Hi, I’m Sarah Lyons Chase, of Chaseholm Farm in upstate New York.
Today I can say that Chaseholm Farm is a third generation dairy. I was lucky to grow up in a Hudson Valley farming family that held onto its land through the peaks and troughs of living on a commodity milk check. My interest in farming is deeply connected to this land and the cows we have raised here, just as I am. It is exhilarating to be on the brink of beginning of another lifelong farming journey on our Chaseholm Farm.
My older brother moved home two years before I did. He started a cheese company on the farm; since I returned three years ago we have been working together and our collaboration can now extend to my dairy herd managed for his cheese production.
Chaseholm has been a conventional dairy but with “retro” management- my Dad didn’t like to use pesticides or buy GMO corn seed– we’ve had the same tractors since the 50’s and our dump station milking machines were only replaced by a direct pipeline system three years ago. I feel proud of coming from a humble and dedicated small dairy.
My farm dreams hold onto our history while improving systems and adapting to the problems dairy farmers face today. I am aiming to create an efficient grass based system that will raise healthier cows and high quality milk at a lower cost. I am not going to push my cows for maximum milk production; I want to live sustainably, to make a living wage while treating the land and animals with deep respect and care, continually improving.
Thanks for following along with me this season!
Hi! My name is Laura Ginsburg. Connie and I are starting to build our dairy, the Golden Yoke. We are the first new dairy in Montana in over two decades. Not only will we be the first new dairy in many years, we will be the only grass-based, seasonal dairy in the state.
I am currently in my last semester of graduate school at the University of Montana, where I am in the Environmental Studies program. I am writing my thesis on the effects of supply management on Montana’s dairy farmers and work as a research assistant for a local agriculture non-profit. Connie works full-time at a growers’ cooperative, and has a degree in dairy science from Virginia Tech.
We are driven by our passion for dairy farming and our love of cows. I fell in love with dairy farming while studying abroad in New Zealand, and do not have an agricultural background. Connie grew up on what she likes to call “Old MacDonald’s Farm” in rural southwest Virginia, where her family raised tobacco and had a market garden. She has worked on dairies across the United States, as a herdsman for a 4,000-cow Horizon dairy in Idaho to the only employee on a 35-cow organic dairy in Vermont. The majority of my dairy experience was in Vermont, where I relief milked for multiple farmers and helped with pasture management.
The decision to be grass-based and seasonal has raised a lot of eyebrows out here, where all dairies are confinement systems. We believe in the restorative power of grazing for the land and for the health of the cows, and saw outstanding results for both at a dairy we worked at in Vermont. Because of our jobs, school commitments, and being young farmers, our plan is to start slowly. Over the past two months we have been matched through a land link program to 40 acres in the Mission Mountains (St. Ignatius, MT) and have purchased our first two heifers.
We only want to milk around 20 cows, and are open to the idea of taking several years to scale up to that size. We are also exploring the idea of milking sheep, which would make us another anomaly in the state. Neither of us has much experience with sheep though, so this will be a more in-depth learning process which will include farm visits to neighboring states. Our friends and the local community are very excited about supporting and visiting our farm, and we are also going to be utilizing creative financing to fund our initial start-up costs. The whole process of watching our dream come into reality is exhilarating and sobering, and we look forward to sharing it with others who have the same dream as us.
Hi! I’m Abbie, mama to Eli, wife to Dave (who is NOT a farmer, but a wildly talented builder), and daughter to Leon and Linda. Along with my parents I farm here in the rolling hills of southern VT. We’ve been stewarding the land since 1868 and are excited to have you join along with our adventures this season.
I was never going to be a farmer. My life’s goal was to go to college and hightail it out. Growing up, though appreciative of the beauty of my surroundings, I was unable to fathom how I would ever be happy here. And my father raised my brothers and I under the dictate that unless we woke up in the morning happy to do what we did, it wasn’t worth doing. Farming, for me, didn’t seem worth doing.
Nonetheless, life is a journey that sometimes lands you not so much where you want, but where you need. And I had some lovely jobs in some lovely places and I realized that I wasn’t doing them very well. My soul was never fully engaged. May rolled around and I looked out my office window and wanted to run outside and soak up the sun. Growing up as the oldest child in the 6th generation of a dairy farming family my existence was based (though I never registered it at the time), on the rhythms and routines of Nature. I could be outside whenever I liked, sometimes more than I liked, with the option of constant motion. I am not so good at sitting still.
