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.

The Agony and The Eggs-tacy


Every winter we face the agony of fewer eggs to sell. It’s a chicken thing. When the days get shorter and colder, the chickens slow down (or stop) laying. Some types of chickens are more cold hardy, but in general… winter means less eggs. And every year we have to face our customers’ disappointment each day when we say, “Sorry, eggs are gone for the day.”

As a sustainable farm we try to do everything in balance… the right number of animals for the land, pasture, and farmers. As such, we raise a limited number of laying hens and that means a finite number of eggs every day, in every season.

Which brings us to the eggs-tacy. These eggs are the real deal… from pasture-raised hens who each fresh grass and insects all day. From a variety of chickens who roam in the same fields with our sheep, spending their days scratching, pecking, and being chickens. They lay eggs in many subtle shades of brown, lavender, blue and green, making each carton a veritable Easter basket of colors.

Our eggs are hand picked every day. We hand wash (no soaking!), and set them out for sale within 12 hours of collection. When you break them open, the yolks are deep orange and the surrounding white has substance. This is not a pallid, watery egg that has been sitting in a cooler or on a truck. Truly pasture-raised eggs are the gold standard.

As the days lengthen and spring turns to summer, our hens start laying in earnest and we again have 20 to 30 dozen pastured eggs to sell to neighbors and farm friends each day. Like everything else on the farm, this is the regular cycle of agony and eggs-tacy.

(Supply is up from January and we see more smiling faces each the morning. Morning is always the best time to find our pastured eggs in the case.)




‘Tis the season of sharing autumn bounty!

It is also the season of harvesting autumn honey.

Honey, that sweet liquid amber, is what the bees live off of over winter, so we have to be very careful not to pull too much honey from the hive or the bees will not survive. This week, our beekeeper will check the strength and stores of our hives, to assess how much honey our apian friends can share with us.

Each hive needs both a critical mass of bees and 60-70 lbs of honey to overwinter (for an “average” winter in our zone). Bees nourish themselves with both nectar and pollen. Nectar is used to produce honey, the key energy source for the bees. All through the year busy bees are producing honey, filling the hive in preparation for hard times, like winter. This summer’s drought has been hard on the bee community. Lack of water affects plants, which affects the creatures that depend on them, which includes us. Although our bee-critical native goldenrod was blooming well, the ground was too dry for the plants to produce much nectar, so honey production has been low the past few months.

When we pull honey, we have to leave enough for the bees first, then harvest whatever extra is there to share. Young hives, like ours, are especially vulnerable to winter stress, so forgive us if our farm honey supply is light this fall. Our bee friends have had some rough months, and we have to make sure they are taken care of.

We will always have local honey in the farm store. Our own honey remains a very small production. We share what we can.

An Edible Autumn

September gave us beautiful weekend weather, but that last weekend felt glorious.
Maybe it was the company; we hosted an autumn foraging class with guerrilla chef Ben Walmer.

The weather was clear with overlapping hints of summer and autumn that made us tipsy with anticipation to get out into the fields. Ben had everything set up so that when the foragers arrived, we could grab our sacks and clippers and set off down the mulberry lane into the pastures. Starting on the cow path, we talked about wild edibles and their many uses. Just along the fence line we found wild chicory, red clover, crab apples, and rose hips.

Ben gave all sorts of culinary information, while farm staff shared general native horticultural details. We walked along the hedgerows scouting for wild grapes, goldenrod, and young dandelion. Through the pasture around the pond, we picked up windfall black walnuts, while offering our guests some insights into the farm topography and the riparian buffer along the Shippetaukin Creek.

Turning down the main lane, we wandered past shagbark hickory, young pokeweed, chokecherries, and native persimmon, until we got to the rise where we watched our heritage turkeys, ghost white in the field, foraging in pasture with the black Berkshire hogs. Turning into in the lower woodland, we hunted for spiceberries, examining exactly how the berries grew along the stem, to better distinguish them from the myriad other red berries in the woods.

Our pockets bulging with edible flowers, tannic grapes, red berries, and assorted greens, we set off for the cottage yard where Ben served a 4 course small bites tasting of Cherry Grove Farm cheeses and meats with locally foraged edibles. Visit our facebook page for the photo album and menu details!

Fresh Faces on the Farm

‘Tis the season of more milk, more cheese, farmers markets, family picnics, and farm events. A time of year when the farm gets very busy and we look outside the fence for summer help, for the arrival of new faces with a hankering to learn about and work on the farm.

Each year we are tickled to find a fresh crop of young people who are concerned about the food they eat and want to understand where their food comes from. Farms like ours rely on these new faces, fresh enthusiasms and perspectives. This refreshing influx of eager new recruits coincides with the spring rebirth of the farm… new grass, new calves, new lambs, and revitalized energies.

As with any business, continuity is important. We want to our customers to know us. We need to pass along our knowledge and see our summer people come back year after year, learning more about the farm, working in new areas, and passing their enthusiasm on to our customers and the years’ fresh faces.

It’s all a cycle. A pink-cheeked new summer marketeer becomes next year’s returning summer hire who knows the ropes, helps train new people, and passes their confidence on to the fresh recruits.

The bonus for our full-timers who toil year round? We see our farm through fresh eyes every spring and summer.

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Look for our 2015 summer marketeers at the farm store and our farm markets throughout the summer!

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