Sidehill Farm Moves to Hawley

The Recorder


Tuesday, October 23, 2012

ASHFIELD — Sidehill Farm has been on the “moove” since its two owners launched it five years ago with seven Normande cows producing raw milk for sale and for a new organic yogurt that’s now being produced at the rate of 1,000 gallons a week and sold around Franklin, Hampshire and Berkshire counties, as well as some Whole Foods and other locations in eastern Massachusetts.

Now, Sidehill is moving to Hawley, to what was at one time the state’s largest organic farms, according to Paul Lacinski, who started Sidehill with his wife, Amy Klippenstein.

The two plan to move Nov. 1 to the former Donovan potato farm on Forget Road, which they bought May 31.

Instead of having their operation spread out on a patchwork of rented fields in Ashfield that are owned by a dozen owners, the couple will have their 19 milking cows, 19 calves and 19 steers and young stock on 125 acres of open farmland, 100 of which is tillable, said Lacinski.

“We’ll be able to have our whole herd in one place,” said Lacinski, who is pursuing organic certification on part of the Hawley property on which fertilizer has been used.

“The size of the milking herd was limited by grazing land available at the farm where we milk,” he said. “With the others, we’ve been trailering them all around the neighborhood, and trucking hay all around the neighborhood.”

Apart from transportation, an added complication has been the amount of fencing needed around the perimeter of the relatively small, rocky fields for the amount of land, he said. “It’s been great having so much to do with the neighbors, but it’s also been completely exhausting, on a mechanical level.”

Once the move is complete, Sidehill’s office — which is now in a separate location in the center of Ashfield to connect with the Internet — will be moved to the yogurt manufacturing plant being built in Hawley.

Lacinski figures that the move will give the farming operation about 25 percent more land to work, “and it’s much better land,” with rocks pulled out during years and years of growing potatoes. About 25 acres he described as permanent pasture, and there’s also room to grow vegetables, maybe for wholesale, which is profitable for organic produce.

Sidehill’s herd of Normande cattle, descended from Viking cattle brought to France before the Middle Ages, is primarily grass-fed, but the farm does supplement with feed it purchases, and that’s been dramatically increasing in cost. At the Hawley farm, said Lacinski, “We’ll be able to raise most of our own feed.”

This recent dairy farm startup has been unusual also in that it’s produced milk primarily in warmer months, concentrating the rest of the year on producing and marketing yogurt and paneer, a kind of cottage cheese used in South Asian cuisine. The couple had been planning to start year-round milking this winter, but now the plan is to gear up for year-round milking next winter, slowly building up a herd of 45 to 50 milking cows in about three years. By then, the number of total animals should be about 100, he said.

Dole Brothers Construction is at work on a yogurt-making processing plant, as well as a barn and milking barn in the center of the farm where Lacinski said he expects milking to start up next spring.

One problem may be in convincing people to drive nearly 10 miles farther to get raw milk, although Lacinski said overall interest in raw milk continues to increase. But its farm shop there will feature its grass-fed beef products as well as yogurt and raw milk, as it now does in Ashfield.

The farm has also been watching sales of its organic yogurt, flavored with locally sourced natural ingredients, expand as well, despite a recent consumer craving of Greek-style yogurt, which Lacinski said he originally considered making but opted out of because it required expensive centrifuge equipment that took up too much room.

Instead, Sidehill has focused on an organic product with local ingredients, such as maple syrup, and introduced small containers and sells some of its product to GoBerry, a frozen yogurt parlor in Northampton and Amherst.