But, as my dad would say I am dyed-in-the-wool organic. For me, it truly is the only option. And though our farm has a long history of attempting to work with Nature instead of against her, we only officially transitioned as a certified organic dairy in 2008. My dad will openly admit that for him the lure of organic initially was its sustainability factor and not the environmental kind. Conventional milk prices were a disaster and even a farm as well established as ours with as little debt was struggling. After looking a bit into the transition process he learned that our journey towards organic, comparatively speaking for a lot of conventional dairies, would be straightforward.
I was a wholehearted cheerleader of this transition. I loved reading about the standards Organic Valley would be asking of our farm. Dad has always fostered a mentality of quality over quantity and OV is based on the same premise. We would be compensated fairly for our milk and paid quality premiums. At 2000’ this land is not well suited to growing anything but grass; the 142 days our 60 cow milking herd spent on pasture fit well within the organic model.
Growing up, I was notorious for hating cows. They were awful beasts that made life inconvenient. It wasn’t until I was 8 months pregnant and following them up the road that cows and I understood each other. It was a “light bulb” moment. I realized these awful beasts were simply misunderstood. They were lactating mothers!
So, I got it. The farm informs mothering. Mothering illuminates farming. Having my son was a double gift. It empowered me to believe what my husband had always told me; “the only place I’ve ever seen you truly happy is on the farm.”
For current photos, please feel free to follow along with me at instagram.com/tractormom.
Hi, I’m Laura Sluder and I run Blue Sage Farm.
Blue Sage Farm is a small sheep and goat dairy located in southern Idaho. The farm philosophy is to let the animals do as much as the work as possible. While I have been farming since 2001, I didn’t start dairying until 2009. It has been a huge learning curve even though I had a background in farming and ranching.
As with most farms today, one of us has to work off the farm to “pay the bills”. In our case, it is my husband Paul. He has his own small business that offers him some flexibility to be able to help me when I need an extra hand and our kids, Jake and Izzy help some too. Otherwise, I run this 80 acre, 100 head (sheep and goats) farm by myself. I’ve gone from 6 ewes to 250 ewes and now am back to 85. I’ve added the goats recently and experienced a whole new set of rules for them. In the future, I’d like to grow to 200 ewes and 50 goats but first I need to develop a market for all that cheese and ice cream.
I use Management intensive Grazing and am able to graze most of the year. I only feed hay for a couple months in the winter. Of our farm’s 80 acres, I strive to have a ratio of 70% pasture / 30% annuals for grazing on a 3-5 year rotation. I also grow oats to feed the sheep and goats in the parlor. I’d like to be 100% grassfed but haven’t accomplished that yet.
There aren’t very many options for goat and sheep dairy producers in our area. There are no creameries close enough that one can sell milk to so processing it yourself is really the only option. I started out taking my milk to a local farmstead cow creamery but even though they were small compared to the Glambia and Kraft plants in the area, their equipment was much bigger than I was able to fill. It was extremely inefficient to take my milk there and tie up their plant for a whole day for such a small amount. After a year of shipping it there, I found a small creamery in the next state who was willing to make cheese for me but shipping the milk 6 hours away didn’t work very well either. In the fall of 2010, I purchased my own cheese making equipment and by the following spring, I had a partner who brought in her goats and was making the cheese for both of us right here on the farm. Long story short, my partner moved away in January 2013 leaving me with all the work, but also, all the income. It seemed scary at first but it really was a good thing. I took a few weeks to reevaluate my business and came up with some fresh ideas and a new focus.
I guess you could say I’m a little hard headed or I wouldn’t have gotten to where I am now. That being said, I strive to be flexible and try new things and I’m known by my farming neighbors as “that crazy lady who milks sheep and farms with draft horses”. I know no of them thought I’d stick it out this long. I like to keep them guessing what I’ll do next!
Hi, I’m Ashlee Kleinhammer, and I’d like to welcome you to the North Country Creamery.
Located on Clover Mead Farm in Keeseville, NY, we are seeking to reintroduce small-scale, premium dairy products to the eastern Adironack community. Consumers are placing more value on buying healthy and farm-direct, which has caused local product consumption to skyrocket across the country. My eagerness to run a grass-fed milking herd and continue to provide the community with local, value-added dairy products coincides with the retirement of Clover Mead Farm’s previous owner, Sam Hendren.
