High Lawn Farm is a family-owned dairy farm located in Lee, MA in their 97th year of operation that produces all natural milk free of artificial hormones. High Lawn Farm is owned by the Wilde family, who have lived on the farm and owned it for three generations. Roberto Laurens, pictured below, is the General Manager at High Lawn Farm and has been in this role for 15 years. Roberto has over 30 years of experience managing farm operations and working with dairy herds, not only in the United States, but Colombia as well. Speaking to Roberto, it was clear that he is an expert at what he does.
The farm owns 3,800 acres of land, 900 of which are protected woodland forest to support local wildlife. High Lawn Farm also has 1,600 acres of open pasture and cropland and grows nearly all the grass, corn, and alfalfa they need to sustain their herd during the winter. For the summer months, this local dairy farm has 200 acres of grass for their cows to graze on. "It is a spectacular environment in which to raise our herd and produce our milk products," Robert shared.
Most dairy farms raise Holstein cows because they produce higher quantities of milk than other breeds. However, High Lawn Farm raises Jersey cows for the quality and taste of milk they produce. Jersey cows are small, friendly, and brown colored, compared to the black and white Holstein cows. Roberto explained that, "compared to other major dairy breeds, Jersey milk contains 20% more Calcium, 17% more protein ... and contains more Vitamins A, B1, and B2." This makes Jersey milk healthier and more flavorful than traditional milk. Humans are also able to digest the proteins in Jersey milk much easier than Holstein milk.
Raising Jersey cows is less resource intensive than Holsteins, making it more environmentally sustainable. Jersey cows produce 30% less milk than Holstein cows, but only weigh about half as much. Therefore, Jerseys eat less food, drink less water, and produce less waste, but produce milk more efficiently. Raising Jersey cows instead of Holstein cows can reduce water and land usage, fuel consumption, waste production, and greenhouse gas emissions associated with raising cattle. Roberto emphasized that High Lawn Farm is proud to “use less resources to produce a higher quality product.”
Most dairy farms in the United States, including High Lawn Farm, are finding it increasingly difficult to find workers to milk their cows. “It is very hard to find people who want to work in farms and want to be here every day at three or four in the morning including Saturday, Sunday, and holidays,” Roberto shared.
In response to this lack of labor, High Lawn Farm installed a robotic milking system that milks two cows at a time with no human labor required at all. “It is a very effective system, and extremely friendly to the cows,” Roberto explained. The cows have been trained to use the robots, and therefore can enter the milking system whenever they please. Additionally, the system monitors the cows health, recording her weight, levels of activity, and food intake. Roberto is notified if any of the cows need special attention.
High Lawn Farm is a beautiful, impressive, and unique operation. Roberto and the rest of the crew at High Lawn take great care to provide the highest quality product possible in a sustainable and ethical way. High Lawn Farm milk is served in Berkshire Dining Commons.
Thank you so much to Roberto Laurens and High Lawn Farm for speaking and working with us. For more information about High Lawn Farm, their history, or their Jersey cows, visit their website.
Warm Colors Apiary, owned by Dan and Bonita Conlon, is located on eighty acres of woodland, open fields and wetlands, in South Deerfield, MA. Dan and Bonita manage about 1,200 colonies of bees, which can provide up to 30,000 pounds of honey a year. UMass Dining purchases about 25% of the honey Warm Colors Apiary produces for use in the UMass Bakeshop and in all the Dining Commons as well.
Dan Conlon has kept bees since he was 14, and at the age of 50, Dan and Bonita quit their jobs, bought 1,000 beehives, and became full time beekeepers. “Now I am 66 and I am really happy with my lifestyle. It fits a philosophy that you are building rather than destroying something,” Dan shared.
There are about 90 commercial crops that require pollination and most of them are fruits, nuts, and vegetables. Honey bees are the only pollinator that can be moved around in large enough numbers to pollinate these crops. For crops like apples and peaches, the window for pollination is very short, and only lasts for a day or two. Dan explained that “in the valley, one beehive on one acre of cucumbers increases production by 40-60%.” Warm Colors Apiary transports bees to different farms all over Western Massachusetts, many of them operations that UMass Dining sources vegetables from to help them increase their yields.
Honey bees also pollinate wildflowers, which provide food for wildlife and birds, purify water, and clean the air. Bees also increase the resilience and biodiversity of the plants they pollinate. “This whole idea of bees and pollination is fundamental to our existence,” said Dan.
