Local Farm Moosings

Moosings – Nov 13, 2008

Local Farm is a small raw milk dairy dedicated to providing fresh wholesome milk to our friends and neighbors. Right now I’m milking 6 jersey cows, bottling a little more than 50 gallons milk per week in returnable glass bottles, and selling it all to about 60 families who pick it up at the barn. For the second winter in a row, I’ve just started milking once a day. Folks pay $3.50/half gallon and $2.50/ quart with an additional $1.50 bottle deposit. I anticipate raising these prices to my winter prices of $6.00/half gallon and $4.00/quart.

I feed my cows hay and pasture made up of a mix of barn yard grasses including orchard grass, Kentucky blue grass and clover __ and from 1/2 to 1 1/2 lb. 16% protein grain/day. They have a cafeteria-style free choice mineral feeder with kelp, Redmond salt, sodium bicarbonate, calcium carbonate, and 3 mineral mixes from Fertrells.

Local Farm became the 1st certified organic livestock farm in CT in 1996. In 2001, we let our certification lapse until signing the NOFA-CT farmer’s pledge in 2004.

We are truly Community Supported Agriculture very much appreciated and cherished by our small town and area community.

How did Local Farm come to be? My father sold advertising space for Hoards Dairyman Magazine so from an early age, I’ve thought of cows as “the foster mothers of the human race” and of milk as “Natures most nearly perfect food”.

In the fall of 1989, I was teaching school. Hoping to find a way to earn our living by farming and working with young people, my neighbor and I started giving dinner parties — we invited farmers, carpenters, stone masons, educators, entrepreneurs, beekeepers, gardeners, butchers, and homesteaders. Long before we started farming, we were building community.

One of our guests had located a bottle filler and capper and suggested we retail raw milk. We read Paul Hawkin’s book Growing A Business in which he suggests that, contrary to popular belief, one of the major stumbling blocks to a new enterprise is too much start up capital. Starting on a shoestring, he says forces one to be creative and to intimately know every aspect of the business. This has certainly been true in the case of Local Farm. We planned to slowly build a herd of ten. With a sheriff-style WANTED poster and reward for “information leading to the purchase of a ,matronly jersey cow”, we found and bought one cow. When she freshened with a heifer calf, we bought two more calves to raise on her milk.

Unfortunately it soon became apparent that the 3 of us were not working well together. I bought out the others and moved to another barn.

At this point I put out my first Moospaper; a pun filled newsletter describing my vision and need for a place to farm. The town where I live is a 2 hour drive from NYC and much of the rural property has been purchased for weekend country homes. Because of agricultural tax breaks, many are eager to have someone farm their land. Friends put me in touch with one such person, Waite Rawls, who has turned out to be the world’s best landlord. Even though I pay no rent, we have an 8 page lease laying out our terms and conditions and agreeing “to be nice”. With the help of Susan Witt from project SHARE – Self Help for Regional Economy. I developed “milk money” coupons to sell milk in advance, much like a loan- whereby the buyer could cash in their coupons for milk at a later date.

The only glass milk bottle supplier I could find insisted on a 3 pallet minimum order at almost $4000. I found someone willing to donate up to $2000 in matching funds and offered Local Farm t-shirts to anyone making a $20 donation to the bottle fund.

Not only were the milk money and tee-shirts a fun way to raise funds but they generated much interest in the fledgling farm and nourished the growing community of staunch Local Farm supporters.

Obtaining a license proved to be more challenging. The Dairy Division of the Dept. of Agriculture did not want to license any more raw milk producers/retailers and did their best to ignore me.

I had written in rhyme of my frustrations and a newspaper reporter published part of the rhyme in the hometown newspaper of our recently installed Commissioner of Agriculture. Supposedly he went directly to the Dairy Division and demanded action. Very soon after I had my temporary permit in hand.

Two years later, politics being politics, when legislation was proposed to do away with the sale of raw milk in CT, the same man would be beating his chest and claiming he would not be able to live with himself if some child contracted TB thru drinking raw milk from CT.

That bill, fortunately died in committee and was quiet for almost 8 years before being re-introduced in another form.

My senator recommended we be required to put a disclaimer on our bottles much like that require of raw cider producers. “This product has not be pasteurized and may contain harmful organisms” and that bill was quietly lost in the heaps of proposed legislation that never made it to the Governor’s desk.

Today, because CT dairy farms are rapidly disappearing and the Dept. of Agriculture needs to justify it’s existence, it’s members are much more willing to assist farmers desiring to bottle their own milk. It is probably too little action too late; already as a budget cutting action, the governor has suggested combining the Dept. of Agriculture with the Dept. of Health and Addiction Services.

Although not impossible, I would guess it unlikely, the new department would look favorably on licensing farms to retail raw milk.

Whether or not, they drink Local Farm milk, the people of Cornwall like seeing our happy cows out on pasture. Many consider Local Farm a Local Treasure. I have faith, that if raw milk were outlawed tomorrow, my community would uplift and support us until we found another way to carry on. At first, I sold milk only thru 3 local stores. As production increased, I expanded my market and for a few years worked with a distributor who carried our milk to about 24 stores. I didn’t encourage from-the-barn sales because I was hesitant to maintain “storefront” tidiness. But it seemed that the further away the milk went, the dirtier the bottles came back. Since dropping organic certification, I have switched to almost total direct-marketing. Customers sign up to pick up their milk on a specific day of the week. In the spring I post Burma Shave – like signs along the drive saying:

Sparkle sparkle
Clear and bright
Clean bottles
Are my delight!

To those of you
Who wash them true
From Local Farm
A big
Thank You!

When I’m there and someone brings in exceptionally clean bottles, I sing them my clean bottle song. This kind of person to person contact builds both trust and customer loyalty.

True to our original purpose, Local Farm is dedicated to providing great milk to our community. In my mind, there is nothing sweeter than milk from your own cow. Three years ago, I started breeding my standard jerseys to miniature jersey bulls and began working even more with our calves and young stock. They lead well with a halter, stand to have their feet picked up, and are comfortable with a person’s hands around and in their mouths. It is my hope to offer them for sale as family cows after freshening. Local Farm will continue selling milk and offer boarding for cows whose families want to go on vacation – in the case retailing raw milk becomes illegal, I can see boarding cows on a more permanent basis and stepping into some type of cow-share system… whatever happens, I believe that because I am following my calling and offering this gift to my community – that some way will open for Local Farm to continue.