Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Butterworks Farm Article


Simple recipe, worth striving for

By David Rocchio for the Stowe Reporter

A staple in our refrigerator is a 32-ounce, white plastic yogurt container featuring an old-fashioned drawing of a jersey cow.

On the container, under the cow, is written “Jersey Milk, Organic Whole Yogurt.” It is the best yogurt I have ever tasted.

But it’s not just the taste of the yogurt. The yogurt is made right on a family farm in Westfield, Vt.; the Butterworks Dairy, not far from where we sit.

The farm is self-sufficient and organic, growing everything the cows eat. The cows eat well — grains and alfalfa, corn and oats and barley. The herd is closed, meaning all of the cows are born and raised right on the farm — no imports.

This yogurt is so good, it could become the Ben and Jerry’s of yogurt (and all that implies. both good and bad). Right on the package, though, the family writes, “We want to remain a small, one-farm operation.” A successful, organic, closed-herd, single-farm, family-run dairy with the stated goal of not becoming too big: I had to visit this farm.

I parked my car near the barn just beyond an abandoned old split-windshield truck. Jersey calves roamed about in the tall grass hemming in the truck. I meandered around the farm and found Jack Lazor in a small, crowded room near a loading dock.

Backed up to the dock sat an old white refrigerator truck, hand-lettered with the name of the farm. The truck was being loaded, and the processing room was busy.

After Jack apologized for being tired — “I was haying until midnight last night” — we walked together to a field, where it was time to stake out new pasture for the milk cows. We talked as we walked. Jack and Anne Lazor met in the early 1970s. Jack was farming at Old Sturbridge Village, where he was practicing some of what he had studied in college — agricultural history.

Jack graduated from college in 1972 and was not interested in the political ragings around him. A deceptively simple question — how did the original colonists feed themselves? — stuck in Jack’s head, and that question turned into a life.

We walked into a field of grass. Jack described what was growing under my feet, a mix of five or six different grasses and clovers, and we began to pull thin fiberglass fence posts from the ground. As I pulled the posts, Jack twirled the electric fence wire onto its spool and poured a fire-hose volume of knowledge over me: land management; treatment for sick cows without use of antibiotics; how to grow grain corn and strip the kernels from the husks; impact on the milk of different feeds; new grasses now growing on certain fields; organic composting; milling grain; using wind to make electricity; his idea for a steam plant.

We finished moving the posts and stringing wire to create a new area for the cows to graze.

“I move the cows every 12 hours, so they eat all of the grass in an area and don’t just pick and choose, leaving a monoculture of weeds behind. They eat and fertilize an area, and then we move them a bit and they do the same again. The grasses grow up again behind the cows and the fields remain complex and healthy.”

Behind us, two work horses grazed. A tall tower hosted the windmill. The barn, granary and milk shed spread out near the field. Trucks and tractors were tossed around the landscape.

Jack and Anne began farming their land over 25 years ago. The idea of making great yogurt wasn’t a careful plan; the original small herd made too much milk and they needed to do something with it. So, the kitchen became a laboratory, and the products made sold briskly at markets nearby. The farm grew, well, organically.

We finished staking the field and Jack struggled with his new cell phone and called the barn: “Send the cows.” The cows walked past us to the pasture, knowing the drill. I could see the personality in each lady as she swayed by and Jack had a comment for each one. The herd closed in 1981, so the family and each cow know each other well.

When the milkers were all in, we stopped talking. The only sounds were cows eating grass and church bells in the distance.

We toured the rest of the operation. We walked to the house for lunch. The house is not reached by a road. It is reached by a path from the barn. A garden and more fields dominate the view.

Inside the house, papers and notes and reports and whatnot are piled high; a true farm house. Jack offered me some bread and butter — all ingredients from the farm — and I could not help but ask for more.

The butter was a deep yellow and sweet as pie. “How do you make it?” I asked. “Put cream in a jug and shake it,” Jack replied. He told me someone who buys their butter once called to ask what went in it to make it yellow. “You’d have to ask the cows,” was the gist of the answer.

Anne joined us and we ate, interrupted by orders coming in over the phone, scribbled on scraps of paper to be brought to the barn. Most everything we ate was made on the farm. Anne guesses they produce 85 percent of what they eat.

Jack walked me back to the barn, where the work of shipping yogurt continued. Someone joked about the radio — it was tuned to a Quebec station — and I asked if it was a good station. “It’s the only one, so I guess so” was the reply.

Jack told me the farm’s No. 1-selling product is the fat-free Jersey milk yogurt, which is ironic. Jersey cows are known for their cream. If you take away the fat, it’s not really the cows that distinguish the yogurt. Maybe people are trying to buy something other than yogurt in that 32-ounce container. Maybe they are just supporting a straightforward and direct approach to life.

It is a simple recipe to recite, like making butter, but it is harder to execute and well worth striving for.

David M. Rocchio lives, works and writes in Stowe. E-mail our writers at news@stowereporter.com. All messages will be forwarded.