The University of Vermont extension has an upcoming webinar that might be of interest to anyone considering a leap into goat farming:
Transitioning to a Commercial Goat Dairy: Are you Ready?
March 26, 2013 at 7 pm EST:
With Carol Delaney, M. S., author of A Guide to Starting a Commercial Goat Dairy.
Carol is a small ruminant dairy specialist and author of A Guide to Starting a Commercial Goat Dairy. Carol will present the platform and viewpoint to help you lay the framework for running a commercial dairy goat operation. There will be an emphasis on planning, livestock considerations, budgeting, record keeping, time management and marketing. Formerly with the University of Vermont Department of Animal Science and Extension, 1998-2008, Carol now works as a farmer grant specialist for Northeast Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education, and as a small ruminant consultant.
Sign up here.
Last Monday I had the opportunity to make cheese with Colin McGrath, head cheesemaker at Sprout Creek Farm, as well as touring the farm and tasting their latest line of cheeses with Audrey Aponte, Director of Sales and assistant cheesemaker. Sprout Creek is a multi-faceted operation, not just a farm and creamery but also a non-profit educational foundation, with the mission of using the farm as a teaching vehicle for children, allowing them to learn life and agricultural skills while working on a real farm. Sprout Creek Farm was originally founded by Sister Margot Morris and the Society of the Sacred Heart, but is now an independent non-profit.
Colin, a Culinary Institute of America graduate who hails from California originally, has been at Sprout Creek for around 7 years now and has had the opportunity to grow into his cheesemaking life alongside the farm, which has evolved over the last decade from cheesemaking being one of many artisanal foods produced to being the focus of the production side of the operation. The cheeses have evolved and changed considerably over that time as well, and they scored 2nd Place ribbons for both the Toussaint and the Madeleine at the 2012 American Cheese Society competition in Raleigh, NC — a confirmation of the passion and hard work that Colin and the rest of the Sprout Creek team have poured into the vats (literally and figuratively) over that time.
The make that I took part in was for the Madeleine, a raw goat’s milk, pecorino-inspired cheese. The goats had recently kidded (resulting in some cute-overload encounters with baby goats, but more on that in a follow-up post), so the goat’ milk was just recently flowing again. Colin told me that the early milkings after kidding are usually not suitable for aged cheeses, and get turned into fresh cheeses instead, but this milk was the first with which he felt comfortable making the Madeleine. Colin and Audrey are continuously monitoring and testing the milk and collaborating with the farmers to ensure both the safety and the quality of their working materials. As Colin said in a 2012 Edible Communities profile (and reiterated as we were standing over the vat), “[in cheesemaking] we are taking milk and emphasizing all of the natural characteristics in it by 100 percent. Whether it is good or bad, it is going to show through.” Put another way, you can’t make good cheese from sub-par milk, so the milk must be at its best going into the vat, and they are vigilant to ensure that is the case.
I also took part in the make for an “experimental cheese”, in the bloomy rind family, but Colin asked me not to divulge any other details as it’s still very much in the R&D stage.
Indeed, experimentation is a big part of his process, as he continually seeks to both refine the existing cheeses and develop new ones. Sometimes this is a methodical process of tweaking and adjusting an existing recipe to improve it, while at other times he might try out completely new recipes and techniques just to see where they lead.
When I was done in the creamery, Audrey and I had a tasting of the current line of cheeses, followed by a tour of the farm. A great new cheese is the Margie, a soft-ripened bloomy rind, with a fabulous silky texture and buttery flavor with notes of mushroom and hay. Colin and Audrey were quick to insist that the Margie is still being finessed, but I was already impressed with it and expect to see it popping up in counters everywhere shortly. I also tried the aforementioned Madeleine, the Toussaint, a raw cow’s milk alpine tomme with a wonderful nuttiness and peppery bite, the Batch 35, a smear-ripened washed rind with a mild pungency and a buttery flavor with meaty notes, and the Point of Origin, a washed-rind collaboration with Whole Foods and Sixpoint Brewery that I really like (see my previous review for more on this cheese).
They’ve been working to refine the line, and some cheeses, like the Camus blue cheese, have been retired, due to inconsistent results and the headaches of keeping the blues quarantined from the other cheeses.
If you’re ever in the Hudson Valley, it’s well worth your time to swing by Sprout Creek. Check out the farm store to sample and purchase all their products as well as other artisanal and local products, and view the cheese making in progress. Afterwards, you can visit the animals and see the baby cows and goats — not to mention Ferdinand, the new miniature donkey on the farm (speaking of which, for more on the farm tour, check out my following post; that’s where you’ll find the baby goat pictures!).
