Editorial: Sidehill Farm: Great news to start the new year

The Recorder, January 1, 2019

What a delight to head into the new year able to comment on the good news that is the growth of Hawley’s Sidehill Farm. What an improbable success story: an organic yogurt maker in one of the state’s hilliest and tiniest towns.

Fourteen years ago, Amy Klippenstein and Paul Lacinski started producing organic milk with seven cows pastured on 23 acres of rented land. Their vision, intelligence and hard work paid off, as today they operate a 225-acre farm with a 30-cow herd and run a successful business making and selling Sidehill yogurt, sold in stores all over the state.

But Sidehill has expanded to the point that it’s really two businesses – a yogurt producer and the diary farm that supplies it – with Klippenstein and Lacinski willing and able to continue growing just one. Their answer: to continue nurturing the yogurt business, while arranging to sell the organic dairy farm to some other aspiring farmers who would rather be milking cows. The proposition makes great sense because the new farmers can lease the farm toward eventual purchase while getting a guaranteed good price for organic milk – and Sidehill maintains the trusted source of organic milk that has gone into its success all these years.

Lacinski and Klippenstein, who now do all the milking and caring for the herd, say they want to focus on yogurt making and marketing.

But “there are people out there who want to know about running an organic dairy. They want to milk, but can’t find the situation,” Lacinski told the Recorder as 2018 ended. They see the change as “creating an opportunity for someone. That’s really an exciting piece of the whole thing.”

What’s more, there would be two other stabilizing income sources for the buyer, from lease of the creamer, and from sale of products at the self-service farm shop on the farm, which now grosses about $160,000 a year selling the farm’s raw organic milk, yogurt and beef and pork, along with other products.

The couple listed the Forget Road farm, which won the state’s 2015 Green Pasture Award for dairy farm management, in mid-October and have heard from two potential buyers, so far.

Sidehill Yogurt, which claims to be the only yogurt made commercially in Massachusetts, is sold throughout the state, at Big Y, Whole Foods and Wild Oats supermarkets, and through farm stands, co-ops, cafes and other outlets.

The business, which provides jobs for eight yogurt-production employees, has seen an average 10 percent annual growth in sales, without much in the way of marketing in the past few years.

Sidehill goes into 2019 with a new federal certification to allow its yogurt to be sold out-of-state, and believe it may be time to begin looking at the Hartford, Conn., market, where there have been requests from Whole Foods.

Lacinski and Klippenstein may not have plans to become the next Dannon and may be content to keep their yogurt business in scale with their hilltown lifestyle, but we are glad to see they have found a way to grow the yogurt business while opening opportunities for other would-be farmers. This is the type of successful entrepreneurship that should make Franklin County proud – in any year.