June is Dairy Month in Washington State – and it’s a great reminder to seek out local dairy products like milk, cheese, yogurt, ice cream, and more! Washington has many local dairies producing a wide variety of gourmet and unique products for sale in their farm stores, at farmers markets and through local grocers and food co-ops. You can search the Washington Food & Farm Finder to find dairy farms, creameries and their products for sale near you!
To commemorate Dairy Month we interviewed several farmers from different types of dairy operations around the state. Read on to learn more about the following farmers that are working hard to bring you your favorite creamy goods all year round!
- Jeremy Foust, Owner/Operator of Left Foot Farms, producing raw goat’s milk in Eatonville
- Lynn Swanson, Owner/Operator of Glendale Shepherd, producing cheese and yogurt from sheep’s milk on Whidbey Island
- Amy Rose Dubin, Owner/Operator of Chimacum Valley Dairy, producing raw cheese from cow’s and goat’s milk in Chimacum
- Larry Stap, Owner/Operator of Twin Brook Creamery, producing milk and cream from Jersey cows in Lynden
What first got you into dairy farming? Were you raised on a farm, or did you step into it later in life? Tell us a bit of your backstory!
Left Foot Farm: I got into dairy farming kinda by accident! I had met a woman who wanted a few goats…well a few goats turned into a few dozen goats! After a while the woman left and the goats stayed, so I thought I needed to do something with them. I never thought that something would be Left Foot Farm as it is today!
Glendale Shepherd: I was able to help on my family’s farms when I was a kid, and have loved dairy animals ever since! About 12 years ago I switched from raising dual purpose sheep to building our dairy flock.
Twin Brook Creamery: I’m the fourth generation farmer and my kids are the fifth – I still live in the house I was raised in. My great grandfather started the farm in 1910 after he moved to Lynden from Holland.
What is the hardest thing about the type of farming you do?
Left Foot Farm: The hardest thing about farming for me is that you are always farming. There is always something to do. It’s very difficult to take a day off and there is always some unexpected expense that pops up every month.
Chimacum Valley Dairy: Having livestock also means you will have deadstock. Our animals are not a commodity to us. We value them highly and give them a good life on our farm. Culling animals is necessary and really hard. Every time.
What have you found most challenging on the business side of things?
Chimacum Valley Dairy: Developing an understanding with wholesale accounts. Buying from a small producer is not complicated. Although it may take an extra task to order from us, because we are not listed with giant distributors , it is really direct and we can accommodate orders in a more tailored way.
Twin Brook Creamery: Trying to get environmental advocates to understand that farming is all about stewardship – we need to work together to make sure farms stay viable while the environment is also taken care of. We can work hand in hand – the alternative to farms is urban development.
What makes you excited about being a dairy farmer?
Chimacum Valley Dairy: Accolades from customers who buy our cheese! Educating people about small agribusiness and raw milk cheese.
Glendale Shepherd: Animal husbandry, especially lambing time, is my favorite part of dairy farming. The most exciting thing that I’m involved in right now is participating in the Dairy Sheep Association of North America’s Genetic Improvement Program. Over the past several years, our organization has been involved with the importation of new genetics from Europe to help improve the production of US sheep dairy producers!
What are the benefits of buying from local dairies?
Left Foot Farm: It is the only way small dairies can survive these days – meeting the farmer, seeing where your food comes from – to me that creates an energy that is sustainable.
Glendale Shepherd: When you buy from local dairies you are supporting your local economy and creating local jobs. Buying from a local dairy means you can meet the farmers and know how your food is produced. It’s also nice that you can get good food that hasn’t traveled halfway around the world to get to your plate!
Twin Brook Creamery: Your milk is traveling less miles because we process our own milk on the farm – this means we can keep our price down. We also have ten employees on our farm that wouldn’t have jobs otherwise, so buying milk from local producers stimulates the local economy and keeps money circulating in our communities. Buying local produces a more sustainable economy.
What’s the most important thing you want the public to know about dairy farming?
Left Foot Farm: I think there is a false perception that animals are mistreated and forced to do this and that. In regards to goat milk, give it a try, it’s not your grandma’s goat milk!
Glendale Shepherd: We love what we do, and are extremely committed to the wellbeing of our flock.
Twin Brook Creamery: Farmers care deeply about our animals and the land. We need to take care of these resources because they provide us with our living – our goal is to leave the soil and animals better than we found them.
What is one thing about the work that you do that you think would surprise people?
Left Foot Farm: For me it is that I don’t have all the answers, I am continuing to learn each day. Farming takes a lot of work, and sometimes it is not all picture worthy. There is a lot of manure, mud and craziness.
Glendale Shepherd: It’s amazing how often we get the comment that folks didn’t know you can milk a sheep!
Chimacum Valley Dairy: Many folks think about the time commitment of having to milk animals on a schedule, often very early in the morning and again in the evening, as limiting. On the contrary, there is a rhythm to it that can take on a poetry of existence. It defines the days and seasons in a way that is dependable and varies in the moment!
Twin Brook Creamery: The amount of automation that our farm uses! When a cow wants to get milked she can walk into a stall 24 hours a day. Her collar identifies her and her milk production is tracked digitally – down to the level of butterfat, protein content, temperature, and the milk is even checked for mastitis. The collar also has a speedometer to track the cow’s exercise levels and how many minutes a day she chews her cud – this allows us to easily track the health of our 200 cow herd.