In the first year, the Creamery will focus on developing a line of yogurts, a few aged cheeses, and selling raw milk direct from the farm in accordance with New York State regulations. In the coming years, product line may further diversify in proportion to market demand and herd expansion. Collaboration between existing vegetable and meat Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) operations is a key component of the Creamery’s mission and marketing approach.
The former café building at Clover Mead Farm will be converted into a neighborhood CSA Distribution Center and non-CSA member Farm Store. It will open a few days per week during peak summer months to cater to the tourist population, and serve as distribution/pick-up location for the numerous neighborhood CSA’s throughout the year. The synergy between these small-scale CSA farms and the Creamery will prove beneficial both economically to local businesses and socially for the North Country community. The Creamery will capitalize on the growing trend in consumer enthusiasm for local food and commerce by becoming the one-stop-shopping mecca for high quality, local products!
After managing and working on dairy farms across Vermont and New York, I am eager to run my own micro-dairy farm. I’ve gained hands-on experience with a variety of dairies and attended numerous agricultural workshops in the past seven years. The inspiration to become a herdswoman began to percolate during my employment at Hawthorne Valley Farm. I had my first opportunity to milk a cow, which began my devotion to cow care and high-quality dairying. Since then I’ve been involved with the gamut of dairy herds, from hand-milking two Jerseys at the Farm & Wilderness Foundation, to becoming the herdsperson of 50 organic Holsteins in a parlor equipped with automatic take-off milking machines. Most recently I managed a 17-cow Jersey herd in Essex, New York, and processed small batches of yogurt, butter, sour cream, and fresh cheese. I am eager to marry the knowledge of my experiences in the self-designed, small-scale North Country Creamery.
The North Country Creamery is committed to providing the local community with rich, wholesome dairy products using sustainable farming methods. My mission is to pioneer a new line of small-scale, handcrafted dairy products in Northern New York. The Creamery distinguishes itself by producing all the milk and value-added products at the dairy farm from 100% grassfed cows.
We are thrilled to announce the start to the 2013 Bootstrap blogging season!
This year, the Bootstrap blog – entering its third year – will focus entirely on up-and-coming dairy farmers. Some are newly transitioned from apprenticeships on other farms and excited to be building their own operations and others grew up living and breathing the family farm and are now moving into leadership roles. The Bootstrap blog is designed to bring the reader through a beginning farmer’s season on the farm – through the ups and downs, lofty dreams and sometimes-harsh reality.
Given the capital-intensive nature of dairy farming, the goal of the blog this year is to look at what it takes to successfully start up and run a dairy farm in America today. This series is being supported by the generous support of Stonyfield Farm, Profits for the Planet, the non-profit wing of Stonyfield Farm.
Hailing from across the country, this year’s five Bootstrap writers are:
Ashlee Kleinhammer, of North Country Creamery in Keeseville, NY
Laura Ginsburg, of The Golden Yoke in St. Ignatius, MT
Abbie Corse, of Corse Farm Dairy, in Windham County, VT
Laura Sluder, of Blue Sage Farm in Lincoln County, ID
Sarah Lyons Chase, of Chaseholm Farm in Pine Plains, NY
The blog series will begin next week with an introduction from each of these amazing dairy farmers. Articles will then be posted at the end of every month, each with a particular focus:
MAY: “Why I’m a dairy farmer”
JUNE: Animals and Breeds
JULY: Equipment and Capital
SEPTEMBER: Pasture Management
OCTOBER: Marketing and Sales
NOVEMBER: Policy and Regulations
DECEMBER: Year in Review
We are excited for a great year with these fantastic farmers!
With the close of the 2012 Bootstrap Blog season, we at the Young Farmers’ Coalition would like to extend a warm thank you to our six Bootstrap farms this season. You’ve followed them all season – from the early planning and big dreams of spring through the frustrations and challenges of summertime, and now through to the end of their first seasons managing their own operations. Feel free to read back over their posts using the 2012 Bootstrap Blog Hub, where you can see profiles and feeds for each farm.
Karla and Elizabeth from Bossy Acres, Becky from City Grown Seattle, Allyson from Full Heart Farm, Maryellen and Matt from Hartwood Farm, Stowe from Rippling Waters Organic Farm, and Liberty and Leslie from The Salad Garden: we can’t thank you enough for opening your farms up to us every month and giving us an insider’s perspective to your season.
