George Medeiros was interviewed by Mary Giles on November 20, 1976. He spoke about his life as a farmer.
Mr. Medeiros, you have been active in farming here in Westport, and in many agricultural affairs here in Westport and in Bristol County. We’d like to know, for the Bicentennial, as much about the things you have done as we can.
I am on the Bristol County Division of the Soil Conservation Board, and our functions are with the whole county, rather than just one town.
In Westport, I was on the original Conservation Commission; I can’t tell you just when it was organized, but I think that I served for about ten years on that. Sara Delano and I were on the original commission and then we had Mr. Marsden from Westport Harbor and Bill Heath.
I am a dairy farmer; we have about 235 acres, about one hundred of it is tillable, about twenty or thirty is rough pasture. I was born there on it, right there on Sodom Road. I’ll be fifty-one in January. As I say I was born there. My father came there in 1918. He operated a rented farm and had a retail dairy business in the City of Fall River, and then they came out and bought this farm at 871 Sodom Road, and he and his two brothers operated this farm. The name of the farm is ‘High View Farm,’ we’re one of the highest spots, not the highest, but one of the highest in the Town of Westport. We’re about 210 feet high. The highest spot is about 232 feet and is located on Route 177. We can see Tiverton and Little Compton. We can see Mt. Hope Bridge, the towers of the Jamestown and the Newport Bridges, the water tower on the top of the hill over in Portsmouth, Rhode Island, and the steeples of the New England Power; it’s a beautiful spot and we love it.
Right now, we have eighty-five head of cattle. My boys just came with me in the farming business in June, and we want to expand the herd to about a hundred and forty. We are doing some land clearing. We raise all our own feed and we sell our milk to ‘Yankee Milk,’ which is a Coop., and they in turn sell it to ‘Gulf Hill Dairy,’ who does the hauling for us; that’s wholesale. ‘Yankee Milk’ is a New England Cooperative, controlling about sixty percent of the milk in New England. It’s a cooperative that was formed about three years ago; it’s a joint venture of ‘United Farmers, New England Milk Producers’ and ‘Consolidated Milk Producers,’ forming one organization and calling themselves ‘Yankee Milk.’ We have bulk tanks; a hose carries the milk into them.
We’ve just changed our system. We were in what was called a ‘Stanchion Barn;’ then we were in what they call ‘free choice stalls.’ That’s a system where the cows have free choice, and they’re not locked up whatsoever, and then we have what we call milking parlors, and the milk goes direct into stainless steel tanks, right into the holding tank. It’s not exposed to the air whatsoever.
To help the farmers, the State has come up with a new law. I don’t know whether you’re aware of it; it’s Chapter 61A of Massachusetts, and this land is being taxed now as agricultural land, rather than as potentially development land. There are clauses in the law; well, if a farmer sells it for instance, he has to pay a roll back tax to the town so that the farm is protected. If you’ve owned the land for more than ten years, you’re on a graduated scale of from one to ten years, and on that one, you pay the percent of the number of years that you’ve owned it, back to the town.
To Mary Giles – I know that you are a tree farmer. The Potter boys put a lot of trees in here (the Giles Farm). You purchased them from the District.
And, of course, they’re working on a new one now, what they call ‘Land Development Rights,’ and it looks very favorable, and this is that the State will be purchasing land development rights. What you do is sell the State your right to develop the land, either in industry or in home sites; then it stays forevermore in agriculture. I think it’s going to go through. Most of the legislators are for it. Of course, we don’t know what’s going to become of it, but what they’re going to do is this: they’ll send an appraiser down and appraise it as agricultural land; you pay the difference and then, in turn, you’ll have to sign a release to the State, and this is recorded in the Registry (of Deeds) and that farm will be agriculture for now and evermore. You get reimbursed for the difference between the agricultural price and the development price. It gives the farmer something to work for. My grandchildren have the right to sell it, to trespass and hunt on it. You have the right to do anything but develop it. You’ve sold your development rights, this you have lost. The thing is, the State will pay you and then feel with this they can maintain land in agriculture. Not only for the farmer, but also for the people in New England because only fifteen percent of the food consumed in Massachusetts is produced in Massachusetts. If we ever had a disaster, where the railroad and the trucking could not operate, we could die, we will starve to death.
