Martha Stewart’s a Fan

Amy Klippenstein and Paul Lacinski didn’t set out to be the largest local yogurt producers in western Massachusetts. “The idea was to homestead,” Klippenstein told me during a recent conversation. “But there’s this pesky matter of making a living,” Lacinski chimed in. Back in 2001, the couple began growing vegetables on their property in Ashfield but as the buy local movement took off in Franklin County, they couldn’t resist riding the wave. First there was a partnership with a local restaurant, then Klippenstein became a founder of the Ashfield Farmers’ Market. By the time they bought their first cows in 2006, their fate as farmers was sealed.

Klippenstein and Lacinski had been perfecting their yogurt cultures and processes in their kitchen for years before their first cows arrived. Nonetheless, “that first batch was a complete and total failure,” Lacinski told me. “It turns out that scaling up from the kitchen to, what we’d think of now as a tiny batch, 50 gallons, was not as straightforward as we thought it would be.” In fact, that first month of yogurt production yielded many failures, “which was pretty stressful, having just spent essentially our entire life savings [investing in the business.]”

Over many rounds of experimentation, the pair was able to perfect their recipe. The yogurt was a hit in the community. In fact, by 2011, Sidehill Farm’s yogurt business had grown so much that Klippenstein and Lacinski decided to expand to a 225-acre property in Hawley. They have been farming that property ever since and Lacinski deeply values the opportunity to work closely with one patch of land. “It’s amazing seeing the relationships between the biological system of the cows’ rumen and the biological system of the soil, with the plants in between mediating that.”

Spring is an especially exciting time of year, as the herd delights in their first taste of fresh grass since the fall. “There is a lot of kicking up of the heels, play shoving matches, and hooting that goes on.” While the cows are celebrating, Klippenstein and Lacinski are carefully monitoring the health of their pastures. Right now, the grass is “putting on a lot of growth, trying to build up their ‘solar panels’ for the year. If you start grazing too early, you’re robbing those plants of their storage and you’re going to pay for it all season.” Lacinski explained that starting even a week too early can dramatically reduce the entire biomass production for the season. Over the years, the pair has learned to take their cues from the land. They know that the sweet spot for getting the herd out to pasture full-time is when the dandelions begin blooming in their fields.

Klippenstein and Lacinski have noticed that peoples’ taste for yogurt tends to rise with the warming weather in the spring. Lacinski’s theory is that after a winter of hearty meals, people are ready for a change—and he is no exception. This time of year, he loves to clear out the last of the frozen fruit in his freezer for yogurt smoothies. He begins by tossing a pint of blueberries, a healthy dash of raspberry shrub, and a touch of yogurt into a blender. He blends until the blueberries have been reduced to a smooth mixture. Then, he adds in a quart of yogurt and blends until everything has been mixed together nicely. “It tastes like summer, which we’re excited for this time of year!”

Klippenstein and Lacinski have travelled a long way from those first failed batches of yogurt over a decade ago. These days, their organic yogurt is stocked in markets across the state and has even achieved some minor fame. “Probably five times somebody has held a two-year-old in the air and said, ‘this child is made up of 80% Sidehill Farm yogurt!'” Lacinski told me. The pair love producing a product for their community that’s healthy and delicious but have recently decided that it’s time to step back from the farming portion of the business to focus on the yogurt. Lacinski explained that he and Klippenstein basically both have two full-time jobs, between the yogurt and the cows. “Amy and I are not as young as we used to be. Our bodies are telling us that continuing to work 80 hours per week forever is not a sustainable program.” With that in mind, the couple recently announced that they hope to sell the dairy to a new generation of farmers. New dairy farmers face enormous challenges in building a business. The dairy at Sidehill Farm is well-established, and Klippenstein and Lacinski are glad to offer the opportunity to own it to someone else. In the meantime, the pair will be out milking their cows every day and they love welcoming visitors to the farm. If you’re ever curious what goes in to making Sidehill Farm yogurt, just take a drive out to Hawley and see for yourself!

Noah Baustin is the Communications Coordinator at CISA (Community Involved in Sustaining Agriculture)