I was working on a documentary project about a section of Route 11 that spans New York State when I stopped at Edward and Mary LaBrie’s dairy farm in Jefferson County, about twenty-five miles from the Canadian border. During that first visit, in 1985, I resolved to do a separate documentary project on this family. Procrastinator that I am, it wasn’t until the spring of 1998 that I finally set out to record their vanishing way of life.
The family began farming in 1954 when Edward, who died in 1994, packed up his wife and ten children and moved from their two-room cabin in the Adirondack Mountains to the rambling farmhouse in the rolling hills of Jefferson County. It was a big move for the couple, who had never before left their mountain home near the small village of Tupper Lake. Although they’ve lived on the farm longer than they did in the mountains, Mary and her sons still refer to that two-room cabin as “back home.”
Years of relative isolation and close living in the mountains encouraged strong family ties. The LaBries depend on one another for help getting through daily and seasonal chores and overcoming problems or personal crises. They also create their own entertainment.
In 1954, there were more than five thousand working family farms in Jefferson County. By 1998, there were fewer than five hundred. The LaBries have managed to hang on while more affluent dairy farms have gone out of business. The family, however, is getting older. A number of Mary’s grandchildren live on the farm but appear unable or unwilling to keep it going. Today, like so many other farm families, the LaBries face an uncertain future.
— Gary Walts