Dan and Bonita are part of the Russian Honey Breeders Association and have been working with the USDA to develop disease and mite resistant bees for the last 20 years. “Beekeeping is a lot harder than it used to be. When I started there was only one disease beekeepers worried about- now we have about a dozen.” Additionally, climate change and drought have a huge effect on bee populations. The drought this summer caused the flowers to run out of moisture and stop producing nectar. “This fall was the first time we hadn’t taken honey in 15 or 20 years,” Dan said. Bonita and Dan are worried that they will lose more bees to the persisting cold weather because of the drought and due to a lack of food.
Bee populations are declining rapidly, and one of the main causes is the loss of forage and food sources in the landscape. "I think there is an urgency to all of [these issues] and we have to quit denying that it's true. It is happening as we speak," Dan remarked. Dan suggests that “the best thing we can do is encourage everyone to get out there and plant something.” There are hundreds of plants that benefit bees. Just a few include sunflowers, bulbs, thyme, lavender, maple trees, fruit trees, raspberry and blackberry bushes. Additionally, Dan recommends to allow the dandelions and other flowering weeds to grow in lawns. “It is also important to support bee research, which has given us a whole lot of options that we did not have 20 years ago,” Dan added.
Maple Valley Creamery, located in Hadley, MA is a dairy farm that produces premium ice cream using their own fresh milk and cream. They are dedicated to sustainability, supporting local economies, and treating their dairy cows with the utmost love and respect. Maple Valley Creamery has 45 dairy cows, 400 acres of land, and sells raw milk, aged raw milk cheddar cheese, angus beef, and ice cream. UMass Amherst sources ice cream, milk, and beef from Maple Valley. Maple Valley ice cream is sold at the Mullins Center, Harvest Market and used in the milkshakes sold at Blue Wall on campus. Maple Valley Creamery is owned and operated by Laurie Cuevas and Bruce Jenks.
Maple Valley Creamery is dedicated to sustainability in all aspects of their operation. They have renewable energy initiatives and all of their cows are all grass fed and pasture grazed. They also have a recycling program to allow them to reuse the boxes they distribute their ice cream in. Additionally, Bruce and Laurie do everything they can to support local economies. Maple Valley Creamery works with over 70 different farms and vendors, including the North Hadley Sugar Shack, Esselon Cafe, People’s Pint, and local berry and fruit growers. “Our biggest sustainable initiative is working with other folks who are trying to farm like us,” Bruce explained. Most of the fruits they use for their ice cream are ugly fruits, extras, or leftovers. For example, Maple Valley buys local berries when they are in season, and pumpkins past the October sale that would otherwise be thrown away to make pumpkin ice cream.
Talking to Bruce made it obvious that farming is what they love. Bruce and Laurie view themselves first as farmers, and then as ice cream makers. “When people come to our farm...and see the cows, they see that we are really farming. We are driving used old ford pickups and living in a farmhouse,” Bruce shared. Their passion and energy is moving. “It doesn't get old or tiring. I don't think there is a day that we are not inspired to do better than we did yesterday."
Bruce shared that one of his favorite parts of their work is caring for their animals. “Ultimately if someone is making ice cream, someone is milking a cow. For us it is about the farmer and the people that are milking cows.” Maple Valley Creamery has seen 4-5 generations of their cows live in their barns and has been working with them for 12 years. They have whole families of cows that all have names like Mystical, Magic, and Misty. Once a cow’s milk production has slowed, Bruce and Laurie retire her, giving her a place to live and relax after years of giving so much to them. “We treat our cows better than we treat ourselves,” Bruce laughed.
Kielbasa Orchards is a small apple orchard located in Amherst, MA that has been in the family for four generations. This local farm, with a stunning view of the Holyoke Mountain Range, provides UMass Dining with tasty heirloom apples every year. Kielbasa Orchards is owned and managed by Kyle Kielbasa and his family. Kyle grew up working and playing on the orchards and has always loved farming. “I am happiest when I am out there,” Kyle remarked.
Kyle shared with us that growing apples has been especially tricky in recent years because of the effects of climate change. Fruit trees depend on slow-changing and predictable weather patterns, but climate change creates extreme weather changes that are often difficult for apples to survive through. Kyle explained, “When warm weather arrives, the apple buds start to bloom, leaving the entire crop at risk to freeze and die when the temperatures drop again. You lose the crop to the frost in the spring and that’s it. There is no replanting.” It takes eight years for an apple tree to grow before an orchard can start selling its apples, and if a frost comes after the weather has warmed enough for apple trees to bud, an entire season’s apple crop can be lost. “Working with mother nature is a very humbling experience,” Kyle laughed.
