Education

Take A Walk On The Wild(er) Side.

Take a walk into the pastures with one of our farmers and learn about grass-based sustainable farming and the making of delicious farmstead cheeses. Hint: it all starts with the pastures! We’ll cover the history of the farm, and why we started farming the way we do now.


Public Pasture walks are one hour long and cover all sorts of uneven ground. Wear appropriate footware and long pants, as we could be in long grass, wet ground, and all kinds of hillocks and tussocks. You may meet animals up close and personal.

$10 per person. Children 5 and under are free. No need for a reservation, but feel free to call ahead for a mud report!

The Cost of the Journey

Earlier this month, we send a survey to our customers asking for their thoughts and feedback about our store, the products we offer, and. what we could do differently to better serve the people who love and support the farm.

There was a lot of positive feedback about how we farm, the variety of products (from our farm and other local makers) that we offer. Many customers expressed a deep commitment to local food and farms. We asked for suggestions about products we could bring in to round out what we already offer, basically what would serve the folks who support the store.

In all that feedback, a few people mentioned prices, and suggested that lowering the prices of the meats, cheeses and items for resale would be welcomed. We thought that was an issue worth talking about because we understand that is where the rubber meets the road.

Our prices are indeed more than what you pay in a standard grocery store. The US has been blessed with very low food costs. Much of that is due to large-scale subsidized commercial agriculture. A small farm (like ours) reaps neither the benefits of subsidies, nor the economies of scale you find on large commercial farms. What the consumer sees in our store is real cost of production.

moving hay bales

Moving hay bales.

It might seem like raising animals on grass would be cheap. After all, you just let them out in the field and the grass keeps growing, right? Choosing to raise animals on grass is a quality-based decision, rather than cost-based. Cherry Grove Farm practices intensive rotational grazing. Our animals do not free range the large pastures, browsing at will, rather they are cordoned off in smaller sections of pasture so they graze more efficiently. Cows are moved sometimes multiple times in a day, to make sure the grass is grazed evenly and given time to rest and rejuvenate. This rotation also means that 1000 lb cows aren’t standing in the same place-for a long time, compacting the soils, crushing plant roots, and piling up manure (each of which are hard on plants and soils.) Kept moving, cows spread their manure, and graze, more evenly. Our cows become part time farmhands, doing some of our farm labor. But lacking opposable thumbs, they are not a help with much more than mowing and manure spreading. Moving a herd 1-2 times a day takes hands to move and set up mobile fences, reset water lines, bring out the hay in winter.

We also don’t have one large herd of cows. Effectively, we have three herds, as not all the cows are milked at once, or kept together. Unlike a conventional dairy where cows are kept pregnant and milking almost constantly, our cows get rest periods in between pregnancies (that is the “dry herd”). We have the milkers, the dry herd, and the cows that are too young, or not able to milk, both heifers and young bull calves. That is three herds to be moved daily, all to keep the land healthy and productive. Healthy land produces healthy forage, which in turn makes for healthy cows. The quality of milk (or meat) you get from a healthy grass-fed herd is significantly different from conventional herds and we rely on great milk to make our cheeses.

Hooping curds.

Hooping curds.

So, we begin with higher labor costs than a conventional farm, add on labor to make hay all season, minerals and animal health supplies, additional processing costs around cheese making and meat processing/packaging, and then set a price with a reasonable margin for profit, because without profit we cannot sustain the business.

Much the same goes for our resale products, made locally by small-batch producers. None of the makers who are sold through our farm are large scale producers. All struggle with the cost of quality ingredients and valuing their time to make an outstanding, healthy product.  They set wholesale prices to cover their costs and labor (plus a little profit) and we mark up on that. We could buy a more mass produced product for less per unit cost, but that would fly in the face of what we believe and what we profess to you, our customer. We support local makers to ensure they are still making clean healthy foods for all of us in the months and years to come.

It seems upside down that a small farm down the road would have to charge so much more than a huge faceless company that ships foods in from everywhere. But our national food system evolved in this way, with the deck stacked for large agribusiness. In order to raise and offer a superior product, and to stay in business, we have to cover our costs with enough profit to pay our staff and keep investing in the business… so that we can be here offering you clean healthy foods in the months and years to come.

It’s a journey and we are glad to have you with us.

Everything is Made Magic in Moonlight

From April to October, the farm runs a public farm tour each month. On September 16th, we’ll offer a moonlight stroll of our meadows and cow paths.

Each tour is a chance for us to stroll the farm and really talk with people interested in what we do: cheesemaking, sustainable farm life, homestead animal husbandry, and the benefits of unplugging from the world for a time.