I was really enthused about being appointed to the Conservation Commission, and I really enjoyed the work. The reason I resigned, and I did resign, was that I was wearing two hats. The State came in and the Conservation Commission was given the task of implementing the Wetlands Act, and there was times when someone would come in and apply, and they would want a piece of land and they would apply for land filling. It was probably worth something, and the Conservation Commission felt that it would hurt the environment in their judgment, to issue this permit and we’d turn them down, but then, on the other hand, I would turn around as an assessor and assess them for it. It did have some value, so I felt at that time (this was going to be under the Conservation Commission), that I didn’t want to wear two hats, so I resigned from the Conservation Commission. I felt I could do more for the town as an assessor.
As I say, I’m on the Soil Conservation District, and that’s very interesting. I was president. At present, I’m their treasurer. I’ve been on since 1955; I’ll probably serve a few more years and then retire and let someone else take over.
I grew up on the farm my father bought (on Sodom Road). My father came from the Azore Islands. He was sixteen years of age at the time in 1885. He came over on a regular steamer, and I believe he told me it took him thirty-five days. They landed in Boston and then they came to Fall River. It was then an industrial city, and they had a lot of mills, and he worked in a mill for a while, but he didn’t like it. It was confined, and he wanted to get outdoors, so then they bought a piece of land; they started to raise a few cattle and then they started a milk retail business in the city of Fall River, and then eventually he moved out to Westport. He spoke English fluently, he couldn’t read or write, but he had a lot of business in him. Matter of fact, he owned the piece of land the High School is now situated on. We owned it and he sold it to the Town of Westport. He used to do a lot of buying and selling. He often said it was probably a good thing he didn’t have too much schooling, because he’d probably be a racketeer and end up in jail. He was well liked in town. He couldn’t read or write, but he could do a lot of business.
For fun, he liked to travel. He used to make a point of at least once a year, going up into New York State. Of course, in those days, if you went to New York State, that was it, New York and Canada. And, he had a friend, Mr. Norman, he was tax collector at the time. His son lives on Main Road at the junction of Hix Bridge Road. The Normans, the daughter works for the Police Department. Well, he was a great friend of Mr. Viera. There’s still quite a few Vieras in town. Oh, there was another, Mr. DeAndrade, Frank’s father, they were chums, and every year they’d take a week off and go to Canada or New York State. Every year they’d go up there and look at cattle and make a business trip and recreation.
The last few years of his life, he spent quite a bit of time in Florida. I was running the farm then.
My mother had seven children. Only two of us really survived. My sister Mary, whom you know, and myself. Mary still lives in the old house, and when I got married in 1949, I married a girl from Fall River, and I built a home there right beside of the old house and had six children. I’ve got two married daughters; they live here in town, they don’t want to live out of town. Then I’ve got two sons that I say are in business with me. One’s twenty-one and Stephen has just graduated from High School.
If the boys wouldn’t want to stay with me, I wouldn’t stay in farming, because I’ve had forty years of it. As I said, I’ve been working on the farm since I was ten years old, and if they weren’t with me, I wouldn’t stay with it. They like it. The oldest boy graduated from high school, and a friend of mine was in the farming machinery business, and he worked for him for a couple of years, and he didn’t care for it. He wanted to come back on the farm, so the two of them are in business with me now, and we want to expand our herd and take some more land and put it under cultivation.
When we were young, we’d do a lot of skating and sledding in the winter, and some summers we’d swim; we’d do gown to Horseneck Beach.
When I was young, farming was more diversified. They had horses, and it was all hand tools. My father used to have a greenhouse. He’d raise vegetables for market. We’d have cows and we’d have chickens. Now, with all the machinery you need, you have to be specified in one product, rather than be diversified. You either have to go into potatoes and get the equipment to go along with it.