From Robert Krulwich at NPR, Not cheese related, but a fascinating, and terrifying, look at the lifeless biological deserts we are creating through modern agriculture:
Cornstalks Everywhere But Nothing Else, Not Even A Bee
…That cube was put there by David Liittschwager, a portrait photographer, who spent a few years traveling the world, dropping one-cubic-foot metal frames into gardens, streams, parks, forests, oceans, and then photographing whatever, or whoever came through. Beetles, crickets, fish, spiders, worms, birds — anything big enough to be seen by the naked eye he tried to capture and photograph…
100 years ago, these same fields, these prairies, were home to 300 species of plants, 60 mammals, 300 birds, hundreds and hundreds of insects. This soil was the richest, the loamiest in the state. And now, in these patches, there is almost literally nothing but one kind of living thing. We’ve erased everything else.
We need to feed our planet, of course. But we also need the teeny creatures that drive all life on earth. There’s something strange about a farm that intentionally creates a biological desert to produce food for one species: us. It’s efficient, yes. But it’s so efficient that the ants are missing, the bees are missing, and even the birds stay away. Something’s not right here. Our cornfields are too quiet.
Read the full post here and to see the photographs.
Good magazine reports on a new kind of Crowd funding, aimed at helping small-scale farmers:
Farming is a creative practice with a final product more spectacular than anything manmade: fresh produce, delicious meat, fragrant flowers, and a well cared for landscape. So in the social media age, when people are willing to donate money in support of a stranger’s creativity through platforms like Kickstarter, it makes sense to try to extend that generosity to the world of agriculture, allowing people to give to small farms whose missions they support.
Enter Farmhopping, a website launching next month that intends to create a new framework for financing small-scale farming by connecting farms with backers who pay a small sum to invest in a farm for rewards, like shipments of cheese, and a say in how the farm is managed…
Mitova says some people have compared the idea to “Farmville but with real animals,” but she frowns at the suggestion. “We don’t want to just make entertainment,” she says. “We want to make people part of a community, part of a lifestyle.” And unlike an entertaininment platform, Farmhopping poses real solutions to cash-flow problems for small farmers…
[Future] farms to be included in the platform will be a water buffalo farm that produces authentic mozzarella and another farm that keeps sheep and bees. The eventual goal is to create a list with farms from around the world that reflect different concerns, whether protecting heritage breeds or permaculture. “We’ll have to visit each farm and make sure that the farm is a good match for us, that we are a good match for a farm, that they’re taking care of the animal in a sustainable way.” It’s a hugely ambitious project for a young entreprneur—or for anyone, really—but Mitova doesn’t seem to mind.
(Photo ©2012 Good.is)
a photo from the Tumblr for Sawkill Farm, in Red Hook, NY (the town upstate, not the Brooklyn neighborhood). The name comes from the Sawkill Creek that runs through the farm. Michael and Saundra, the young farmers who run Sawkill, sell amazing meat, eggs and produce at the Columbia University Greenmarket and the Jackson Heights Greenmarket. (No milk for sale yet but that might come in the future). There’s also an on-site farm store in development which will be on Rte 9, just north of Red Hook, opening soon (see their location in google maps).
It’s starting to feel like a video tumblr around here what with all the video links lately, but here’s another: the trailer for dairy documentary “The First Season”, which follows a family as they go through the trials and tribulations of starting a small family dairy farm in upstate NY.
Produced and directed by Rudd Simmons — better known for Producer titles on Boardwalk Empire, multiple Wes Anderson Films, The Road, and much more — Simmons was friends with the family before shooting began, and spent five years following them and assembling materials before filming began:
I’ve known Paul and Phyllis Van Amburgh for a long time and when I heard that they were buying a farm, I thought it would make an interesting film. Paul and Phyllis are both extraordinary people and what they were attempting to do had a built-in conflict. The structure was also there, one year divided by the seasons which would become visual markers for the various acts in the story.
How long did it take you to make your film? Five years. I lived with the farm family and filmed for the first 6 months of their starting the dairy. Then, over the course of the next 3 years, I did follow-up visits, shooting additional material, landscapes and interviews. When I felt that there was nothing else to shoot, we started post-production which took another year to complete.
You can read the full interview with Simmons at AllAboutIndieFilmmaking.com in which he discusses the process of making the film.
The trailer is available at the site for the Slamdance Film Festival (the satellite film festival for Sundance):
Paul and Phyllis van Amburg, believing that a small, family farm is the best place to raise their children, take their life savings and buy a defunct dairy. With three children and a fourth on the way, and armed only with their principles and determination, they fight to defy the odds as they become full time farmers. THE FIRST SEASON, through an intimate, cinema verite style, bears witness to the Van Amburg’s struggle as they fight against relentless toil, financial ruin and the harsh reality of diary farming to achieve their version of the American dream.
Slow Foods has launched an effort in support of Raw Milk, check it out here.
It’s not just about better tasting milk and cheese. Food cultures and freedom to choose what we eat are at stake. Crafts, people and places, are suffering because of a misleading conception of safety. Slow Food tackles all these issues, educating children and adults, resisting standardization, protecting food biodiversity and producers. The highlight of our campaign is Cheese, the biennial event that celebrates the world’s best cheeses and the producers, shepherds and affineurs that bring them to us.
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