{summer farm tour} Meet Our Dairy Farmer

 {Meadowbrook Farms Dairy, Clarksville, NY}

Christina (FSC’s editor) had it right in Saturday’s post (Meet Your Meat Farmers): “I can’t stress enough how important farm tours are to customer education & enlightenment, customer-to-farmer relations and community ties. To actually see & hear, in detail, up-close, how your food is grown or raised is an empowering experience. You walk away with a better understanding of the farmer & crew’s grueling-never-ending-job in rain, in snow, in 100 degree heat, early morning, late in the day or night.” You also walk away, I’d add, with a heightened appreciation for the food you consume (and the people who produce it).

My husband and I own a farm-to-bakery/café in Albany, NY(All Good Bakers) and we’re always interested in getting to know more about the local farmers and other small producers who supply us with vegetables, fruit, cheese, honey, maple syrup and dairy.  We have embarked on a Farm Tour this summer in an effort to bring our community closer to the families who work very hard to produce the food we are fortunate to have the opportunity to prepare and serve. One of our goals is to ensure our five year old daughter knows where her food comes from, so we’ll feature a “Katie Question” when she’s able to join us. I look forward to sharing with you the stories of just a fraction of the huge number of amazing local food producers here in Upstate NY!

Our first stop on the tour was Meadowbrook Farms Dairy this past Tuesday. We use their milks, ½ and ½, and incredible, low-heat, vat-pasteurized heavy cream to make 18-24 pounds of fresh, lightly salted, sweet-cream butter every week for our baked goods.  I can’t describe the wonderfully fresh smell of the cream as it churns into butter with rich flavor, purity and depth, but I can tell you it turns our scones and croissants into magic.

Owners: Chuck and Gail Van Wie (and family)

Produces: Milk (Skim, 2%, Whole), Heavy Cream, ½ and ½

In Business since: 1926

# Employees: 6-10

# Cows: 150-200

# Acres: about 200

Available for purchase: Via home delivery (in glass bottles) in the Capital Region {call: (518) 768-2451} and at the Honest Weight Food Coop

HISTORY

Meadowbrook Farms Dairy, about 15 minutes away from Albany, was started by Chuck’s great-grandparents almost 100 years ago with just a tiny 10×15 production space on the same property where the dairy is now.  If you can believe it, home milk delivery is still available (and popular) in our parts, although Chuck says the number of dairies near Albany has decreased over the years from about 15 to perhaps now 5.  Meadowbrook is probably the most well-loved in our area because the cows are pastured, responsibly raised, and the milk is incredibly fresh, creamy and tasty.  Chuck, who is decidedly more advanced in age than his professed “59” years, still drives a delivery truck every week and Gail handles all the order taking and administrative work.   They have a few family members and employees who milk, feed and clean the cows, bale hay, bottle milk, help deliver and perform other relevant duties.  Both remain chipper and cheerful, even at the end of their workday which starts between 1 and 4am.  Chuck is a jokester who doesn’t mind taking advantage of groggy customers on his early morning deliveries!  He’s been a dairy farmer his whole life, a job that requires excruciating stamina, and this dear man always has a smile on his face.  Which is not to say he doesn’t take his job seriously – when we asked him about GMOs, he got serious real quick like. Which leads us to:

KATIE’S QUESTIONS

Being a “city kid” with only limited exposure to farm animals, Katie first inquired if there would be dogs and cats on the farm (no dogs, one outdoor stray cat named Princess), then if she could milk a cow (regrettably, the answer to that was no as they are machine milked, but we got to take a look at the process!).

Her most relevant question was: What do the cows eat?  The answer to that is important to Chuck.  They mostly eat grass, then hay and non-GMO alfalfa and corn grown on the property.  He and I discussed the alfalfa previously when the GMO version was regrettably approved by the USDA last year (definitely GMO-free was the answer).  When I pressed him about the origin of his corn (notoriously inundated with GMOs), he relayed a story about the last person who asked the same question recently. This gentleman said a friend had told him Meadowbrook’s corn was not GMO-free and that he was going to stop ordering milk.  Chuck already knew his corn wasn’t grown from GMO seeds, but he still researched all the way up his supply chain to ensure he could reply with absolute certainty to this gentleman (and others) that Meadowbrook cows are consuming corn and alfalfa free from GMOs.  The man in question is still a faithful customer.

PRODUCTION DETAILS

The Van Wie family raises cows and processes their milks the old fashioned way, using the same techniques they always have. No hormones and only emergency antibiotics are used when absolutely necessary, the cows are fed only grass and what is grown on the property, and they are pastured for the majority of the day/year (weather permitting).   With names like Fancy, Sprinkles, Twinkie and Bambi, the cows roam the pasture in season from early morning till it gets hot, around 1pm.  Then they come into the barn for some shade and hay, and to get milked, returning to the pasture from late afternoon until after midnight (they are pastured for as long as possible through the day/season in winter as well).  Only twelve at a time are machine-milked simultaneously, by two employees, twice a day.  We arrived in the late afternoon so although we didn’t get to roam the pasture with Fancy (Meadowbrook’s biggest , most productive provider – she’s the brownie getting hooked up here), we were lucky to be there at milking time.

