History channel show features Robertson family of Bohanan Farm, Contoocook Creamery


Monitor staff

Published: 04-03-2019 4:25 PM

Bohanan Farm in Contoocook has long been one of the region’s most cherished agricultural sites, and soon the nation will have the chance to see the century-old dairy farm and meet the family that runs it.

The American Farm, a new docu-series premiering Thursday night on the History channel, sets out to tell the stories of farming families across the country, including the Robertsons of Bohanan Farm and Contoocook Creamery.

Jamie and Heather Robertson own the farm that was first purchased by Heather’s great-grandfather, Lester Bohanan, in 1907. Heather has a sister and two brothers, but she was the only one who wanted to come back and work on the farm, so she and Jamie took over in 1990.

Now, Jamie and Heather are preparing to hand it off to their three sons, who each want to be a part in taking the family business into the future.

“It’s wonderful knowing they want to continue,” Heather said in a recent interview with the Monitor. “It’s all part of my heritage and I’m glad to be able to turn it over to them and maybe have kids of their own one day.”

But there is a challenge facing this transition. Jamie and Heather say the farm, in particular the creamery business, needs to expand so the business can financially support all three sons and, eventually, their families.

This question drives the Robertsons’s story in the show while also giving viewers a closer look at how a dairy farm operates and the close-knit bond between the three brothers and their parents.

“We’re a little nervous about telling this story, but we thought it would be a good chance to let the country see day-to-day life on a modern, multi-generational dairy farm,” Jamie said.

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The Robertsons took a big step to expand the business in 2011 when they opened Contoocook Creamery. Bohanan Farm has long been producing milk for the Cabot Cooperative, but Jamie said it needed to diversify and create another revenue stream.

Contoocook Creamery distributes its milk and cheese to stores across the state, including several Hannaford supermarkets. It also provides dairy products to area schools, as well as Colby-Sawyer College.

But the retail business needs to keep growing, Jamie said. Currently, only one day’s worth of milk production is sold by retail each week.

The Robertson’s want to increase that output of products sold under the Contoocook Creamery brand, and to do that Jamie says the farm needs to open its own milk-processing plant.

As the show explores the challenges facing the farm and its future, it also tells the story of the family and centers on the three brothers as they prepare to take over.

Bram, the youngest son and a recent graduate of UNH, said he and his brothers grew up going to the farm every day. They spent their childhood and teenage years around the animals and developed a love for the land and the work that goes into it.

“I wasn’t as passionate about doing anything other than trying to grow food here,” Bram said. “I think my brothers feel pretty similar to that in that we all kind of went to try other things but it didn’t mean as much to us as farming did.”

Each brother has his own area of focus on the farm, what they describe as their separate “dojos.”

Si Robertson, the oldest at 26, works the crops that produce food for the animals. Nate, 24, works with the animals, monitoring their health while dealing with breeding and genetics. Bram, the youngest son at 20, is preparing to take over the creamery business from his father and oversee sales. All three attended the University of New Hampshire, with Bram graduating last May.

The dairy business is serious work, but the Robertson brothers bring humor to the show as well.

The cameras were trained on them virtually all the time for an entire crop season, about eight months. Bram said it took about a week or two before they got comfortable enough to act themselves in front of the cameras.

“Eventually, you forget the camera is on you, especially when you’re in the tractor and you forget there’s a GoPro down there staring up at your face,” he said.

Jamie said the family developed a relationship with the crew while they were embedded at Bohanan Farm.

“They were here for a long time and got to know us pretty personally,” Jamie said. “I think that will come out in the show – the relationships and how hard they worked to make sure we were ourselves.”

The show, which tells the stories of the Robertsons and four other farming families, has been in the making for several years. The company behind the show, BoBCat Studios, is led by the creators of Deadliest Catch, Ice Road Truckers and Storage Wars.

Jeff Conroy, a co-founder of BoBCat, said they were attracted to the Robertsons while searching around the country for families to profile.

In television, “there’s a lot of opportunities for over-the-top characters that are beyond real,” Conroy told the Monitor. “To see a family that is so authentic and fun, it’s just a good feeling. You get what they stand for, you know what they’re working for, there’s something nice about that.”

Conroy said work is already getting started on a second season, which plans to continue keeping up with the families featured in this first season.

Jamie said he hopes that by opening Bohanan Farm up for the nation to see, it helps erase some of the misconceptions around local dairy farming, such as a presumption that animals are mistreated.

“We hope this helps people understand how much we respect the animals we raise and how much pride we take in taking care of those animals,” Jamie said. “Hopefully those are the things that people pick up on – that for us to make a living, these cows need to be happy, healthy and comfortable.”

The American Farm premiers Thursday at 10 p.m. on the History channel.