Joann Grohman caresses her cow Jasmine as she milks her in 2014. Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

When Joann Grohman – a Carthage farmer, author and tireless advocate for dairy cow husbandry and whole-food nutrition principles – entered hospice care in March, well-wishers flocked to her seminal, decades-old online discussion forum, Keeping a Family Cow, to share their fond experiences of the woman who so deeply influenced their lives.

“I think she’ll be remembered as a trailblazer, the one who showed how it could be done,” said her son, Martin Grohman, youngest of eight children. “That’s what I see from the people in the discussion group: ‘You made it OK to keep a cow in my community. You made it OK to drink raw milk. You made it OK to breastfeed and ban processed foods from my house.'”

Joann Grohman, 94, died peacefully in hospice care at her Coburn Farm home in Carthage on Monday from complications of Parkinson’s disease, Martin Grohman said.

“She was a force, spirited right to the end,” said Christine Trefethen of Bethel, an organic farmer at Morning Glory Farm who bought Grohman’s last cow, Fern, about eight years ago. “And she’s also a case study for eating good food and drinking raw milk and eating meat and all these things we’ve been told we shouldn’t be doing anymore, but now we’re slowly learning that it’s a much healthier way to live.

“I hope she’s remembered as someone who was way ahead of her time in terms of the thinking around regenerative agriculture and the importance of incorporating livestock into your field, and turning away from Big Ag,” Trefethen added.



Born in Rumford, not far from the Carthage farm where she mostly lived since 1975, Grohman didn’t grow up keeping cows. “Her father was a gifted artist, but he wasn’t necessarily a gifted provider,” said Martin Grohman.

As a young mother in the 1950s, Joann Grohman became disillusioned by medical advice doctors were giving her about her children. Martin said she’d been cautioned against breastfeeding and was told to try to keep her babies small in the womb.

A young Joann Grohman. Photo courtesy of Martin Grohman

“She realized that those types of recommendations were just completely bad for the kids, basically,” Martin Grohman said. “It was kind of a transformational realization – she became a tireless crusader for changing the way we think about nutrition and health.

“I think her real passion is the nutritional stuff. That led to the interest in cows,” Grohman continued. “For 50 years or more, she’s been saying that sugar is bad, that eating foods with fat isn’t what makes you fat, and advocating for drinking raw milk. And now people are saying, ‘Oh my God, the low-fat, high sugar foods are what make you fat.’ And now there are breastfeeding rooms and pumping rooms in the State House and the airport.”

In 1970, Grohman moved with her kids and the second of three husbands to Essex, England, where they operated a 60-cow Jersey dairy farm. In 1975, when they returned to the states and bought the Carthage farm, Grohman wrote and self-published “The Cow Economy,” a groundbreaking why- and how-to for aspiring home cow keepers.

Grohman soon retitled the book “Keeping A Family Cow” and wrote several updated editions. Its ninth edition was put out by Vermont publishers Chelsea Green in 2014.


Around that time, Grohman had been invited to speak at the Weston A. Price Foundation’s Wise Traditions conference in Atlanta. Chelsea Green Senior Editor Brianne Goodspeed recalled watching her deliver her talk at the conference.

“Here comes this little old lady – whose voice I didn’t expect to even reach past the front row – delivering an impassioned speech on self-reliance and the joys and merits of animal husbandry,” Goodspeed said. “Her talk left grizzled old farmers with tears in their eyes, earned her a standing ovation and was considered by everyone there that year to have been the highlight of the conference.”

Grohman’s book, web discussion forum and online journal, Heifer Diary, have touched countless lives, as evidenced by the thousands of people around the world who’ve posted on the Keeping a Family Cow site. Martin Grohman started the website,, for his mother in 1998.

“I didn’t anticipate how meaningful that (site) would be for people over time,” he said. “It’s become this magical group of people from all over the world supporting each other, and it’s as vital as ever. She definitely loved and benefited from that online community.”


State Sen. Stacy Brenner, who co-founded and runs Broadturn Farm in Scarborough, said it was Grohman’s book and online forum she turned to when she first decided to get a cow of her own 17 years ago.


“She was just the most sound, encouraging resource for someone new to dairy farming, and so supportive of the idea of feeding your family (that way),” Brenner said. “I really have her to credit for helping diffuse any anxiety we had. She did it with grace and candor.

“In my house, she’ll be remembered as someone who really shared from the heart out of a belief that we can feed ourselves and all participate in the work of making food accessible,” Brenner continued. “She was committed to making sure that information was disseminated.”

“She had such a simple way of explaining some pretty big husbandry principles,” said Heather Retberg of Penobscot, a farmer at Quill’s End and a co-author of the Maine Food Sovereignty Act of 2021. She said she bought extra copies of “Keeping A Family Cow,” and any time someone new to dairy farming buys a cow from her, she gives them a copy.

“It’s like an encouraging coach in your back pocket,” said Retberg, who also recalled Grohman’s adult children placing a signed copy of the book on each state lawmaker’s desk as the Maine Food Sovereignty Act was being reviewed.

Grohman talks about the benefits of having a family cow and the health benefits of drinking fresh milk in her home in Carthage in 2014. Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

“I have a stack of her books,” said Trefethen, the organic farmer in Bethel. “And whenever I have a farm volunteer, they always go home with one of her books. She was my mentor. She was so willing to share her knowledge. She really wanted people to learn.”

For Grohman, cows were much more than a means to an end. They were also living beings worthy of respect and love. Trefethen remembered first meeting Joann’s cow, Fern.


“Joann was sitting on the stool, and she patted Fern on the side and she told her, ‘This is Christine and she’s here to learn how to milk you,'” Trefethen said. “And it really struck me how important that was. These are sentient creatures, they get it.”

Now Trefethen makes the same kind of introductions for people coming to her own farm to learn to milk cows.

“The promise of a family cow is that it puts a lot of people in community,” Retberg said. “Anybody who gets a cow knows it very quickly puts you in closer contact with neighbors because you always have extra, and you make things and take it to them. It’s a ripple in a pond that spreads farther than even (Joann) would have imagined.”

Grohman milks her family cow Jasmine at her farm in Carthage in 2014. Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

Martin Grohman said his mother farmed and milked on her Carthage property daily until about 2016, when macular degeneration started to set in. Still, she persisted from time to time, sometimes paying a price, as she took a spill in the barn about three years ago and the accident drove one of her teeth through her cheek.

“She had a major league carry-on-despite-all-costs mentality,” Martin Grohman said with a chuckle.

“Her way was of a bygone era,” Retberg said. “That tenacity but also that humor, they seemed to go hand-in-hand with her. She knew how to keep having fun.”

“Sometimes you feel some people are such a force of nature they’ll be here forever,” Trefethen said. “But her book will be here forever.”

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