During the years in which I’ve been paying attention to North Country agricultural news, I’ve noticed that when a headline announces a story about “farming” it’s most likely to be about dairy farming. I suspect this narrow definition of farming stems from the general history of farming 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 the North Country dairy farms?
We want to make sure our dairy farmers are making a viable living, and buy 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 processing plants originated on Northern New York dairy farms.
We have a large commercial cheese producer in Chateaugay. McCadam Cheese is a member of the Agri-Mark dairy farmer cooperative which 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 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 Au Sable Forks, Meier’s Artisan Cheese in Fort Covington, Nettle Meadow Farm in Warrensburg and a new business, North Country Creamery at Clover Mead Farm. These farms are striving to create high-quality value-added dairy products that 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 Au Sable 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 of Meier’s Artisan Cheese makes his own types of farmstead cheeses that reflect the character of his farm and region. He has named 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 cheesemakers 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. Ashlee 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 (CSA) or a farm store, and many also sell to retail stores and restaurants.
Photos: Above, Rachel Zumbach, left, holds soap made from goat milk on Arianna’s Eden Farm. She is seen here with FFA Advisor Tedra McDougall at an agricultural fair held at a Northern New York school. Photo by Brian P. Whattam. Below, NY dairy codes on a gallon jug of milk and a yogurt cup.