Mill Valley Milk Co. in Hadley fulfills passion for small-scale dairy farming
The Daily Hampshire Gazette, April 5th, 2016, by Sarah Crosby
HADLEY — Laurie Cuevas of South Deerfield has been a farmer since the day she was born — it’s in her blood. And she had always dreamed about sharing her passion for small-scale dairy farming with the opportunity to educate people about local sources of their food.
A $50,000 grant from the Massachusetts Department of Agricultural Resources Farm Viability Enhancement Program set the groundwork for Cuevas and her business partner, Bruce Jenks, to do just that.
Mill Valley Milk Co., a small-scale operation specializing in producing and selling unpasteurized cows’ milk, opened in January. The business features a small farm store, a milk room, and a milking area at 102 Mill Valley Road in Hadley.
The store also sells products from other local businesses, including maple items from North Hadley Sugar Shack, eggs from Thomas Farm in Sunderland, peanut butter and pickled eggs from Mother’s Inc. in Shelburne Falls, coffee from Esselon Coffee Roasting Co. Inc., ice cream from Cuevas’ and Jenks’ own Maple Valley Creamery, and beef from Fort River Farm, a longtime Hadley farm owned by Gordon and Terry Smith, who lease their land and space to Mill Valley Milk Co.
“A lot of people never figure out their passion and I feel lucky that I never struggled with that,” Cuevas said Tuesday, noting that her dream didn’t become a reality overnight. Although she was born on her parents’ farm in Cheshire, she worked in human services, sales and marketing, and the plastics industry before pursuing her passion for full-time farming.
Throughout her careers, she said, “The whole time I was still a farmer no matter what. In my heart and in my head I was a farmer. There was no escaping that.”
The Amherst Area Chamber of Commerce and U.S. Rep. James P. McGovern, D-Worcester, will visit the business for a grand-opening event at 1:30 p.m. Thursday.
Formed 4-H Club
In 2008, Cuevas began to develop her own path in farming when she formed the Hadley-based Maple Valley 4-H Club. Her boys, Aaron Cuevas, now 19, and Jesse Cuevas, now 17, and Caitlin Moriarty, a former neighbor who is now 19, were her inspirations for the undertaking.
“I wasn’t able to teach them about football, but I did know about cows,” Cuevas said. “I was a kid that grew up in a barn and that just made me happy.”
Cuevas, a single mother, mentored eight to 10 children as part of the 4-H Club, focusing largely on cows. They studied the dairy industry, learned about animal nutrition and genetics, and attended cow-judging competitions from the Three County Fair in Northampton to the World Dairy Expo in Madison, Wisconsin.
Cuevas and Jenks established Maple Valley Creamery in 2010, but it sold only wholesale dairy itemsbecause they did not yet have a storefront.
Cuevas said she and Jenks came up with the plan for Mill Valley Milk Co. after their original two Brown Swiss calves multiplied over time to 30 female cows. The pair sat outside one day in 2011 watching all of the cows grazing and decided to make a list of which ones to sell, in order to cut financial costs.
“We realized how expensive the pets we had were,” said Cuevas. Each of their cows drinks roughly a bathtub full of water every day; eats between 28 and 80 pounds of hay, depending on the season, in addition to grazing; and receives dairy pellets to provide mineral supplements.
After a half hour, they left with no names on the list. “They were all part of the family,” she said.
Mill Valley Milk Co. applied for a grant and received the Farm Viability Enhancement Program money in 2012. The program, which required Cuevas and Jenks to explain their plans and intentions for creating revenue to make a living through farming, specifically aims to breathe life into farms with development rights sold under the state’s Agricultural Preservation Restriction Program.
That is the case with the property at Fort River Farm used by Mill Valley Milk Co.
The grant, however, was not enough to build the store and renovate the 20-square-foot milk room.
“It was a push in the right direction,” said Cuevas, who said she and Jenks spent an additional $100,000 of their savings to complete the project. “We just made a conscious decision to open without the worry of loans over our heads.”
The milking area is equipped with some repurposed equipment from other local farms, and has space for about 10 cows to be milked at a time, with a pipeline that carries the milk from the machines through a filter and into a cooling tank.
“People make the choice and physical effort to come in here which is really important,” Cuevas said.
She said they also give routine tours of their facility, and offer educational information.
“Our customers are hungry to get back to the farm,” she said, noting the importance of understanding where food comes from.
The business also is certified with a U.S. Department of Agriculture-certified Animal Welfare Approved food label that ensures a high quality of life for farm animals.
“I was just trying to find a way to keep the cows,” Cuevas said with a laugh as she looked across the store. “This business allows them to finally earn their keep.”
The store is open from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily.
Sarah Crosby can be reached at email@example.com.