Moonlight Field by Jody9 on Flickr

Moonlight Field by Jody9 on Flickr

We always talk about the farm (and answer questions) but our themes change… in April, for  Raw Milk Cheese Appreciation Day, folks toured with the cheesemaker and learned about farmstead cheesemaking. In June, when calving started, we chose a walk with our dairy farmer to “Meet the Milkers”. Over the summer we touched on native plants and pollinators, local lore and history, and how European-style agriculture impacted the native woods and fields. It is all a riff on the same idea, how farming sustainably is a long-term kindness to our lands.

This month we will do a little star-gazing, watch for bats, and listen for owls and other night creatures. Enjoy the farm as few ever see it, on a moonlit Indian summer evening.

We are encouraging folks to bring a blanket or mat, wear clothes for walk in in tall grass and good walking shoes. Join us at 9pm, Friday, Sept 16th.

See details and reserve your space here

 

What is Spring Without Philly Farm and Food Fest?

If you have never been, you have been missing out! The Fest brings together the Delaware Valley’s best food artisans, from cheesemakers to bread bakers to coffee roasters, and the gamut in between.

This year, The Fest’s fifth, is the biggest, and, we think, best it has ever been. Some of the exciting exhibits and programs running on Sunday are (link to details):

Book Signing
Coffee Collective
CSA Pop-up Shop

Curd Competition

The Curd Competion is a cheese festival within a food festival, complete with a cheese bar! Our own Paul Lawler will be cheese-tending.

Grain Exhibit
Kids’ Corral
Local Libations Lounge
PF3 Kitchen

 

We love fest for two reasons. First, who would not like a food festival that brings together the best and brightest in the region? Second, every year we see this community and the people who love it get bigger and bigger. Which makes what we do both meaningful and fulfilling.

Farming is not an easy job. Making quality, handcrafted food is not a simple process. Developing a thriving small business is grueling. Knowing that what you do is appreciated makes the trials worthwhile, and makes the successes that much sweeter.

Come be a part of your local food movement!

Sunday, April 10th from 11am until 4pm. VIP Industry preview from 10am until 11am.

Get your tickets right here.

 

Three Days of Cheese-making, Part II

Part II: A Tale of Two [Failed] Cheeses

It all started last year, following the long-standing success of our Ricotta-Mozzarella class. People obviously love to make cheese at home, so why not teach them something new? Now it’s one thing to write curriculum and type up recipes. It is quite another to execute three cheeses, with different ingredients and different timing, all at the same time. I love a good challenge, but teaching this class blind seemed like a really bad idea.

I set about testing the recipes and configuring the timing, and my first run was a disaster. Many hours and several gallons of milk later, I was no closer to making cheese than I was before I started. In fact, I might have been a little farther away, since I now had more questions than answers. cheese cartoonCottage Cheese
I again started the cottage cheese first. I used the Junket Rennet, dissolving a full tablet in ½ cup of water, using half and setting half aside for the basket cheese. Once again, when I heated the resulting curds, they seized into a gritty, squeaky, stretchy mass. Fail!

Basket Cheese
Three hours after beginning the cottage cheese, I heated milk for the basket cheese, adding the rennet I had set aside. After two hours (more than twice as long as it should have taken to coagulate) I still had milk. At the tail end of the night, after everything else was cleaned up and stowed away, I finally threw in the towel, added some lemon juice, and turned it into ricotta.

Paneer

Swapping out the homemade vinegar for organic lemon juice: success!

The cottage cheese was a conundrum: obviously the rennet worked, so that wasn’t the problem. But the rennet didn’t work with the basket cheese, so it was the problem – at least with the one cheese. To troubleshoot this second batch, I pulled in another consult: Vince, our cheese intern. When I asked him what causes that texture in a cheese, he explained that when the acidity level is too high, it causes the cheese to seize too quickly, resulting in the gritty texture. When asked what causes high acidity, his answer set off the light bulb that caused my freefall into cheesy enlightenment, and I knew exactly what I needed to do to make the Farmstead Cheese class a success.

Stay tuned for tomorrow’s cheese-making finale, If at First You Don’t Succeed…


1902 - Family purchased farm

1910 - Leased land to dairy farmer

1987 - Hamill Brothers inherit farm

2002 - Started as a family business

2003 - Started a beef herd, laying hens, and pigs

2004 - Added sheep and attained organic certification of pasture land

2005 - Added dairy herd and began making fresh cheeses like mozzarella

2006 - Built aging caves and began making aged cheeses

2012 - Grid Magazine’s Cheese of the Month (Nov – Full Nettle Jack); Finalist at the Good Food Awards (Toma)

2013 - Won 2 blue ribbons from the American Cheese Society(for Buttercup Brie and Lawrenceville Jack Reserve); Added second cheesemaker

2014 - Broke ground on additional aging space and began process of getting AWA certification for our chickens
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