We have had Sidehill Farm’s yogurt, cheese and butter before… all of which have been divine… maybe even beyond divine. The yogurt is mild and body-ful, and has an almost cult following in MA. All of their dairy is infused in a certain flavor of good old fashioned cow-farminess. Not the bad type, the good musky, earthy, sweet and grassy type. However, we have never seen the cows that brought forth such amazing foodstuffs.
Much to our excited surprise, on Saturday there was an open farm tour on Sidehill farm, the same day we’d be out in Western Mass for Red Fire Farm‘s Strawberry Soiree! We headed out to the farm in Ashfield (which in itself seems really great) and drove along lovely country roads following our directions on bated breath. We had never been to the farm, and so we were a little nervous when a Sidehill farm sign pointed us to a rather nondescript dirt road. However, there were encouraging signs as we progressed into what looked like utter wilderness:
We came upon an empty little parking area (we were early) and walked around a little bit to stumble upon their farm stand.
We rooted around to find their produce: garlic scapes, beets, greens (I can’t remember anything else, but there probably were more). The fridge was stocked with tons of RAW MILK! We were totally psyched- we have been wanting to try raw milk for a while and here was our golden opportunity. They also had yogurt, raw butter, raw cream, paneer cheese, and their freezer filled with beef, all which we planned to come back after the tour and stock up.
Sooner than later, a huge group of dairy loving- agriculturally interested people gathered for the tour. Two interns (as they call themselves interns 1 and 2) and finally Amy, and Paul (The founders and owners of Sidehill Farm) came introduced themselves and had us all introduce ourselves.
They gave us a brief history of Sidehill Farm. Amy Klippenstein and Paul Lacinski moved out to Ashfield to homestead, and were living off the land fairly well, with the exception of the fact they had to buy tons of yogurt. So, as any self respecting homesteader would do- they bought cows and started figuring out how to get to yogurt-making. They leased land from their neighbors and got onto intensive grazing, and raw milk sales, starting with about five cows.
Things escalated from there, with much experimentation, expansion of the herd, learning and finally enhancement of the land. Now they have a herd of about 50 cows, with 17 being dairy cows for milking or nursing.
Firstly, we got a tour of their dairy production areas. The dairy parlor in their neighbor’s barn lets them milk their diary cows at three a time.
Amy explained that their cows get some grain, mostly during milking as a treat, however the total grain that they get is about 3 parts grain to 50 parts grass and hay. Not too bad… and we’ll get back to grazing soon. They also explained the process of milking, and their new piping that enables them to easily transport their milk to their bulk milk tank for storage, while keeping it very clean. They are pretty strict when it comes to cleanliness since they sell raw milk. They converted over to the high quality silicone piping system so that they were not carrying big milk containers through the barn, which would possibly enable barn bacteria (anything from the animals, poop, etc) to get into the milk (maybe). The silicone is also very easily sterilized and kept clean. Amy admits she is very anally retentive about cleanliness, and keeping their milk safe. Which is pretty awesome.
The dairy storage areas for bulk milk and yogurt are in trailers since this land is all leased, so that their capital investments can be taken with them if they had to move their operations elsewhere.
Next we went out to see the baby cows, calves, that were being nursed by a few of their dairy nursing cows.
Next we headed out to pasture to meet the grazing dairy herd.
Why Sidehill Farm is called sidehill… well we had to climb a few hills of pasture…. just a guess. We got up to where the majority of the herd was grazing up on a hill, and got to pet cows and learn more about cow behavior, nutrition and how Sidehill farm takes care of their cows.
Theresa and I headed off back to the farm stand after meeting the dairy herd, seeing as we had to get to Red Fire Farm. Our overall thoughts about Sidehill Farm after the tour: these were happy healthy cows, with really nice, down to earth farmers tending to them and their land. Amy and Paul manage to balance good ethical farming practices with practicality. I think it really is true, happy healthy cows make really good healthy milk. And I think that Amy and Paul are doing is awesome.
At the stand, we went a little hogwild. We got two gallons… yes, gallons of raw milk. One gallon for freezing (I swear). Raw cream, yogurt, ground beef and a beef roast. Phew! We were well stocked with the beautiful bounty of Sidehill Farm, and oh where we happy.
With the dairy packed into a thermo-bag to keep it cold, we enjoyed the scenery and thought about cows as we headed off to Red Fire Farm. More about the Strawberry Soiree later.