Despite the huge challenges they face, Kyle and his family always find a way to make things work because growing apples is what they love. “I work seven days a week on the farm and it doesn’t feel like work for me. It is just a part of me.”
Thank you so much to the Kielbasa’s for working with UMass Dining, and a special thanks to Kyle for speaking with us! Visit Kielbasa Orchards’ website here to visit their farm, experience their spectacular view, and pick your own apples!
Little Leaf Farms is a three-acre greenhouse operation run by Paul Sellew, Pieter Slaman, and Tim Cunniff in Devens, Massachusetts. Little Leaf Farms grows their greens hydroponically indoors all year round and is dedicated to producing sustainable, nutritious and fresh greens. 95% of the lettuce greens we consumed in Massachusetts are grown in California and Arizona. Not only is all of this produce trucked thousands of miles, California has been suffering from an extreme drought for over five years. Little Leaf Farms is proud to provide New England with sustainable greens that are produced locally and reach their consumer within only a day of being cut.
We spoke to Paul Sellow, the Owner and CEO of Little Leaf Farms for more information about their approach to local food production. Farming has always been a part of Paul’s life. He grew up on a New England farm called Pride Corner Farms and graduated from Cornell with a degree in Horticulture. Paul has created a few farming operations in addition to Little Leaf Farms, and started his first company at only 24 years old.
Paul believes that “technology has an important future in constantly innovating and dealing with issues around sustainability.” Paul argues that controlled systems like greenhouses can increase the capacity of our local food system while withstanding the impacts of climate change. Little Leaf Farms have a rainwater collection system which allows them to utilize 90% less water than field-grown lettuce, making their operation more resistant to drought. Little Leaf is also currently working with Dwayne Breger and the UMass Clean Energy Extension Program to create a plan for their greenhouse to use energy that is normally wasted to heat and cool their greenhouses.
Our thanks to Paul for taking the time to speak with us. For more information about Little Leaf Farms, visit their website.
“Sustainability and a viable business enterprise are not incompatible. We try to use natural systems in a way that is economically efficient and better for the environment.” -Paul Sellew
Queen’s Greens, a charming farm in Amherst, MA, grows certified organic greens, herbs, and vegetables year-round on 30 acres of fields and greenhouses. Although it is rare for farms to grow winter crops, Queen's Greens harvests spinach twice a week through December! Queen’s Greens is owned and operated by Matt Biskup and Danya Teitelbaum, who work hard to incorporate sustainability on the farm every day. In addition to being an organic farm, they use compost, spread manure, and grow cover crops. Matt and Danya are careful to create and protect habitat for the critters that live along the brooks that run through their farm. When I spoke to Matt, he explained that “animals do eat your crops, but for the most part, having great places for animals to live helps the environment. Squirrels and humans alike have to work together to make a healthy and sustainable world.”
Both Matt and Danya feel strong ties to the five colleges and the pioneer valley and love being able to support their community through sustainable, healthy, local food. Danya is a Hampshire College graduate and Matt is a UMass Amherst alum. They have a view of the Du Bois library and Southwest towers from their farm every day while they work.
"Food can get expensive and I don’t know what kind of food we would be eating if we weren’t growing a lot of it ourselves.” When I asked Matt what keeps him and Danya going through the long hours of hard work he said, “We try to work with the community as best we can to keep people eating local and enjoying what we grow. That makes it easy to stay optimistic.”
Thank you so much to Matt and Danya for all of your contributions to UMass and our greater community, and a special thanks to Matt for speaking with us. For more information about Queen’s Greens, visit their website!
“Squirrels and humans alike have to work together to make a healthy and sustainable world.”
MA Atlas Farm is an organic vegetable farm in its thirteenth year of operation, located just eleven miles from UMass in Deerfield, MA, and grows a variety of certified organic plants and produce.
Atlas Farm works hard to extend their growing season as long as possible to provide as much food as they can for their local community. Usually, local greens in the winter time are not easy to come by, but using greenhouses, hoophouses, and fabric grow covers, Atlas Farm grows salad greens, cooking greens, lettuces, and herbs year round. They also store crops that are harvested in the fall like cabbage and root vegetables to be sold in the winter.
