Hawley Dairy Farm is Cream of the Crop: Sidehill Farm Wins ‘Green Pasture Award’
The Recorder, July 23rd, 2015, by Richie Davis
“Nobody starts a dairy farm,” Amy Klippenstein and Paul Lacinski were told repeatedly by friends when they told them nearly 10 years ago of their plans to start milking a herd of cattle in Ashfield, where they’d been homesteading around a straw-bale house they’d built.
They laughed as they echoed the line to each other, emphasizing the “nobody” as they related the words, sharing the seeming absurdity of an idea at a time when farmers were leaving dairying because of low prices and high production costs.
But their startup Sidehill Farm, which grew from three Canadienne cows and four Normandes pastured on 23 acres of rented land in Ashfield to 80 Normande and Jersey cows today on 225 acres in East Hawley, has been named the state’s Green Pasture Award winner for 2015, recognizing dairy farm management.
Begun in 1947 as a challenge over pasture management among the six New England governors, the award is presented by the agricultural colleges in each of the six states at the annual Eastern States Exposition to honor an outstanding dairy family for overall management and their contribution to the region’s agricultural community.
Recent past winners have included Warwick’s Chase Hill Farm in 2011 and Bernardston’s Sunbrite Farm in 2003.
Sidehill, which began as a vegetable farm in 2000 and switched to dairying as a way to produce yogurt to feed their own four-quart-a-week diet, leased land from as many as 14 different landowners over six years and milked in a parlor using 1950s technology, while making yogurt in a creamery the size of most people’s guest bathroom. They had to thaw frozen outdoor water lines and cut hay around wet holes, rocks and tree stumps.
After four years of searching for land of their own, they met organic potato farmer Ivan Donovan, who had always rotated his potato crops with hay to reduce erosion and help rebuild soil fertility. He was ready to retire.
Lacinski said he was also exhausted and beyond ready to move in 2012.
“The size of the milking herd was limited by grazing land available at the farm where we milk,” he said at the time. “With the others, we’ve been trailering them all around the neighborhood, and trucking hay all around the neighborhood.”
Only four acres were still in potato production, with the rest for hay production, by the time Klippenstein and Lacinski took over the rolling ridgetop farm at 1,830 feet elevation in 2012. Since most of the land had been returned to grass, it was perfect for a grass-based dairy.
Sidehill’s 40-cow milking herd, which produces about 1,400 gallons of milk, eats certified organic pasture in the spring, summer, and fall; organic hay in winter, and organic grain at milking time. Their new creamery produces 1,500 gallons of Sidehill Farm yogurt per week, and the yogurt can be found in stores all over Western Massachusetts as well as the Boston area.
Their farm shop sells raw milk, sour cream, yogurt, grass-fed beef, and pastured pork, all produced on the farm; as well as cheeses, pickles, ice cream, and eggs from other local farms.
The store has the added benefit of giving Hawley its first ready supply of locally produced food products, including staples that used to mean driving to Charlemont or Ashfield.
“Farming on this small scale permits Sidehill to focus on health — not just of their customers and cows, but of their soils, their crops, the local working rural landscape, and the robust biological and human community within which we all thrive,” said associate professor at the University of Massachusetts Stockbridge School of Agriculture Masoud Hashemi, who announced the award. “It also allows the farm to build good relationships with their customers, many of whom Amy and Paul know by name from farmers’ markets and visits to the farm.”
On the Web: www.sidehillfarm.net You can reach Richie Davis at firstname.lastname@example.org or 413-772-0261, Ext. 269