Mala Cline interacts with Chelsea (the cow) at Stonewall Farm. The farm
aims to be transparent in their business practices and has a 24/7 "open
door" policy.Photo courtesy/Stonewall Farm
According to the company's online program "Who's Your Farmer," one of the sources for Boston's milk products is Stonewall Farm in Keene, N.H. The non-profit farm aims to interact in the local community through educational programs and invites consumers to visit its grounds and interact with the animals and farming process.
I spoke with Stonewall's Executive Director, Josh Cline, about the farm's educational programs, it's transparency and how important it is for consumers to understand where their produce comes from.
What is Stonewall's overarching mission?
We're dedicated to connecting people to the land and the role of agriculture in their lives. That's our official mission statement.
What is your role at Stonewall?
The farm is different than your average farm because we're actually a non-profit organization. So, I'm the director; that doesn't mean I'm the farmer. I just take care of the various departments. So we have the (1) dairy [department] with 30 head of cattle and we have a (2) garden that's a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program year-round, which isn't common [in the Northeast]. And we do (3) sugaring, so we produce maple syrup. And then we have an (4) educational department, and that includes summer camps and school programs, weekend events and family programs. And if that's not enough, we also have the learning center and do facility rentals… during the wedding season the place is booked all the time. I'm the director of all of that.
Why does the farm opt to be organic?
The original reason beyond what you would expect—like being environmentally sustainable—is economic. Organic Valley is great in that they have committed to their farmers to provide a pretty stable price for their milk, and a pretty high price.
What products does the farm offer?
We sell milk in bulk to Organic Valley. So if you're drinking Organic Valley milk…you're drinking one one billionth of our milk. We also make our own organic cheddar cheese. It's not made on site, but it's our milk. Then interestingly enough, our third most popular product is compost. We compost our waste and sell it. And we use it on our own farm depending on the application. We also have non-certified organic produce. It takes a lot of money to go through the certification process, and it's just not worth it for us to go through that effort. Then we have flowers and a flowers CSA, and maple sugaring. We produce on the farm about 300 gallons of maple syrup a year. And beef; cows that no longer produce milk are used for hamburgers… And then every single one of our products have educational programs associated with them.
What is the importance of eating locally-sourced food?
First is the importance of keeping dollars in the local economy, as opposed to dollars going elsewhere. Second is connecting people to what what agriculture means. It's important for people to know that milk comes from cows and carrots come from the ground. People are willing to pay more for food at the farm than at the store because they know where the food comes from. They know it's safe to eat.
Why is it important for consumers to know who their farmers are?
To me, it gets back to the same understanding of what agriculture is, where the food comes from. When you go to a grocery store, it's not like you see the person putting the celery on the stand and feel a connection. Whereas, if you go and meet Glenn [Yardley], our farmer, you know who he is. That's human nature… when people become friends and know their farmer, they're more inclined to buy their product from them. It helps the farm and it helps people become more comfortable with the food they eat.
One of Stonewall's catchphrases is "cultivate community." How does the farm contribute to the local community?
We are different than other farms because we have that educational component, so thats where our community component is. We have 20,000 visitors coming per year, and they're all becoming part of our community. Our dairy farm is open 24/7, 365 days a year, so if you want to walk in and see the cows milked at 4:30 a.m., you can. The community sees this as their place because they can come here whenever they want and see the operation. We're 100 % transparent…You can think of it almost as your local city park, except it's a farm. When we have economic problems—and all farmers do. If they say they don't, they're lying through their teeth—we know we would never go away. We might downsize, but we won't disappear because the public wouldn't allow it. We are part of the community.
How can consumers be more involved in the farm?
You can be a member, and for a lot of people that's sort of it. People can also join CSAs, and that way they get a return on their dollars. We're always looking for volunteers… We have probably one major event a year. For example, the next event is [The 11th Annual] Farm Fair, November 18 and 19. At the fair, you can buy everything for your Thanksgiving dinner; we're bringing in vendors who have organic turkeys and cranberries, and we have our root fall vegetables. So people will participate that way, and the more people, the better.
In order for a dairy farm to be "organic," animals can't be treated with antibiotics. What do you do when your animals get sick?
It's all homeopathic, so you've got to find a vet that can do that. Large animal vets are very hard to come by; it's much easier to sit in your office and people bring their cats and dogs to you. So the farmer also learns to deal with a lot of these problems themselves.
However, when the cows health comes into play—like when there's risk of death—the farmer will make an assessment. The cow can either become hamburger or we can treat it [using antibiotics], in which case, it's no longer organic and can't interact with the herd. And if that cow happens to be pregnant or get pregnant, it's calf can't be organic either. However, you find that cows on organic farms, because they're out roaming in the pastures and eating, don't get sick as much. I mean, if you or I stayed inside and weren't active we'd be a lot more prone to illness than if we were out being active in the sun. It's got to be healthier.
How are the animals treated?
You can't say that any true farmer would consider their cows a pet, because when its time for the cow to go, it's got to go. But Glenn [Yardley] and Wendy [French], our farmers, have been here for a long time… they have a very good relationship with the cows. I don't want people to think it's a pet relationship, but its a relationship of mutual respect. They truly know the cows' nature; hat's the advantage of having a small farm.
For Boston consumers who are interested in going green, what are some first simple steps they can take?
There are a lot of ways to look at it… As far as the energy cost it takes to produce X amount of calories, chickens are really the thing to do. When you think about how much water and food and resources it takes to produce a pound of beef, verses a pound of chicken, chicken is a lot better.
In terms of the organic stuff, as best I can tell, organic milk or dairy has a much bigger impact for your dollar on the environment than a lot of other products. There is a huge impact there because the cows and dairy farms take up a lot of space. But it depends on the pocketbook. Making the change from conventional dairy to organic dairy has more of a financial impact than shifting from non-organic to organic produce.
Any recent developments or future goals for the farm?
We just yesterday took out a loan and we're going to be micro-pasteurizing, which will allow us to make ice cream and cheese on our own land. On larger dairy farms, they can pasteurize on the facilities because it's cost-efficient to do so, but because we only have 30 cows, it doesn't necessarily make sense. Instead we'll be getting a smaller machine; it will do 45 gallons of milk. From there, we can make ice cream or cheese or butter or any kind of milk product you can imagine. We've been working on it for a year, but we hope to have the pasteurizer in place by the end of December.
As far as goals, there are lots of potential new things, but I don't want to necessarily mention them because we're not sure which will be implemented…
We want to redesign the site. We've talked about webinars and having more video, which would be really cool for those in Boston who can't really get here. Hopefully if this grant comes through, we are going to be hiring a firm so that we can incorporate more multi-media on the website. But, still, it's hard to really experience the feeling of being in a barn with 30 cows unless you're actually in a barn with 30 cows.
We do lots of formal programs, meaning at 2 o'clock you can come and learn about X. And a lot of people can't always do that, so we want to make learning more accessible. We're going to create something called the Llama Lounge, because we have a llama on the grounds. And at various times you can go in and the llama will be right there and you can hang out with the llama. You can do it anytime you want. We want to implement a new model of "come and learn when you want to."
Stonewall Farm is located at 242 Chesterfield Road; Keene, NH 03431. They can be reached at (603) 357-7278 or through their website portal.
Children join hands during one of Stonewall's education programs.
Photo courtesy/Stonewall Farm
The Stonewall cows during milking time. The farm has 30 head of cattle
and they are all named (Hermione is on the far left facing the camera).
Patrons are invited to visit thefarm to witness and participate in milking.Photo courtesy/ Stonewall Farm