Your insights have been invaluable for the many farmers out there also in the beginning stages of their own businesses – or at the point of still dreaming about it one day.
We will be spending the winter season putting together NYFC’s third Bootstrap year, with 2013 focusing on the ranching side of things. So stay tuned!
The crops are mostly out of the ground, the fields and yard are picked up for winter, and our off-season project list has grown to seemingly impossible lengths. We don’t want to praise anything too much though—last month’s blog where we celebrated our equipment making it through the season may have jinxed us. Two days after writing that, our tractor engine blew, requiring complete rebuilding, including machining. It was a tortuous end of season decision–do we spend $5000 we don’t have on a crappy old tractor that we hoped was only temporary, or do we go buy a “new” old tractor for $5000, which could have a whole host of problems of its own?
Hindsight is 20/20, so boy do we wish we had taken all the money we will end up spending on this tractor and just buy a $12,000 machine up front! [We did decide to repair the old machine; under the idea that it's better to have a tractor that we know all the issues it has, than to introduce another unknown element into the farm equipment roster.]
We could say all sorts of seemingly positive things here, like “At least it happened at the end of the season, rather than in the spring,” and they would be true, but it doesn’t change a lousy situation. That $5000–which equals our entire 2013 seed and potting soil budget, or two hoop houses for next spring, or two acres of hop rhizomes–is the hardest, most discouraging money we’ve had to spend yet. It also means that we both need to work full time during this off season in order to make those payments and be in good shape financially for next season.
Most of our thinking and assessment over the past few months has been on the economics of this past season, since (if we give some leeway due to the drought) we were satisfied for the most part with where the produce was going.
The two areas that kept coming up as weak spots for our production were marketing/finance, and systems design. We realized we weren’t doing great on the marketing front back in June, and on the systems front in July, but despite knowing we needed to make changes in these areas, we were so busy during the season just staying caught up, that we couldn’t find time to change things! This was incredibly frustrating, knowing that we needed to change, but not being able to enact it.
On the marketing front, we need to recruit more members. We played things super safe for our first year, especially after the drought started to impact things, and we ended up postponing fall and winter shares until next year because of this. However, we had counted on that longer season to help us get through the winter financially, and we regretted being so conservative when we ended up having more produce than we could sell. While this was frustrating, we are much happier to have played it safe and sold too few shares rather than commit to more shares than we could ultimately produce for. We need to amp things up next year, but will still maintain a solid production buffer to guarantee nice CSA shares.
On the systems front, it was frustrating to be in an operation without good systems. We had NO infrastructure. In particular, we didn’t have the initial funds to build a real wash line before the season began, and during the season we didn’t have the labor hours to adapt what we had to make it work better. Without good infrastructure (or at least “good” in terms of efficiency), harvesting and washing took a lot longer every week. In retrospect, it would have been a better investment to give up a day up front (and maybe even skip a market) and get our setup together better. We didn’t do this, and we paid for it twice a week at harvest—which started earlier and ended later due to our inefficiencies in the system.
Also on a systems front, it was frustrating how you can make a decision to save money up front, but then end up having so much more hassle as a result of that decision. For example, we decided to go with bags for our CSA. They were nice bags, but they were still soft and floppy. They were torture to pack, stacked terribly, and were just a couple inches too wide to fit in our coolers. They made loading the car a complete pain. Starting in week two, we moaned about those darn bags. At the end, we estimated that having bags rather than boxes doubled our packing time, cost us a whole WEEK’s extra labor, and exponentially increased CSA stress. [Moral of the story: NEVER use bags for your CSA share if you are pre-packing and then transporting them in your vehicle!]
Hopefully by next month, we will be on our way with a plan for retooling (and have a few of the biggest off-season projects under our belt)!
We survived our first hurricane and nor’easter this month (back-to-back), which felt like as much of an accomplishment as our first harvest back in June.
We were lucky in so many ways. Our MemberShare season ended two days before the storm hit and before we could begin to celebrate, we were racing to batten down the farm and prepare for winter. A generator came to us in the nick of time so that we could run our chest freezer full of meat. My whole family worked together to protect the farm from whatever was coming our way. There is peace of mind that comes with knowing you have done everything you can within reason, and that there are a community of people waiting to help you pick up the pieces if things go wrong.
