take just over an hour.”
In 2006, the farm added a milking parlor to speed up the process. The new room holds 16 cows at a time, and milks the cows by machine.
But even the amount of time spent working sometimes seems irrelevant, Houston added.
“Running your own farm means you’re the boss, but some people are different about it,” he said.
Houston recalled that his mother would often sleep until nearly 10 a.m. while working on the farm, but could keep working well after midnight.
The business has grown over the years since he took over from his father, but Houston said the timing has seemed right in recent years to be steadily turning over control of the family farm to his son.
“I don’t like farming as much as I did 35 years ago,” he said.

 

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