I’d love, as a hobby, to put up a greenhouse and just kind of putter with land. I’d love to do it. At the present time, I don’t have the time, but I think this is one of my goals. I have a son that’s nine years old; who loves plants, so I think that will be my hobby when I retire from the farm. I don’t think I’ll ever go into complete retirement. I’d like to go into semi-retirement. I don’t think anyone should ever go into complete retirement. I’d raise a little of both flowers and vegetables, a little of both, you know, cross pollination and get different strains. I think it’s really interesting working with soil. I love it.
You asked me about the foods we like to eat. We always ate about the same kind of food. One thing you can say about farming; we never went hungry. A lot of people talk about the depression, and not having enough food on the table. A farmer always had enough food on the table. I can recall my father would go out and buy half a steer for the house, or he’d raise a steer for the house, and we’d always have ample meat, bread, vegetables, and milk. We didn’t have all the luxuries, but we always had a good table, and I think that’s one reward that farming does have, you can always eat.
I live to go quahoging, two or three times a year, I go, but I’ve never done much in the line of pole fishing, and we buy a few lobsters from the local boys once in a while. I love quahogs and clams, and I love fish too, I enjoy fish.
One of the other things that I could bring out is that I was on the original committee that organized the ‘Little League’ in town. I was the first vice-president, and I helped build the first field, the Little League field over there behind the high school. At that time, all I had was two daughters; little did I know about the future. This past year, my youngest daughter, she was nine years old, played Little League ball with the boys; there were only, I think, two girls playing. She played Little League. The boys never did care for baseball, and they never got involved.
I played in High School. I graduated from Westport High, which is now the Milton E. Earle School. Our principals were Mr. Earle and Mr. Gifford. I enjoyed school. I took the agricultural course under Harold Wood. He was our instructor at the time. The only things that kind of sticks in my craw on school, is that I couldn’t play baseball. It was a springtime sport, and of course, I had to go home and work. I graduated in 1944. That made it the war years, and we couldn’t get help, and the minute school was over, I’d have to go over and get back to the farm. I played in the Tiverton League. Jim Pierce was a couple of years older than I was. I was exempt from the service because of agriculture. Sometimes I wonder whether it was a good thing. I think everybody should go and broaden yourself, and it gives you a lot of insight. Of course, no one wants to go to war, but if it wasn’t for war, I think the service would be a great thing for everybody, just for the discipline.
I like Westport the way it is; I wouldn’t change anything. I don’t know whether you know it, but the Town of Westport is the leading town in the state of Massachusetts for the number of farms. We had more cattle than any other town until Cumberland Farms moved into Bridgewater with about eighteen hundred head. Prior to that, Westport was the leading in dairy farms and all farms. I think we can stand some growth. I don’t want to see it too fast. I think we’ve been fortunate in one sense in that we haven’t had any large developers coming in here. About four years ago, we had one developer put in seventy-five homes. I think that was about the only large influx of building in this town. At this time, probably only about forty or fifty homes are being built by all the contractors. This building could probably be slowed down a little bit. I think this ‘Development Rights’ is going to have a large effect. Once you sold your rights, that’s going to be a way to keep open land and preserve it. It’s too bad this thing wasn’t started years ago.
Another thing, I’ve taken up a little auctioneering, and we do a couple of churches every year, the Stone Church on Stone Church Road, and the church at the Commons in Little Compton. And, I also do auctioneering for the Westport Lions Club and the Westport Farmers’ Group, and this year, I sold a cake four times and got $430 for the Westport Fair. That’s another organization that I helped organize, the Young Farmers Group and the Westport Fair, which is now coming up to our twentieth year. This was organized by Mr. McGarr, who was then the BOAC instructor in the Town of Westport. He got a group of young fellows together, and we still call ourselves the Westport Young Farmers, even though we’re in our fifties and sixties. We do have young farmers coming along that belong to the organization, and it’s coming along. We don’t make any money. We make enough to operate the Fair the coming year. We charge no admission. We do have a barbecue, which we get a little revenue from, and we sell cakes at our tractor pull, and this year we made the cakes and donated them, and I auctioned them off, and the proceeds go to the Westport Fair from year-to-year. We’ve been very fortunate that we haven’t had any bad weather to cancel out the Fair. God’s been with us.