by Eileen Weber
Many people don’t realize that a dairy farmer’s job is never done. It doesn’t matter if it’s Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa or New Year’s Day. The cows need milking. And nobody knows that better than the folks at The Farmer’s Cow.
A group of six Connecticut family-owned farms teamed up to provide milk to Connecticut and parts of New York and Massachusetts. Combined, they milk 2,300 cows on nearly 7,000 acres of land. Their collaboration has been so successful that they’ve branched out into other products like eggs, half and half, and cider. Now they even offer heavy cream. And with the holidays coming up, it’s none too soon.
The Unquowa School in Fairfield got the jump on the heavy cream this year, too. They made a Thanksgiving meal made in part by the product’s debut. “Unquowa has been with us since Day One,” said Robin Chesmer, Managing Director at Farmer’s Cow. “They buy our milk because they liked our concept.”
And they’re not stopping with just heavy cream. The company is looking to expand their product line to include ice cream. They are planning for an April launch of six flavors. Besides the ubiquitous chocolate, vanilla, and strawberry, they’re planning on including other popular flavors like chocolate mint chip and cookies and cream.
When asked if they were planning on selling butter any time soon, Chesmer replied they like to build their clientele base with each new product first before they move on to a new one. “No butter yet, but there has been a lot of interest,” he said. “Every product is an investment.”
The four-year-old corporation boasts its local heritage and its hormone-free approach to dairy farming. On their website, they will gladly tell you that in a sing-song cadence à la The House That Jack Built: “We are the farmers who works the land and grow the crops to feed the cows that give the milk for you to enjoy.” They even have a cute commercial jingle, although I wouldn’t put it on your iPod.
Their happy-go-lucky attitude makes it all sound so easy. But that couldn’t be further from the truth. In Connecticut alone, farmland has disappeared at a rapid pace. According to a poll published in The Norwich Bulletin on July 20th, the number of farms have dropped from about 500 in 1990 to 151 in 2007. And much of our $2 billion agriculture industry in this state includes dairy farms.
That number is even lower in other states like New Jersey. According to an article in The New York Times on November 16th, there are less than 100 farms in the state. For those states where it is not illegal, dairy farmers are trying to sell their milk “raw”, or unpasteurized, because each bottle can fetch up to as much as $7 per bottle. A gallon of milk in New Jersey sells for $1.11. Unfortunately for many dairy farmers in the state, New Jersey does not allow the sale of unpasteurized milk.
If you are interested in raw milk, it is available in parts of California, Connecticut, and New Mexico. RealMilk.org gives a listing of unaltered dairy products including cheese and yogurt.
The Farmer’s Cow uses what they call “traditional pasteurizing.” They heat the liquid to 165 degrees, which effectively kills the bacteria. The milk you typically find on the supermarket shelf is “ultra-pasteurized.” That means the liquid has been heated to well over 200 degrees. It gives the milk a longer shelf-life, which retailers love. But The Farmer’s Cow believes it takes away from the overall taste.
“It takes the milk out of the milk,” said Chesmer. “It takes away from the flavor and the goodness of what milk is all about.”
While taste is one of their primary concerns, they also take other things very seriously. They strive to be energy efficient with all of the equipment they use. The cows’ manure is recycled and used to fertilize the grass and corn the cows are fed. They are conscious of their soil and water quality. But most importantly, each of the farms in the conglomerate is very focused on preserving the land and wildlife habitat.
“We need to preserve it for future generations,” said Chesmer. These farmers work to keep the land they produce from in tact. Like a popular bumper sticker says: No Farm. No Food. He went on to say that The Farmer’s Cow offers farm tours. Chesmer said what was special about that is “not many people get the chance to visit what they eat.”
On their web site, the company lists where consumers can buy their products. Farmer’s Cow is available locally in Westport at A&J’s Farmstand, Whole Foods Market, and The Fresh Market, which recently opened in October. In Fairfield, Shaw’s on Black Rock Turnpike and Stop & Shop on Kings Highway Cutoff carry the milk. You can also find it at Stop & Shop’s Bridgeport location on North Main Street. And if you find yourself in Trumbull, stop by Plasko’s Farm Market and pick up a carton there.
So the next time you’re at the store, pick up a carton and support your local farms!