Nov 26, 2013 Jason Emerson Uncategorized
The Cazenovia Beverage Trail has a new, although unofficial, location at which patrons can stop and get a homemade drink — but this drink is non-alcoholic.
It is, in fact, milk.
Fresh, raw milk is an up-and-coming commodity in terms of local production and local consumption in this age of “buy local,” and Ju-Vindale Holsteins, located at 2074 Ballina Road, recently became the second dairy in Cazenovia and one of the few in Madison County to become licensed by the state to sell directly to the public the fresh, raw milk its cows produce.
“I believe in offering the best quality product that we can produce,” said Vincent Wagner, who owns, along with his wife Juliet, the 270-acre farm in Cazenovia that three years ago was named a Dairy of Distinction by New York state. “Raw milk is not new at all … There are benefits to raw milk, but [many in] society think it’s wrong.”
Fresh, raw milk is milk that comes straight from the cows to the holding tanks to the bottles with no pasteurization, no homogenization and no chemicals added. It is, in fact, the way all Americans drank their milk until pasteurization — a process that heats milk to specific temperature for a specific period of time in order to kill microorganisms that could cause diseases such as typhoid fever, tuberculosis and diphtheria — was invented in the 1860s and became routine in the U.S. beginning in the 1920s.
The debate over the health benefits of raw milk today continues with proponents of non-pasteurized milk saying it is more beneficial to humans because the vitamins, minerals and beneficial bacteria and enzymes it contains get lost in the pasteurization process (some of which are then chemically added back in), while opponents such as the CDC and FDA say unpasteurized milk is too dangerous to drink because of the bacteria, parasites and viruses it contains if they are not eliminated by pasteurization.
Vincent Wagner has heard all these arguments before, and knows them well, but, he says, raw milk is far different — and cleaner — today than it was in the 1920s because of farmers’ knowledge, state and federal health regulations and today’s technology.
“Some farms are cleaner than others … your milk tastes like your barn smells,” he said simply. “We’ve always drunk our own milk.”
Any visitor to Ju-Vindale Holsteins will see the impeccable cleanliness of their barns and understand why the Wagners are so confident in the high quality of their milk. It was because of this high quality, coupled with the economic downturn of the past few years, that the Wagners decided to sell their milk directly to consumers.
In the beginning of 2013, Holstein prices were down, farming costs were up and the Wagners, like many other farmers in New York and the U.S., needed more income. So Vincent asked himself what else he has on his farm that he could sell to generate more profits. He knew of the eagerness of many people to buy local and was reminded earlier this year of the proximity and popularity of the Cazenovia Beverage Trail — Ju-Vindale is located between the upcoming Empire Farmstead Brewery and Critz Farms — so he thought, “I’m right in the middle of this, just with a different beverage, and one for all ages.”
So Wagner called his friend and dairy colleague Matt Volz at Greyrock Farm on East Lake Road in Cazenovia, who also sells fresh, raw milk, and asked him how he could get started with state inspections and certification.
Volz gave him the name of the state inspector for the Cazenovia region and encouraged him to pursue the license.
“We’ve been selling [raw milk] for three years now and having really good success with it, and people seem to really want it,” said Volz. “We haven’t been able to keep up with the demand on our end.”
Volz said Greyrock sells about 25 or 30 gallons of milk per day currently, with a herd of nine, grass-fed cows. Volz said he was happy to help Wagner because he knew there is a high demand for raw milk that they can both benefit from. Also, their products are slightly different since Greyrock cows eat only grass while Ju-Vindale cows are fed a grain-grass-corn-soybean blend.
So the state inspector visited Ju-Vindale, looked at the cleanliness of the facilities, tested every one of its 80 cows, inspected every piece of equipment and took samples of the farm’s water and milk. “They were very impressed,” Vincent said. “They said we had a very high quality farm.”
On Sept. 6, the New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets issued Ju-Vindale a permit allowing the farm to sell fresh, raw milk directly to consumers at their farm on Ballina Road. The state will return every month to continue inspecting and testing the cleanliness of the farm and its milk.
In the two months since Ju-Vindale has had its raw milk for sale, sales have been slow, but increasing.
“I thought people would jump right on this,” Vincent admitted. “But it takes time to build a customer base.”
“It’s slowly picking up,” said Juliet. “We’re trying to figure out supply and demand.”
The good news, they both agreed, was that they are seeing a lot of return customers and many new customers come in to buy their milk.
The Wagners admit that one challenge they face is the skeptical mindset of many consumers about the benefits or dangers of raw milk versus pasteurized milk. They may also be missing opportunities by their lack of a website or Facebook page, Vincent said, but they do see the market opening up for them, especially in potential local partnerships.
One of these potential partnerships is with local cheese producer Meadowood Farms.
“You need a higher quality milk to make cheese with … and that’s what Vince is all about,” said Veronica Pedraza, head cheesemaker at Meadowood Farms. “I am looking to extend our season with Vince’s milk.”
Meadowood currently makes and sells only sheep’s milk cheese, but sheep only milk six months of the year, so they have been experimenting lately with making cows’ milk cheeses, Pedraza said. So she asked the local state agriculture inspector where she might suggest finding high quality milk in Cazenovia (Pedraza knows Volz well and knows he is already short on his supply of raw milk) and the inspector told her the Wagner was recently licensed, his farm “was exquisitely clean” and his “milk was a high quality,” she said. “So I went over there and he agreed to sell me some milk.”
Pedraza said that once Meadowood adds some new infrastructure to its farm and cheese operation next spring, she hopes to buy Ju-Vindale raw milk three or four times per week for cheesemaking.
“If this works it would be a really great thing for Caz,” she said.
Ju-Vindale Holsteins, located at 2074 Ballina Road, Cazenovia, is open daily until 7 p.m. They sell their milk for $2 per half gallon and $4 per gallon. The milk is in refrigerator in the main barn.
Greyrock Farm, located at 6100 East Lake Road, Cazenovia, is open from 2 to 6 p.m. every Friday to sell milk, eggs and produce.
Meadowood Farms is located at 5157 Ridge Road, Cazenovia. Information about their cheeses can be found online at meadowoodfarms.com.
For more information on raw milk, visit realmilk.com and fda.gov.
Jason Emerson is editor of the Cazenovia Republican. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Jason Emerson is editor of the Cazenovia Republican and Eagle Bulletin newspapers.