Creamery the latest addition to 237-year-old Mayval Farm in Westhampton

Daily Hampshire Gazette, May 18, 2015, by Fran Ryan.

Mayval Farm in Westhampton has been owned and operated by the Parsons family since 1778, a tradition that the family hopes will continue into future generations. They know that to remain in business means staying competitive and adding value and versatility to the farm. In March, the Parsons opened a creamery on the farm where they are now producing and selling whole, pasteurized Grade A milk, chocolate milk and two kinds of cheese.

Margie Parsons, a retired treasurer and accountant for the Town of Westhampton, is responsible for running the farm’s new business, as well as handling Mayval’s finances and bookkeeping and filling in whereever else she is needed.

“We had a soft opening on the 1st of March. After that, people slowly started to come in for milk and cheese, now some come in every week,” Parsons said. “So far we are doing pretty well and business is picking up.”

The 20- by 30-foot creamery has a small storefront and a main room where the fresh milk is pasteurized and bottled, and the cheese, a Fromage Blanc and Skyr, is produced, hung and strained, flavored and packaged. The space also has an aging room to be used when the creamery starts making aged cheeses.

“I start work at about 4:30 in the morning,” Parsons said. “The milk takes about six hours and the process for making the cheese takes about 24 hours.

The milk is vat pasteurized and heated to 145 degrees for a half hour, which is a slower process than commercial pasteurization. As it is not homogenized, it also has a thick layer of cream on the top.

“Now we bring the milk and cheese to the farmers’ market in Northampton on Saturdays and in Florence on Wednesdays. The two markets are all that we can handle at the moment,” Parsons said.

The dairy products also are sold at the River Valley Market in Northampton.

In the creamery storefront at 137 Easthampton Road, customers can purchase white and chocolate milk, the two types of cheese as well as free-range chicken eggs, and grass-fed Angus beef with no antibiotics or hormones.

Why a creamery

Adding a creamery allows the Parsons to sell high-value products directly by retail, and eventually to shrink the current herd of 100 dairy cows, reducing the costs in upkeep for the animals as well as the milking time.

“Right now, most of our milk goes to the Agri-Mark, a dairy cooperative in Springfield. That is where most farms in the area sell their milk,” Margie said.

A grant from the Farm Viability Program offered through the Massachusetts Department of Agricultural Resources helped pay for the creamery.

“We got a $100,000 viability grant,” Margie said. She declined to specify the entire cost of the project beyond saying, “Let’s just say it was a lot more than $100,000.”

The Farm Viability Program offers farmers grants, and environmental, technical and business planning assistance to expand, upgrade and modernize their existing operations.

“I like the idea of adding value products like cheese because it allows us to get more for our milk,” Margie’s daughter Kate Parsons said.

Kate Parsons, 38, a resource conservationist with the U.S. Department of Agriculture Natural Resources Conservation Service, divides her time between her job in Amherst and working at the farm. She was very involved in the planning and building of the creamery.

The initial steps involved researching creamery operations as well as testing numerous cheese recipes.

“I took a trip to Vermont to visit six or seven creameries and see how they do things,” Kate Parsons said. She and her mother came up with the recipes for the farm’s two current cheeses.

“I also dealt with all of the carpenters, plumbers and electricians during the building process,” she said.

Kate Parsons said that she hopes to continue the Mayval family tradition, though right now that means balancing a full-time job with responsibilities at the farm.

The farm’s history

Mayval is one of roughly 150 dairy farms remaining in Massachusetts.

First owned by Noah Parsons III who purchased the land in 1778, the farm is now owned and operated by Henry and Edward Parsons and their families. Henry, Margie’s husband, oversees the dairy herd and the beef cattle, while Edward manages the crops, maple sugaring and all of the farm’s equipment.

According to Kate Parsons, the farm’s main income once came from eggs and boasted over 1,000 chickens. From 1840 until the early 1970s, the farm also had an operating sawmill.

Today, Mayval Farm has a herd of 200 cattle, with 100 Holstein, Brown Swiss, and Jersey dairy cows, and 100 Angus beef cattle. The farm produces beef, milk, eggs, cheese, and seasonally, an average of 150 to 200 gallons of maple syrup. There is also roughly 100 acres of corn and 100 acres of hay.

The hours of the new creamery are 9 a.m. to 6 p.m., Tuesdays through Sundays.

Wolf Krakowski of Northampton, stopped by the creamery one day last week.

“This is a welcomed new part of my routine,” Krakowski said, noting that he and his wife love the richness of farm-fresh eggs. “Freshness counts for everything and supporting local farmers is important and it is the right thing to do.”