Jersey Cows, Fermented Raw Milk and Our Small Farm Dairy

MBF Clover Calf 2-13 smOk, it still sounds crazy to me, but we have a dairy cow. Actually we have a small raw milk dairy on our mountain farm in southern Vermont. It provides our family and our neighbors with enormous resources, one of which is raw milk.

I make yogurt from the fresh warm milk weekly. It is delicious plain or with our maple syrup or fruit from our trees and berry bushes. Yogurt swirled with persimmons and paw paws or blackberries and elderberries is a huge taste sensation, surprising my friends with its bright flavors. Other times I make a cultured yogurt cheese with sea salt and chives. I must say there is no experience like coming in from a hard morning’s work and being handed a glass of cultured wild-fruit based yogurt or snacking on the tart salty flavor of freshly cultured cheese just removed from its hanging sack of cheesecloth.

But it can’t be overstated, milking a cow is a commitment. For us it’s a team effort. It begins with Clementine, our Jersey heifer, as she allows us to milk her. Our family, farm interns and local farmers tend to this job, intent on treating her as the precious being that she is and grateful for all days involving a nice loving lick and without a swift kick or head-butt.

Our dairy is part of the West River Community Project working to build resilience for our rural community. Establishing a raw milk dairy was a conscious action taken after numerous community meetings discussing the need for raw milk for our kids. Our goal is to provide the best food possible locally and therefore we created the dairy. To date our farm is the second location that has housed the Windham Hill Community Dairy.

MBF cow portrait 2-13 smallFor me, the process of building this dairy has been transcending. I’m still awed at how much attention and real work farming takes, compounded when you add the commitment a dairy cow commands. And because the real price of food is so skewed and irrational and the sale of raw milk and raw milk products is so difficult, income is nowhere near value. In VT we are lucky to even be able to sell the milk, as it is outlawed in 28 other states; but no one except a handful of friends will ever get the chance to taste my wild forest fruited yogurt as it is illegal to sell any value-added raw milk products.

Consumers today want raw milk and food from small farms and will do almost anything to get it, and consequently raw milk fights are being ignited around the country. However whether the consumer can win this fight before the small farmers of America go out of business is not clear.

There are numerous books on raw milk that explain the issues, the safety and the political battles today over our food. Read more at:

Why the focus on raw milk? My initial education into the value of raw dairy came from my travels with Heifer Int. To my surprise on tours in the field I learned firsthand that people on numerous continents were subsisting on cultured dairy milk products. Yak, buffalo, sheep, goat, camel and cow; ruminants producing healthy edible milk were providing beneficial calories for families throughout the world. Kids were better able to concentrate and learn after consuming fat and proteins from these dairy products. It was a life-altering learning experience as this was not the message I was being taught at home.

Finally, last month our NJ based Moving Towards Sustainability Book Club, read Sandor Katz’s; Wild Fermentation, This tome of a book repeatedly highlights the profound reasoning behind fermented foods. The biggest takeaway I found was a basic necessity: our food is most nutritious when it is alive and fermentation compounds nutrients for superior nutrition.

So in conclusion, I am getting over my surprise of why I needed to become a dairy farmer. In future months I plan to explore other topics of our small dairy. Hope you will stay involved.

2 comments on “Jersey Cows, Fermented Raw Milk and Our Small Farm Dairy

  1. Linda

    Dear Leigh,
    I love your recent post. It is refreshing, informative and reads like a great novel that you cant wait to turn to the next page.
    Thank you for being an amazing friend and someone I truly value for all the gifts you so generously share with this world. James Taylor said enjoy the ride we are on here for a short while. Well you bring that to new heights.
    Much gratitude,


  2. Carol Avery

    Thanks so much for getting a cow! We love the milk and making our own fermented foods like yogurt and keifer and drinking the whey and using it for fermenting…it is all so good for us. Raw milk has made such a difference in our life. My son’s allergies have almost disappeared, he is almost never sick, we are all so much healthier for our raw dairy foods and fermented foods.
    Thanks for getting a farm and actually farming like the artist that you are. The art of farming, like all the arts, takes a lot of hard work and like great art the results- food- are worth the price. Raising all our endeavors to an art brings the possibility of communicating something greater, bringing in the spirit to our work. And you can taste it in those priceless smoothies! They are works of art!


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