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By Missy Sheehan + photos by Turner Photography
Dairy farmers in Washiington County and the surrounding region are thriving in organic and grass-based industries
Got milk? Washington County and the surrounding region sure do. According to the Maryland Department of Agriculture, Washington, Frederick and Carroll counties are the top three dairy producers in the state — contributing nearly $201 million in sales to the Maryland dairy industry in 2013. A number of the dairy farms in the region are small, family-owned farms that have found niches in which to thrive within the organic and grass-based dairy industries, which depend on small farmers to support their growing consumer demand.
Clear Spring Creamery
Since 2008, Clear Spring Creamery owners Mark and Clare Seibert have been producing dairy products like yogurt, butter, cheese, and occasionally ice cream, using the milk they get from the 45 Jersey cows on their 120-acre family dairy farm in Clear Spring. “We process the milk and make it all right here on the farm,” Clare says. “A typical day for us is milking the cows in the morning, and from there the milk gets pumped right into the processing room. Then we either bottle it or make something with the milk almost every day.”
Mark and Clare then sell their products at farmers markets in Washington, D.C., the surrounding region, and at the Common Market in Frederick. Clear Springs Creamery is grass based — meaning cows are fed almost entirely grass, Mark says. “It’s a more natural system because cows were made to chew grass,” he says. “And you get a better quality and healthier product.”
According to a Center for Sustaining Agriculture and Natural Resources 2013 study led by Washington State University researchers, milk from cows consuming significant amounts of grass and legume-based plants contains significantly higher concentrations of heart-healthy fatty acids compared to milk from cows on conventionally managed dairy farms, where cows often lack access to pastures and are instead fed large quantities of grains.
South Mountain Creamery
Longtime dairy farmers Randy and Karen Sowers started South Mountain Creamery in Middletown in 2001, becoming Maryland’s first on-site dairy processing plant, with the goal of offering glass-bottled milk and home delivery service. “We decided to go with glass bottles because it just tastes better,” Randy says. “Plus then we’re not filling up the landfills with plastic.”
Today, South Mountain Creamery milks its 350 cows twice a day and delivers its signature glass-bottled milk and other products including cheese, butter, and ice cream to more than 8,500 customers locally and throughout the Baltimore and Washington, D.C., regions. Customers also can purchase products at the farm’s store and even take tours there. The farm practices free-choice feeding, Randy says. Besides grazing in the pastures, cows are offered a mix of corn, hay, soybeans, and minerals to enhance their diets.
Peace Hollow Farm
Peace Hollow Farm, a second-generation farm operated by Myron and Janet Martin in Knoxville is a 260-acre organic and grass-based farm with a small store that sells dairy products like ice cream, butter, and cheese made from its milk — as well as beef, homemade baked goods, and milk-infused soaps.
The farm became certified organic in 2007, Myron says, and quit feeding grains to cows in 2009. “Now we’re totally grass-based,” he says. “It’s healthier for cows and for us.” Peace Hollow Farm sends its milk to Trickling Springs Creamery in Chambersburg, Pa., to be processed and either bottled or made into other dairy products under the Trickling Springs Creamery name. Milk can be purchased in either glass or plastic bottles.
Green Acres Farmstead
At Green Acres Farmstead in Hagerstown, Curvin and Glennis Eby operate a 128-acre certified organic, grass-based dairy farm with a focus on the health and comfort of its 50 cows. The couple sell their milk to Organic Valley, a Wisconsin based cooperative of organic farmers throughout 36 states. Organic Valley dairy products are sold at supermarkets, natural food stores and food cooperatives nationwide.
“Being organic and grass-based is a better lifestyle for the cows and for us,” Curvin says. “The cows get to be in a more natural environment outside in the sunshine and fresh air with all the green grass they can eat. So they’re happy, and I’m happy because the end product is great, and I’m making money. It’s a win-win situation for both of us.”