24 May, 2010

......got milk cans?

I had a chance to tour a unique cooperative cheese making operation. i'm trying to figure where to begin, how about waiting for a ride in the parking lot of eastside food cooperative. It was here where i met my tour guide, Mary Bess Michaletz from rochdale farms cheese. Along with the managers/cheese buyers from 4 local co-ops we headed to Cashton Wisconsin home of K and K cheese.

K and K is one of the few remaining cheese plants that accept milk from amish farmers who milk by hand, cool the milk in spring houses and ship it out in old fashion milk cans. In the seventies the amish farmers of this area created a system that would allow their milk to be utilized in milk cans. Normally most dairy farmers milk the cows by machine, pump it to a refrigerated holding tank and ship it out in bulk form of several hundred gallons at a time. the amish farmers on the other hand milk by hand, and since their culture prohibits the use of electricity, they cool the milk in spring water tanks in milk cans. without electricity they also had to find some-one to run the cheese plant. the arrangement that has been in place for the last 28 years has been very successful for both the 325 amish farmers in the cooperative and the cheese producer. It fills a niche market that is highly sought after and keeps a way of life alive for growing number of amish farmers.

after a 1 hr tour we stopped at several amish farms and had a delicious lunch on the grass courtesy of the other partner in rochdale farms, Bentley Lein. the afternoon followed up with a chance to chat with a couple of amish farmers in the area. the amish farm is a unique operation but highly successful and innovative. typically the farmers milk 12-15 cows and subsist on land from 40 - 80 acres in size. more than a few have been organically certified and all are fully inspected by the wisconsin milk board. i found the barns to be compact and well ordered. the typical amish farmer is actually quite open to questions and rather a friendly sort. i would like to spend a few day working living at a farm to really get a better feel for this way of life.