Josh Brubaker always knew he wanted to be a dairy farmer. Growing up on a farm has allowed him to appreciate the work that goes into producing a glass of nutritious milk, he says. “It has always given me a sense of pride being a part of that process.” And part of that process includes safeguarding the environment while meeting the growing demand for food.

Brubaker now co-owns Brubaker Farms, a dairy and poultry farm, set on 1,800 acres in Mount Joy, Pennsylvania, with his dad and uncle. “It’s such a joy to work with family members. Like everything, it comes with its challenges, but I wouldn’t change it for anything.” Josh Brubaker, the fourth generation, manages the nutrition and animal care for the farm’s 1,300 dairy cows, while his uncle, Tony Brubaker, oversees the herd management. Josh’s dad, Mike Brubaker, oversees the crops and nutrient management. Over the years, finding ways to do projects that have economic and environmental benefits has become part of the dairy farm’s philosophy of growth, first embraced by Josh’s grandfather, Luke Brubaker.

A family of dairy farmers who have a commitment to sustainable agriculture enjoying a day on a farm.

Josh Brubaker with Tony Brubaker, Luke Brubaker and Mike Brubaker.

“As sustainability has become more of a focal point, the farm has evolved its practices that go above and beyond in protecting water quality, like no-till farming and cover-cropping 100% of the acres farmed,” Josh Brubaker says. Cover cropping is a sustainable agricultural practice that involves planting a variety of grasses or other vegetation after crops grown for livestock feed, such as corn, are harvested. Known as “cover crops,” these plants “cover” and protect the soil during periods that the land would otherwise be left uncultivated. The protective layer of cover crop shields the soil from erosion caused by wind and water, locks in moisture, and the plant roots further hold the soil in place. All this leads to the cover crops creating a better growing environment for the harvest crop.

“Seeing the seeds enter the ground and watching those plants develop throughout the season into an abundant crop at harvest is truly amazing,” Brubaker says. “No-tilling and planting cover crops on all of our acres are a couple of examples of practices that, to us, have clearly demonstrated benefits to the environment as well as to our bottom line.”

The Brubakers also collaborated with the Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program (CREP), the country’s largest private-land conservation program, to protect water quality and enhance wildlife habitat on the farm. The program enabled the Brubakers to fence cattle away from the streams, and they went on to plant about 20 acres of riparian buffers.

“Over the years, the stream environment has improved to the point where now a section of the stream that runs through our farm is a highly productive fly fishing-only zone designated for trout,” says Brubaker. He shared how wildlife is starting to thrive in the CREP areas. “It’s common to see deer, waterfowl, muskrats, turtles, and occasionally a bald eagle.” Brubaker credits Stroud Water Research Center, USDA Farm Service Agency and Donegal Trout Unlimited as important partners in the development of the CREP.

Constantly striving to be better in everything they do, including environmental stewardship, the Brubakers hosted a farm tour as part of a conference organized by the Choose Clean Water Coalition, a collective group of organizations that advocates for clean waterways in the Chesapeake Bay region. At Brubaker Farms, conference attendees saw first-hand how farmers protect water resources and employ other dairy sustainability efforts.

“I would hope that having environmental groups on our farm would give these individuals a new perspective and realization on the overarching goal of sustainable production of food for a growing population,” Josh says. “This goal needs to be met by creating a synergy between efficiency and environmental stewardship.”

Josh Brubaker says he and his family realize that embracing sustainability today shapes the destiny of tomorrow. “This is a focal point for our business so that our community can benefit from our efforts for many generations. We want future generations, of our farm and our community, to have the same opportunities that we have,” Brubaker says.

The Brubakers’ sustainability efforts and commitment to environmental stewardship were recognized in 2021, when Brubaker Farms received the Pennsylvania Leopold Conservation Award. The farm was also an inaugural winner of the U.S. Dairy Sustainability Award in 2012.

Mike and Lisa Brubaker, Josh and Kylee Brubaker with their daughter Adeline, Barbara and Luke Brubaker, and Rebecca and Tony Brubaker.