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Leap of Faith-Leaving the Conventional Milk Market

If you are new to our farm, we welcome you. Over the past year we have met so many new friends that have been drawn back to the roots in search of a more traditional way of buying meat, milk and fresh food direct from the farm. If you have been here awhile we also welcome you, familiar faces of support through the seasons. You may have started to notice a theme in my posts this year. There has been a lot of change on the farm and that was very intentional. But to explain the future we must go back and revisit the past.

Our farm is a third generation farm started by our grandfather who purchased the land in the 1950’s. Then in the 1980’s our father Jerry took over the farm and milked cows full time. Back then our farm was conventional as there was no standard for organics. As Jerry learned more about farming practices and differentiating he became certified organic in early 2000s. He signed on with Horizon for three years but was not impressed by their industrial ag model for organic standards and lack of herd grazing. As a result he switched from Horizon to Organic Valley. Kelby (Jerrys Son) began farming full time with his dad in 2008. Together they had many conversations about land regeneration, herd management and sustainable farm practices. This led them to go beyond organic standards and also become a certified grassfed herd with Maple Hill Creamery. Through all of these changes Sunny Cove has always been a dairy farm but has become slowly diversified as each year the dairy cost of production has gone up while the pay price set by the industry does not reflect the increase.

In the early 2000’s Jerry opened up a small farm store in the farm garage, he secured a raw milk permit and along with the milk sold ground beef, maple syrup and walnuts. With the opening of that first farm store he discovered a love for connecting with you all, the consumer. He began teaching anyone who would come to the farm about traditional ways of eating and living. He also started a lending library of agricultural and food themed books. As a college student and former city girl, I Kristina learned so much from conversations in that little farm store with Jerry. That was where I first discovered authors like Wendall Berry, Michael Pollan and so many other great minds. I learned the truth about our food system, how real food can so dramatically heal us and how food insecurity is one of the most crippling weapons of our society. As a result of Jerrys teaching I became wildly passionate about regenerative techniques in my garden and sustainable consumerism in my home. In 2013 Kelby and I got married, moved into a tiny home and started our family. Kelby continued to farm full time, we started our first tiny CSA, studied traditional methods of preservation, land regeneration, homesteading and beyond. In January of 2020 we took over management of the farm full time. We had a dream to carry on the legacy of the farmers who went before us.

Over the last 40 years Sunny Cove Farm has changed and evolved so much. Each generation has been in pursuit of one thing; to pass on the farm to the next generation in better condition that the last by using renewing practices to heal the earth, animal husbandry to nourish and to provide quality food to our community. We have continued Jerrys legacy of educating by opening up a School of Traditional Skills. We have continued to pour resources into our land, our animals and our farm in hopes of a better future for our children. However this dream has become nearly impossible in todays milk market. Over the last several years milk pricices have become stagnet while imputs, labor, and hauling costs have skyrocketed causing a severe imbalance for farmers nationwide. When faced with this mountain it felt to us as though our farm was failing before we even had a chance to get started.

Recently, Kelby and I have spoken to so many other small farms who are in the same spot we are. Some have chosen to sell out, and as a result an even bigger crisis has begun with the dying out of small farms. To replace these family farms large corporate farms have bought up the land, animals and built massive barns. This modern form of agriculture creates massive amounts of carbon emissions damaging our earth even further. In contrast small grass based family dairies can reverse the effects of industrial carbon release through an incredible process of carbon sequestration (more on that in a future writing!). All of that to say Kelby and I are not willing to sell out. We believe in a future that is bright for our farm, our community and our planet. There is a massive need for a shift in our food system and it starts with you the consumer and us the small farm.

Sunny Cove Farm has had a raw milk permit since 2003 however we have also always sold the bulk of our milk to the milk market where it goes to a plant to be pasteurized, processed and shipped across the United States. The dairy industry as we know it is broken. Farmers are getting paid unfair prices well below the cost of production, local food is being shipped across the country, increasing the amount of carbon emissions and wasting resources, and the consumers are so far removed from the farmers that milk could be months old by time it reaches their tables. All of this does not align with the ethics we keep at Sunny Cove Farm and as a result Kelby and I have decided to take a leap of faith and leave the industrial milk market. The milk truck will come for the last time to pick up milk this Saturday April 29, 2023.

At the end of last year we opened up our Milk CSAs. This was a way for you the consumer to guarantee a supply of raw milk and for us to gauge how much we needed to produce. We are humbled and amazed at the rapid growth of these CSAs from our first 3 members to almost 90 in just a few months. As people are still learning about our farm we have decided not to shrink our herd size but instead find creative uses for the extra milk until the local demand catches up. We plan to increase the amount of milk fed pork we raise each year, expand our CSAs and offer things like butter and cream to our CSA members only. We currently have local CSA members that pickup at the farm, along with CSAs in Olean, Pittsford, North Tonawanda, and Eden that share pickups. We plan to add on 2-4 more CSA areas as well. If you are interested in becoming a milk CSA member, or opening a CSA in your area and joining us on this journey now is the time. Our goal is to continue to make our farm products accessible while nourishing our land.

So what is in store next for Sunny Cove? Our Farm Store will continue to be open Tuesday through Friday 12-6 and Saturday 10-4. As the demand increases we also may expand our hours. We will continue to educate, answer questions and offer classes on our farm. We promise to continue growing food beyond organic standards by using regenerative practices, staying as local as possible and supporting other small farms like us by carrying supplemental products like Once Again Nut Butter and Sasha’s famous greens from our friends at Living Acres Farm. We plan to inspire, to cultivate and love more deeply than we have before. It is because of you, because of the land and because of the next generation that we will not be another number in an agricultural statistic. Mark my words this is the beginning of a small farm revolution but it starts with you. Whether you are reading this and live down the road or across the world know that every dollar you spend is a vote. Use your votes wisely and together we can change the world!

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