The Community Leader
Small Farm Fills Niche Selling Raw Dairy Products
By Avery Yale Kamila Staff Reporter
Freeport -- Most of us have been raised to believe the invention of pasteurization was the best thing that ever happened to the dairy industry. Yet Jim Stampone and Kate LeRoyer, who own a small artisinal dairy called Winter Hill Farm in Freeport, take strong exception to this notion.
"Pasteurized milk means it's been heated to 140 to 185 degrees for half an hour", Jim says. "What it does is kill everything in the milk that's good. We believe that pasteurized milk is basically chalky water. If the animals are healthy, they're fed right and the operation us clean, raw milk is a superior food".
The couple also objects to the homogenization of milk, which thwarts milk's natural tendency to separate into cream and skim milk. As a result of their convictions, Kate and Jim milk a small herd of endangered Randall cows and sell the milk raw. "It's a whole food, and our bodies can process whole foods better," Kate says.
Others in the area agree that raw milk is preferable to proccessed milk and have found their way to the farm to pick up a gallon or two each week. At present, Kate and Jim sell to 28 customers who learned about the farm by word of mouth. In addition to milk, the farm offers cream, yogurt, whey, mozzarella and aged farmstead cheese.
A vintage Coca-Cola cooler in one of the barns functions as a self serve pick-up station. Customers grab their individually labelled jugs and place their money in a tin can. While the farm has housed the unusual breed of cattle since 2001, the dairy has been in operation for only a year and a half. "Back about five years ago, I read an article about (Randalls) in a farming magazine, which said they were extremely rare, almost extinct," Jim says. "In the back of my head, I always wanted to have a dairy farm."
Jim explains that the Randall breed of cattle came to New England with the early European settlers, and they were used for milk, meat and farm work. When other breeds of dairy cows with higher milk production, particularly Holsteins, arrived in America, the Randall breed was abandoned. For almost 100 years, Jim says, Samuel Randall of Vermont, and later his son Everett Randall, maintained the only herd of this breed, which soon took on the family name. In the 1980's, when Everett passed away, the remaining Randalls were donated to the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy.
A few farmers, scattered throughout the country, obtained calves from the conservancy and began to raise Randalls. But because the overall number of Randalls remains small -- about 150 -- Kate and Jim had to wait three years before a handful of Randall calves made it to Winter Hill Farm. Today the farm has 10 Randalls, including three milking cows and one bull calf, who was born two weeks ago during a blizzard. In addition to cattle, the farm houses chickens, horses, cats and one dog, a Landseer Newfoundland named Isabella.
A recent grant from Maine's Farms for the Future program is helping Kate and Jim expand. The grant, to the tune of $25,000, will allow them to expand their barn and milking operation. Kate and Jim are also hoping to expand their cheese-making capacity, which is now limited by the size of their kitchen.
Jim says the cattle are fed Organic hay and grain, but the milk is not certified as Organic by the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association. He and Kate decided to forego certification in order to reserve the right to treat the cows with antibiotics should they fall sick. Antibiotics are not allowed to be used on Organically certified cows. Jim says Organic dairy farmers who maintain a herd of Holsteins, or other common cows, sell animals who have been treated with antibiotics to conventional dairies or beef farmers. Because there are no other Randall herds in Maine, Jim says they wouldn't be able to sell an antibiotic-treated animal. "If we do vet," Jim says, referring to having a Veterinarian treat a sick animal, "we take that milk out of production."
While Jim works as a teacher during the day, Kate is on the farm full time, where she also runs the Freeport Harness & Saddlery. In a special workroom, she repairs saddles and tack supplies. Kate says the key to the farm's success is "finding niches that aren't filled." Jim adds that giving people a personal connection to their food is another big selling point. "We like having our customers come to the farm and learn about the animals," Jim says. "The kids like the fact that they know the animal's names."
Avery Yale Kamila can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.