Sunday, September 2, 2012

Spontaneous Farm Visit

I have been buying raw milk and eggs from Stonewall Dairy in Cornwall, CT over the last couple of years.  I have seen the farmer, Chris Hopkins around and we have chatted from time to time. Tristan has enjoyed collecting eggs from their movable tractors. Tristan loves working on the farm so when given the opportunity he jumps right in.  And so do I.  My inner farm girl comes rushing to the surface.

This morning we arrived when Chris was putting stickers on the milk containers and Tristan asked if he could help.  Once he was done with that he was invited to help with bottling the milk.  Chris was patient and kind.  He gave detailed instructions to Tristan and didn't get upset while he was mastering the art of not spilling a drop.   Oh and we had the best conversations about sustainability, farming and the right size of a farm so that it lives in harmony with the land and nurtures the community and the farmer.  We talked about how much work it is to do farming well.  And about his sustainable farm dream.

Hours slipped by and I felt the need to reconnect with the rest of my family. But we hadn't had enough!!

The milking system surprised me.  It seemed very old fashioned and labor intensive. A step up from hand milking!  Apparently this is one of the only ways Chris can control the process and keep everything sanitary enough for processing raw milk.  Raw milk doesn't go through the pasteurization process.  It is a live food, full of enzymes and competing bacteria. Every piece of equipment used in the process is sanitized.  Everything!  It is a long process and there are no shortcuts.

You are probably not interested in the details...but I am!  So I am sharing this anyway because today I milked a cow and feel quite accomplished! Here are the steps involved in milking a cow.

Step 1:  Brush the cow. 
Step 2: Massage the udder a bit
Step 3: Squeeze each teat and get a stream to land in a filter screen to make sure the milk is not globby (indicating an infection)
Step 4: Sanitize each teat with iodine.  
Step 5: Wipe off teat.  Put on the milking machine.
Step 6: When the udder is empty, take off the machine.
Step 7: Dip each teat in iodine (thicker version) to seal and sanitize teats.

It took about 5 minutes per cow for this process to occur.  Each cow produces approx.  2 gallons of milk per session.  It was interesting to learn the idiosyncrasies and history of each cow.  Time rushed by.  We were into it.  Many visitors came to watch and ask questions about raw milk, questions I am sure Chris has been asked thousands of times.  He answers the questions as if asked for the first time.  He is very busy.  He has a lot of plates spinning at the same time, yet he doesn't miss a beat.  

There is a lot of heavy lifting.  Milking is strenuous.  Large pails of milk have to be lifted 4 ft off the ground and poured into a filter on top of a refrigerated vat.  We were carrying 4 gallon crates.  I am going to feel it tomorrow. 

It was nice to watch the cows meandering back out into the field.  Now it was time to clean up. Chris keeps a very clean, organized barn.  It was almost 7pm by the time we said goodbye.  Tristan had a fantastic experience and now needed food!  I am already planning my next visit.


  1. Wow! That is so cool he let you stay and work the farm. I bet Tristan learned so much from this experience. I can't wait to hear all about it.

  2. It was a great learning experience. We realized the great effort that is required to bring clean fresh raw milk to the community. It is a labor of love and I felt even more grateful to Chris, the visionary and farmer, by participating in the process.

  3. Wow! That was so great that he let you guys hang out, help, and se how it all goes down. He is a pretty great Farmer!