Community rallies to save cows, aid family after Chenango Forks dairy barn fire


The day after a fire ripped through his Chenango Forks dairy barn, Brian Aukema still didn’t know how neighboring farmers from three counties found out about the fire.

Nonetheless, the farmers-turned-rescuers appeared just in time.

Equipped with about 15 trailers, they flocked to the scene and formed a human fence to help herd the barn’s 65 cows to safety Tuesday night. The Aukema Dairy barn, however, was destroyed by a fire battled for hours by responders from about eight fire departments. 

“We had huge community support from farms, people we had no idea who they were,” Aukema said in a phone interview Wednesday afternoon. “We don’t even know who was here last night, it was dark by the time we were outside moving cows.”

The cows and the Aukema family are safe, although a few family members received oxygen from emergency responders, according to a Facebook post by Brian Aukema.

Aukema Dairy, which supplies the micro-creamery Dutch Hill Creamery, is co-owned by Brian, his brother Jim and father, Doug. 

Aukema was milking cows in the center of the dairy barn at Aukema Dairy, located at 114 Knapp Hill Road, when the fire began tearing through the structure Tuesday evening. 

Brian’s son Brycen Aukema, 9, was working inside the barn with his father and grandfather. He was the first to see the fire.

“He said Pop Pop, there’s smoke there,” said Brian’s mother, Pat, who was in the kitchen of her home when she saw flames inside the barn. 

Within 15 minutes the entire barn was on fire, she said.  

Brian Aukema’s first thought was to save the cows. In about 15-20 minutes, all of the cows were out of the barn. They are currently located in Lisle at Livingston Farm, owned by a family friend of the Aukemas.

The family does not yet know the cause of the fire.

As of Wednesday afternoon, firefighters were still extinguishing the flames. Hay continued to smolder and some of the barn’s beams remained on fire. The hay could continue to burn for a few days, Brian estimated.

“Everything is gone,” Pat said. “We got the cows out and we had so much help. We can’t thank enough our neighbor farmers. Farmers from three different counties were here.”

When Brian posted an update on Facebook at 1 a.m. Wednesday morning, all of the cows had been milked and fed.

“Everybody just chipped in so much,” Pat said. “It was amazing.”

David Perry, Chief of the Chenango Forks Fire Company, said in a Facebook post that companies from all over Northern Broome County assisted in extinguishing the fire.

“Last night our community saw neighbors come together and work harder then anyone ever asked them to,” he said in the post. “To help out a neighbor they may or may not have known for a very common goal of helping someone through a very difficult time.”

A Go Fund Me page, titled Aukema Fire Farm Recovery, had raised $3,865 of its $5,000 goal in just 18 hours. 

Dave Curtis, a neighbor and family friend of the Aukemas, came home from work at 7 p.m. and created the Go Fund Me at 7:15 p.m.

“I think the world of them,” Curtis said. “It made total sense for me to do this.” 

Although he isn’t far from his goal, Curtis does not plan to stop once he hits it and will continue to fundraise as much as he can.

“I know that their roots are so deep and they do a lot for other people, so I wasn’t surprised,” Curtis said of the amount of money raised.

At the Chenango Forks Central School District, where Brian is an alumnus, a representative said that the district’s elementary school staff had taken up a collection to purchase a Price Chopper gift card for the family. Other have set up meal trains to keep the family fed.

“The support that we had in the last 20 hours has been amazing,” Brian said.

Curtis credits much of the family’s support to the long time its members has spent serving the community, where they have lived for over 50 years.

According to Dutch Hill Creamery’s website, Brian’s parents, Doug and Pat Aukema, moved from New Jersey to the Chenango Forks Farm in 1967. They raised all of their four children on the farm.

Brian and his wife, Crystal, are raising their three school-aged children on the farm as well. They opened the micro-creamery in 2013.

The Aukemas own about 180 acres and rent about another 75, according to the website. 

Brian, who is also a Cornell Cooperative Extension of Broome County educator, has made it his mission to educate the community on agriculture and is an organizer of the Broome County Farm Trail, according to the site. The farm is a regular presence at the year-round Broome County Regional Farmers Market. 

The farm has a total of around 130 head of animals, which produce the creamery’s all-natural, hormone free milk yogurt and cheese curds.

The dairy has received a “Dairy of Distinction” designation. 

On Wednesday morning, Pat said the family is waiting to hear from their insurance and it’s a little too early to know what the family’s next steps will be. Later that day, an update on the Dutch Hill Creamery Facebook page described the situation as “a farmer’s worst nightmare” and said the barn is a complete loss.

“Please say a prayer for the family as we decide on our next step and to deal with this new normal,” the post said.

The farm store will still be open, according to the post, with all products currently in stock. However, the farm will most likely not be at the Broome County Regional Farmers Market this weekend.

“Our animals are our main priority at this point,” Brian said. “And we’ll go from there. We have to take a step back and evaluate and figure out where we’re at.”

 

Source: Press Connects


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