County Face: Tom Drew of Woodland
Tom Drew of Woodland might be one of The County’s busiest farmers.
Drew, 45, owns H.B. Farms, a dairy farm on the Woodland Center Road. Owned by his family since 1974, the farm’s history goes back to 1896 when two sisters, Helen and Blanche Farrington, adopted Tom’s grandfather, Hannibal Drew.
“They never married,” said Drew, “and raised my grandfather when he was an orphan. Then they sold him the farm for a dollar in 1974.”
Hannibal, known to many as “Hank,” reciprocated the Farrington sisters’ generosity and took care of them as they grew older.
“They lived out their lives on the farm until they had to go to a nursing home,” said Drew. “He was loyal, and would bring them home for all holidays and birthdays.”
Hannibal’s kindness left a lasting impact on Tom.
“I was taught that old people aren’t furniture,” he said.
Hank later passed the farm down to Drew’s mother, Ida. His father, Dana, diversified into potatoes before he passed away after a vehicle accident.
While Ida still owns the land, Tom took over the dairy business at 20. The name “H.B. Farms” not only references Drew’s middle initials, but Helen and Blanche. He plans to expand and buy the farmland and house from his mother this year.
Though farm labor is often grueling, Drew finds it’s best just to focus on the task at hand.
“I start in the morning at 5:30 and just go,” he said. “Sometimes you find yourself waking up in a chair in the barn, and you just get up from that chair and go again. It’s seven days a week: even on your funeral, someone will milk your cows.”
He laughed and added he doesn’t “have another life to balance it to. I’d be mad if I had a real job.”
Drew is also on the Woodland Board of Selectmen, a position he’s held for nine years.
“If you have all good things happen in your life and no reason to need empathy, then you’re very lucky,” he said, “but if you’ve ever had a problem, it’s good to know that someone’s there. Someone might need payment arrangements (for property taxes). I’ve needed them, so why look the other way? That’s what motivated me, to see that people are treated with respect and dignity.”
With the farm just a four-minute walk from the Woodland Town Office, residents often stop by to talk about an issue with a culvert, a sinkhole in the road, or a neighbor’s dog wandering on their property. He’s even been asked to attend a fistfight happening in town.
The rewarding thing is “feeling that you can do something good for someone,” he said. “Sometimes it’s thankless but at the end of the day, if you know you’ve done your best, that’s the reward you can take home.”
Drew believes Woodland has much to be proud of, including maintaining the school.
“We’ve been able to keep our mill rate a little under everyone else,” he said. “We have a rich history and are investing in our future; we’ve got money in the bank.”
Though the dairy industry isn’t as reliable as it once was, he has adopted new technologies and bought more cows to break even by selling more milk.
“If your cash flow isn’t working, your life isn’t working,” he said. “In today’s world, they pass out numbers for mental health agencies with milk checks nationally, because the numbers [price paid per gallon] are so low that it’s affecting farmers who don’t have anything else.”
He maintains a cheerful disposition despite the challenges. He raises other animals, including pigs and geese, selling them to anyone interested.
“I enjoy animals,” he said, “and I think it’s nice for people to be able to come and see one. There aren’t many places left where you can do that.”
In kindergarten, he said he used to pick flowers for a girl, Joanna Marr Cole. He was heading over to her house with a cake later that day, March 5, to celebrate their lifelong friendship, a tradition they’ve upheld for dozens of years.
“You’ve gotta have some happiness in this world,” he said with a smile.