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.
Franklin Permaculture Garden
Kyle’s great grandfather was born in Poland and risked everything to come to the United States to farm with his brother and sister at the age of 16. For two generations the Kielbasas worked for other farmers, but in the 1970s, Kyle’s grandfather, Stanley and his great uncle, Frank, each planted five acre orchards behind their homes, and Kielbasa Orchards was born. Kyle explained that this is truly a family operation, and although the woman are often overlooked, the “hard work, foresight, and sacrifice of the women of the family” is essential to the story of Kielbasa Orchards. Kyle’s Grandmother, Lu, is in her 80s and still hand grades the fruit Kielbasa Orchards sells to UMass. Kyle’s sister is a doctor, but helps at the Orchards in all of her spare time and Kyle’s Aunt Sophie kept their orchards running when family passed away. Kyle’s Great Aunt Bunny, “the true hero if there is one,” has supported the family in countless ways. “We would not have a farm if it was not for Aunt Sophie, Aunt Bunny, and Grandma Lu. They deserve a special thanks.”
Most business owners believe that they must choose between protecting the planet and making a profit. Paul, however, has found that “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 explained that Little Leaf’s sustainable initiatives actually save them money.
For example, their captured rainwater system gives them access to water for free has saved them the economical and energy expenditure of drilling a well or installing a pump. Little Leaf also uses biological controls instead of chemical sprays. They release predatory insects into their greenhouses to feed on the pests that disrupt their plants instead of using pesticides.
Speaking to Paul, it was obvious that everyone at Little Leaf Farms loves what they do and really believes in their mission. Paul said to me, “We are doing something that is really important- we are feeding people.” It is clear that they take that responsibility seriously.
“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
Matt explained, “It feels very good to be providing food for other UMass students and staff. We are very lucky that institutions like UMass and the state in general are advocates for local food.” Not only does Queen's Greens provide winter greens and radishes for UMass Dining, they are also heavily involved with UMass Extension and the UMass Farm.
Matt loves being able to work outside and spend time in nature. “There is something special about working on the land and producing food,” Matt remarked. But no matter who you ask, you will never hear that farming is an easy job. During the summer, Danya and Matt work 80 hours a week, and Matt explained that farmers work so hard because their livelihood depends on it. “It can be a scary thing when you are relying on the income of the farm to survive and pay your bills.
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.”
Gideon, the owner of Atlas Farm, grew up in a suburban environment but fell in love with food systems while studying Ecology at the University of Michigan. Gideon said he “got hooked with farming because it is such a fundamental connection between people and their environment.” After graduating with a Masters degree in Plant and Soil Sciences from UMass Amherst, Gideon decided to start a small market garden on just over two acres of land. According to Gideon, his operation “grew from there and took off.” The farm is now 95 acres large, has a market share, a farm store, and sells to Whole Foods, UMass Dining, and many small local businesses. This is UMass Dining's first season working with Atlas Farm and is currently sourcing thier kale and romaine.
Eating foods that are not in season often requires the use of GMOs, pesticides, excessive energy, and thousands of food miles. That being said, seasonal foods can be quite inaccessible, especially for people without the money and resources to decide where their food comes from. However, Gideon mentioned that there are many resources in the Pioneer Valley for people who do have the ability and motivation to eat locally and seasonally all year round. Gideon explained that, “As a society we are used to eating whatever we want at any time of the year. If people want to eat sustainably, I would encourage [them] to modify their diets.” There are many farmers like Gideon that provide local winter produce. Additionally, local milk, eggs, cheese, and meat are available year round. Other ways to eat locally during the off-season is by attending winter Farmer’s Markets, and preserving, pickling, drying, or freezing food.
Visit Atlas Farm's website for more information about their farm store, events, and products.
Fresh is an uplifting, critically acclaimed documentary that explores our current food system and ways to eat like a locavore even in a Massachusetts winter. The film peers into the hopeful world of sustainable agriculture. The film screening will be held on Monday, December 5th in the Berkshire Room located in Berkshire Dining Commons from 5pm-7pm and will follow with a short discussion afterwards.
UMass Permaculture also welcomes you to hand make customized holiday gifts on Monday, December 12th from 5pm-7pm in the Hampshire Lobby Meeting Room located in Hampshire Dining Commons. These gifts will include sugar scrubs, soaps, lip balms and sachets - all using herbs grown in the five permaculture gardens! Personalize your handmade gifts at the event's wrapping and decorating station.
Liz L’Etoile, Four Star Farms’ Director of Sales and Marketing, was gracious enough to speak to us about their farm. Liz never thought that she would end up working on a family farm and even said, “If you had asked me 10 years ago if I would be a farmer I would have laughed at you.” However, Liz loves living on their farm and working with her family to do what she is passionate about. Liz spends most her time overseeing the farm’s sales, marketing, customer service, education and outreach initiatives. Using her background in social work, Liz works hard to inform consumers about the importance of a sustainable food system and the role that we each play in it.
During the summer, the farmers at Four Star Farms all work 6 or 7 days a week, starting before the sun comes up and not finishing until long after the sun goes down. Though farming can be draining work, what keeps Liz going at Four Star Farms is interacting with their customers. Four Star Farms hosts events and tours consistently to encourage customers to visit their farm and to facilitate a conversation about the importance of eating local and seasonal food. Liz believes “the pricing of our current food system is really not fair for those that don’t have access to good food [or] to farmers who don’t get a fair price for what they are growing.”
Visit Four Star Farms' website for more information about them.
Entries are submitted by project staff and UMass students.