The milk travels by tubing to the device that filters it just on the other side of the wall in the vat-house, and then is immediately pumped into refrigerated pipes that travel to two huge cooling vats nearby.  The milk is then transferred just a few feet into three low-heat vat pasteurizers (for better flavor and nutrient retainment) and a cream separator.  The cream is cold-stored in 40 gallon, old-school milk cans, and the milks and cream are delivered within 24-36 hours of milking! The Brown Swiss and Holstein heifers are impregnated once a year; the female calves are raised on the farm with the bulls being sold at auction. The size of the milk processing facility, only about 500 square feet, was surprising considering how much milk Meadowbrook delivers every week.

WHY DO YOU CHOOSE TO FARM SUSTAINABLY?

I asked Chuck why the Van Wie family chose not to go the way of some other dairy farmers by fattening the cows up with GMO grains, forcing them into cages and increasing milk production with hormones (thereby necessitating dangerous regular antibiotic use). Meadowbrook has never operated that way and Chuck is grateful for the opportunities he and his family have been given, but he suspects “greed” is one potential reason some farmers have changed over from the old way of doing things, a change he never considered. The Van Wie’s make a decent living for their family doing something they clearly love. The dairy works just fine the way it is and the family always intended the farm to stay small.  We consider it a privilege to get to know Chuck and Gail better as we (and our customers) take advantage of their passion for producing Clean Milk.

If more Chefs  choose sustainable, local suppliers and helped share their stories, Farmer/Chef relationships have the potential to render a significant impact on the way our communities eat.

Is there a farm, community garden, or a friend with backyard chickens nearby that you can visit? Getting to know your food producers is bound to increase your life enjoyment and kids are naturally interested in learning where their food comes from. Take a Summer Farm Tour in your town!

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Categories: Animals- Raising, Farming, Local Business, Local Farms, {Know Your Farmer}

Author:Britin F.

I am 1/2 owner/partner/baker with my husband as All Good Bakers, mother, singer, guitarist, photographer, writer, community and food activist.

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11 Comments on “{summer farm tour} Meet Our Dairy Farmer”

  1. June 28, 2012 at 6:41 am #

    This was a great interview! I have been getting my milk delivered from them and wanted to know all about this. Thank you and we’re so lucky to have them!

  2. Ona
    June 28, 2012 at 9:34 am #

    Great write up! I love seeing farms do this and not be taken over by greed – what a testament to this family.

    On another note, I have been trying to contact this farm for a while without success. I’m sure that the cows are the most important thing but I’ve had a hard time getting through to order for home delivery.

  3. Devon
    June 28, 2012 at 7:51 pm #

    I’m so glad to have read your interview, and thanks for pursuing it! I’ve been a Meadowbrook customer for a good while now and never intended to trouble them with some of the concerns you and the Van Wie’s addressed. Their availability by phone is some of what you’d expect from such busy folks, and I don’t mean to take up my own day or theirs with lengthy discussion while they deliver.

    I’ve always trusted my farmer here, but it is nice to see someone doing the leg and lip work to help us all know with authority that more of our farming neighbors are doing well enough by doing right.

    Thanks, AGB and thanks Meadowbrook!

  4. June 28, 2012 at 11:55 pm #

    Loving your post – thanks for sharing a little country and dairy:)

  5. Sarah Rain
    June 29, 2012 at 9:54 am #

    Ona, if you leave your name/ address/ delivery order on their voicemail, they’ll start delivery automatically without calling you back. It’s weird, yes, but it works. ;)

  6. Barry
    June 29, 2012 at 1:42 pm #

    Great post, thank you! We used to get our eggs delivered by them, but recently stopped b/c they are the same eggs that Stewarts uses, and while local, don’t seem to be sustainably raised. The milk, though, is fantastic!

  7. July 1, 2012 at 2:32 pm #

    Chuck drives through our neighborhood every Friday morning. If we are lucky enough to time our walk right, he has biscuits for our dogs! I’ve often considered having milk delivered, but we just don’t drink enough of it. .. of course, now that I’ve gotten started making cheese…..

  8. Janet
    August 1, 2012 at 8:36 pm #

    I love your article, Britin! We’ve been getting their milk for decades and I’m so glad to hear about the way they approach their work. They are connected to the land, the cows, and to the past and future. Your connection to the farmers comes through in every bite of your delectable baked goodies!

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