During the years in which I’ve been paying attention to agricultural news, I’ve noticed that when a headline announces a story about “farming,” it’s most likely about dairy farming.
I suspect this narrow media definition of farming stems from the general history of the industry in the Northeast, which for more than a century was focused primarily on dairy production.
Nowadays, traditional family dairy farms often struggle to make ends meet, and the news is not always uplifting. In terms of “buying local,” how does one support North Country dairy farms?
We want to make sure our dairy farmers are making a viable living by buying their products, but how can we know where our regular “store-bought” milk is coming from? The key is in the code.
Whenever you purchase a dairy product, check the stamped label. Look for the code; always a two-digit number between 01 and 56 (no letters), a hyphen and then a one- to five-digit number/letter combination. Those first two numbers are your clue about where the milk was processed. New York state milk starts with a “36” and Vermont with a “50.” Very often, the milk, cheese, ice cream, yogurt, etc. from these plants originated in northern New York dairy farms.
We do have a large commercial-cheese producer here in Chateaugay. McCadam Cheese is a member of the Agri-Mark dairy-farmer cooperative that buys milk from about 1,400 farm families in the Northeast, including most of our dairy farms in the Adirondack region. That means when you purchase McCadam Cheese, you are supporting your local dairy farms. And Cabot is part of the cooperative as well. Yes, Cabot products are definitely associated with Vermont, but a fair amount of Cabot’s milk originates in upstate New York.
The alternative to large-scale dairies are the smaller artisanal businesses, such as Asgaard Farm in AuSable Forks, Meier’s Artisan Cheese in Fort Covington, Nettle Meadow Farm in Warrensburg and North Country Creamery at Clover Mead Farm. These farms are striving to create high-quality value-added dairy products, which can help the dairy farmer make a viable living — not an easy task. With most of these businesses, the focus is on farmstead cheese, defined as cheese made from milk produced right on the farm.
In AuSable Forks, David Brunner and Rhonda Butler renovated Asgaard Farm to accommodate a certified-organic goat-milk dairy. Their herd of dairy goats produces milk for their farmstead products, including cheeses, caramels and soap.
Dan Meier also makes his own types of farmstead cheeses that reflect the character of his farm and region. He has named products St. Regis, Snye and Mt. Titus after local landmarks and also makes whole-milk cheese curds.
Sheila Flanagan and Lorraine Lambiase are the owners and cheese makers at Nettle Meadow Farm. Not only do they produce artisanal-farmstead cheeses from goats’ milk, they also incorporate sheep and cow milk into their products.
The new kid on the block, North Country Creamery, is owned and operated by Ashlee Kleinhammer, who resuscitated the Clover Mead Farm dairy operation after the retirement of local cheese pioneer Sam Hendren. Kleinhammer is producing cheese and yogurt as well as selling raw milk. New York state does allow raw-milk sales, which follow careful licensing and regulatory procedures to assure product safety.
Most of these small farms sell at farmers markets, through community-supported agriculture or a farm store, and many also sell to retail stores and restaurants. Adirondack Harvest is a regional organization dedicated to connecting our local farmers with consumers and can help you in your quest for local foods. To find local dairy farms that sell directly to the public, visit www.adirondackharvest.com.
Laurie Davis is an educator with Cornell Cooperative Extension in Essex County and is the coordinator for Adirondack Harvest. Reach her at 962-4810, Ext. 404, or by email: firstname.lastname@example.org.