Thankfully, they didn’t. We had a reparable tear in our new high tunnel, a few branches down, and a weeklong power outage that we were plenty prepared for. The storms brought more than 90+ mph wind gusts, flooding, sleet, snow, and rain: they brought a newfound confidence. This entire season has felt mostly impossible – from purchasing my own farm in May to starting a CSA. But now that things are said and done, the small mishaps and mistakes seem dwarfed by the larger accomplishment of making it through and feeling well positioned for a successful upcoming season.
There were points during the growing season (especially when it was impossibly hot or impossibly dry), where it seemed like winter would never arrive. Now that the farm has dwindled to a small flock of laying hens, 4 pigs, and a high tunnel full of fall veggies, more of my time is spent cleaning up the property and working on the house. I spent my first snow day just as I had imagined – eating apple pie in front of the woodstove. I’ve unpacked most of my boxes and even hung art on the walls. All summer long it felt like I was staying at this house and caring for the farm, but now that most of the renovations are complete and I’m settling in, it’s finally starting to feel like a home.
I’m SO excited to plan for next season. The seed and poultry catalogs have begun to arrive and checking the mailbox feels like Christmas morning (well, except when I open it and only find bills). I love mapping out the vegetables, creating an elaborate calendar, and developing charts and systems to make my record keeping easier. I’m saving these coveted tasks until the weather gets colder and I’ve cleared the bittersweet off the perimeter of the property (another project that seems sort of impossible), but that time is soon. It feels like all of a sudden winter is here and I can take a small moment to breathe a sigh of relief before a plow into next season.
Putting our fields and gardens to bed for the winter kept us busy as we approached November. As we pulled down tomato trellises and mowed over weedy bean fields, we reflected back over our first season, and the challenges, highlights, and lessons that came with each passing day. It wasn’t an easy year, but it made us stronger and it opened us up for better opportunities in the seasons ahead.
In one way or another, we’ve all ventured out on our own, tried something new, experimented here and there. Some things work out great, while some are a struggle every step of the way or just flat out take a tumble and fall altogether.
One of the primary things we learned in this first year of operating a CSA is the importance of communication and openness. While we excel in staying connected and utilizing various tools like Facebook, Twitter, email, and text, there’s an opportunity for greater transparency. We’re optimistic people — excited to just be out there doing what we love — but we faced challenges.
Most notably, we had a land rental situation that made things difficult. We had promises about equipment usage that got changed in the middle of the season. We had land that was hard as a rock, and just a few weeks ago, Karla broke two shovels on it. We hadn’t seen any rain since July and even then, it was barely measurable. Soil compaction was ridiculous, creating a situation where nearly every carrot we tried to harvest broke when we pulled it. The sweet potatoes, valiant and determined, tried to grow but the compaction squeezed them so much that almost all of them looked like pencils.
The list goes on, but we rode that fine line: do we stay optimistic and true to ourselves and our personalities or do we send updates full of complaints to our membership? We opted for the first option, and focused on positive developments, but on the weeks when the boxes were less full than we would have liked, those upbeat messages didn’t match the situation, and it’s likely that some members felt like there was too much marketing and not enough meat.
Although we had plenty of cheerleaders in the membership, we couldn’t help but believe that some people were disappointed, and even in weeks when the boxes were stuffed full, the potential for members to feel put off haunted us. We would get done with delivery, dirt still permanently crusted under fingernails, and suffer a wave of anxiety about how the boxes would be received, rather than enjoying the sweet relief of another harvest week done.
We wanted members to feel a part of our team, our farm, our journey, but at the time as we were going through these challenges, we just focused on getting through each day. Still, that’s what being a part of a CSA is all about — the member should feel involved on a deeper level and the farmers should feel that they can communicate openly with their members, regardless of the adversity. For 2013, we feel that we’ll be able to strike a better balance of discussing problems without sounding like we’re grousing about them, and we now understand the importance of letting members know about the stumbles as well as the triumphs.
Thankfully, we’re positioned well for better land, more land, as well as consistent and reliable access to equipment for 2013. Next year, we’ll be part of an organic farm incubator program called Organic Field School (OFS), which will give us access to three acres for vegetable growing, equipment usage, affordable supplies, and plenty of insight from experienced farmers.
More on that next time, but for now, the inclusion in this program is giving us hope. We’re ready for another year, another chance, and isn’t that what farming is all about? To improve with the seasons, to be flexible in the face of challenges, and to keep growing, in every sense of the word.