How are you doing considering the current circumstances we find ourselves in?
We are doing pretty well, actually. The creamery is just a four-person crew and while that makes us incredibly vulnerable should Coronavirus sweep through, it also limits our exposures. Our crew has been great about making the commitment to keeping their personal circles tight to protect the farm. It's in everyone's best interest to stay strong and productive and we're doing that. On the farm side, everyone lives here--our family and our two farm employees and we decided early on that the farm would be its own circle. In the creamery, everyone wears masks and keeps distance as much as possible, but it's much harder to do that when you're leaning over an engine or pulling a calf. The good side of that is that we were able to hold the biggest sports event in the state last weekend--the RockBottom Farm 2 v. 2 Tournament, with five teams. Jackson, our 17-year-old son had just won the state D-III basketball title with Thetford Academy and dreamed up the tourney. He built a half-court arena in the hay loft with hay-bale bleachers and an old backboard and rim. It was hilarious and awesome all around. Kim and Harley came back from an early loss to me and Jackson, sweeping the loser's bracket and then toasting us in the final on the strength of Kim's lights-out outside shot and Harley's foot-taller-than-his-mom rebounding.
As far as business goes, sales are up. I don't know if it's because people are worried about the security or fragility of a more regional or national food system or are just wanting to shore up their supply of food close to home, but we went from having a slight surplus of milk before spring calving to having a slight shortage with most of the cows calved in. Ice cream sales are strong as well. We've been eating more ice cream at home, too, and I think it might be because it's hard to be worried when you're eating a bowl of your favorite ice cream. (I am going to get some strawberry right now, to test the theory.)
Vermont has an amazing history of supporting its local communities and farmers, any specific moments that have stood out to you during this time?
We were running tight on our supply of reusable glass bottles before quarantine, and saw our return rate drop off a cliff in the early days and stores struggled to adapt their bottle return protocols to the new normal. I put out a post on our Facebook page, explaining that we would have to dump milk if we didn't have bottles to put it in. Our customers shared that post around over 350 times and within a week, we were back in great shape with bottles. People offered to mail them from Albany, drive around their neighborhoods collecting them, or donate the deposits just to get them back. People were just fantastic about it. Our two closest stores collected over 500 bottles in a week--five times more than normal. I also found a few bottles in my mailbox.
How do you see Vermont farmers adjusting to the “new normal”?
I guess the short answer is that I don't see Vermont farmers. We don't see too much of anyone, which is pretty normal for us. Things really haven't changed that much on the farm side. The cows and fields don't know what's happening with COVID-19 and you could spend all day here and not know it either, unless you looked in the windows at the creamery and saw the masks.
How are you changing or innovating your farming practices during this time?
We are always tweaking our farm practices, but we're not really doing anything different because of quarantine. We're looking forward to getting the cows back on pasture when the ground dries out enough that they won't damage the grass roots with their hooves. We revamped our calf-raising protocols last fall, adding to our vaccination regimen and the calves are stronger than ever. We're getting ahead of ourselves with heifer calves, so we'll be breeding some of our calves to beef bulls when the breeding season opens. That kind of thing. I guess one thing that's different is having our boys home. They are a huge help and are getting their PE credits picking rocks, fencing, and milking
What are you looking forward to most once the “stay-at-home” order gets lifted?
Listening to an afternoon baseball game on the barn radio during milking.
Any words of hope or inspiration you would like to share?
I have been wondering for a long time, before all this, what it was going to take to set the world right when so many things seemed like a race to the bottom--climate change and food systems especially. It's too bad that it's taking a global pandemic to be the disrupting force, but I think we have a great opportunity for change here. It's a pity that we don't have the national leadership to make that happen, but hopefully November marks the beginning of our country's move toward a sustainable environmental future, with greater income equality and strong farms growing healthy foods that are valued appropriately. It might be too much to hope for, but I'm hoping anyway.