Atlas Farm is also dedicated to sustainability, evaluating each decision they make and every step of their operation to make it more efficient, equitable, and environmentally friendly. For example, Atlas Farm plans to eventually be energy independent. They currently produce almost three quarters of their own power, use biomass to heat their greenhouses, and have been using solar power for nearly the last decade.
Thank you so much, Gideon for all of your help and valuable contributions to the UMass Community!
Visit Atlas Farm's website for more information about their farm store, events, and products.
Located in Northfield, Massachusetts with breathtaking views of the Connecticut river and the surrounding hillsides is Four Star Farms, a family enterprise that has been passed down by 14 generations. Four Star Farms provides sustainable and locally grown grains, freshly milled flour, hops, and turf to the Western Massachusetts area. Four Star Farms is committed to environmentally sound agricultural practices while managing 280 acres of land. They are also dedicated to connecting with their local community through the resources, education, and quality food they provide. Four Star Farms’ products are available online and through nearly 20 different retailers and restaurants. Anyone can go to a local joint like the People’s Pint, located in Greenfield, MA and have bread, pasta, or beer that is made with Four Star Farms grains and hops! UMass Dining is a new customer of Four Star Farms and sources whole grains and flour for the UMass Bakeshop from them. We are so grateful to have this amazing farm close by to give our customers access to such delicious and quality flour.
Liz feels it is essential for the costs of paying employees a livable wage, offering them insurance, and using sustainable practices to be added back into our food system. Four Star Farms does everything they can to educate consumers about the real cost of food and how “dollars go so much further when going into your local community.”
Everyone at Four Star Farms loves what they do and envision doing it for a long time. They find farming rewarding and feel that they are doing what they can to make the world a better place. In these “trying times,” Liz finds hope in her family and customers, and in the “younger generations that are concerned about the environment and food insecurity.” In addition to providing local ingredients for delicious foods, Four Star Farms shows us that by connecting with each other and working hard for our values, we can alleviate our fears for the future and find hope.
Many thanks to Liz and the rest of the farmers at Four Star Farms for working with us!
Visit Four Star Farms' website for more information about them.
Last week, we had two important visitors to our UMass Campus. The first was Commissioner John Lebeaux of the Department of Agricultural Resources. The second was Andy Kendall of the Kendall Foundation.
We informed our guests of the vast improvements we have made to our dining halls in the past fiscal year, more specifically in local and sustainable purchasing. $2 million was spent on Massachusetts farms & businesses - a 17% increase from last fiscal year. Including Massachusetts, a total of $3.5 million was spent on New England area farms and businesses - a 30% increase from FY 2015. Along with the increase in total expenditure, there were increases in spending for sustainable alternatives in every single food category from FY 2015. The most notables increases were exhibited through spending on dairy (68% more than FY 2015) as well as produce (55% more).
It has been a full year since we have focused on UMass Student Farm, but for them, it has proved to be a successful one. A new portable Wash Station recently built which can be transported between their two locations, allowing CSA shares to grow from 60 to 100. Equally impressive, the Agricultural Learning Center has a new solar powered greenhouse that will allow three-season production of greens and tomatoes throughout the year! Student Farm has also become Commonwealth Quality-certified, another immense achievement.
Students gain experience working long, hard days, mastering the skills to run a business cooperatively, and learning to operate tractors and equipment. Jason said they are conscious to manage the farm in a way that balances the scale of the program with the immersive experience of students and sense of ownership that goes with it.
Another new initiative that Jason mentioned was a plan to introduce “animal components” to make local, sustainable, and healthy meat options more accessible to their customers and the UMass community. He pointed out the barriers that so many families face to be connected to where their food comes from, and stressed the importance of local, sustainable, and healthy accessible food. And for those that can, the best thing is to meet their farmers and “ not hesitate to ask questions. Most of us are thrilled when people take a genuine interest in what we're doing and want to know more."
Thanks, Jason for your time and for all that you do!
Want to be a part of Student Farm?
The application for the 2017 UMass Student Farm Program is open NOW until November 15th! To apply, or for more information, click here: http://stockbridge.cns.umass.edu/SFE-class.
Visit the Student Farm website to learn more: https://stockbridge.cns.umass.edu/student-farm.
Entries are submitted by project staff and UMass students.