By Laura Ginsburg, Center Lead at NE-DBIC
The Northeast Dairy Business Innovation Center (NE-DBIC), hosted at the Vermont Agency of Agriculture, Food & Markets, provides support to dairy businesses through projects that promote the development, production, marketing, and distribution of dairy products.
Maine’s state motto is Dirigo, or “I lead”, and their dairy community certainly lives up to this creed.
As one of the foundational partners in the Northeast Dairy Business Innovation Center, and now home to over two dozen grant recipients, the team felt that it was time to pay a visit. Laura Ginsburg - Center Lead, Kathryn Donovan – Regional Programs Manager, and Rebecca Brockett – Grants and Contracts Administrator all ventured north at the end of April to meet with current and interested dairy producers.
Day 1: First stop, Casco Bay Butter.
Alisha (Leash) and Janelle have built Casco Bay Butter from the ground up, starting in a church kitchen and now in a beautiful new space that will allow for continued growth. Casco Bay both produces their own lines of butter (the cinnamon sugar is out of this world) and co-packs for other brands. Not yet a grant recipient, Casco Bay is interested in applying for funds to help them support smaller butter makers in bringing their products to life.
Bulk and packaged butter in a variety of flavors from Casco Bay Creamery
Leash and Janelle of Casco Bay Creamery
Next up: Winter Hill Farm.
Steve and Sarah own Winter Hill, a lovely conserved farm where they milk cows, make cheese, and raise hogs. Coming from Vermont, it was exciting to see a number of rare Randall lineback cows in their herd. Steve and Sarah are recipients of a 2022 Food Safety and Certification grant, focusing on their food safety plans to pass a third-party audit and expand their sales opportunities.
Cheese at Winter Hill Farm
Winter Hill Farm Bottled Milk
Last stop for day 1 – Sunflower Farm Creamery.
We ended our first day at Sunflower Farm Creamery with a meet and greet of Maine Cheese Guild members. Holding baby goats and sampling a variety of excellent cheeses is always time well spent. Sunflower Farm Creamery was one of the earliest NE-DBIC grantees, having received a 2021 Multi-business agritourism grant. They used their grant to develop the Simply Good Chevre Recipes guide, highlighting over 40 Maine goat dairy processors.
Maine Cheese Guild has received a Technical Assistance & Business Viability Grant and a Dairy Farm Business Management Cohort contract from NE-DBIC. We loved connecting directly with many cheesemakers who have received funds through many of our grants and others who were new to our programs.
Holding kids at Sunflower Farm
Maine Cheese Guild cheese board at Sunflower Farm
Day two started bright and early at Sheepscot Valley Farm, run by Annie Watson and her family.
Annie has the energy of four well-caffeinated people and is a leader in the Maine dairy industry, engaged in everything from policy to production to pricing. Their farm utilizes many innovative strategies, such as a bedded pack barn for their milking herd and a recent conversion of their tie-stall to a parlor. Annie’s milk processing company, Maine Organic Milk, received a 2021 Marketing and Branding grant to develop brand identity and target markets.
Cows in the barn at Sheepscot Valley Farm
Next stop was Fredrikson Farm.
A recipient of a 2022 Dairy Food Safety and Certification grant, Ed and Dianna make a range of cheeses from their 40 Sanaan goats. Both Ed and Dianna are big thinkers and have designed many of the systems used on their farm, from designing and building their milking parlor to developing new ways to efficiently move product around the processing space. Their grant supported the purchase of a batch pasteurizer to increase production efficiencies and certification as a FSPCA – Preventative Controls for Human Food.
Last stop for day 2 - Mayday Farm, a conserved, first-generation organic farm.
Haden and Katie milk 40 cows and raise broiler chickens. Like many young and beginning farmers, Haden and Katie are committed to innovation and forward thinking. They are participants in a technical assistance cohort led by Dr. Glenda Pereira of the University of Maine. The cohort is trialing ear tag activity and rumination monitors, and while the project is still in its early stages, it was exciting to hear how the system is already providing Haden and Katie with critical information about their cows and new connections to other dairy farmers.
Our final day in Maine started at Harris Farm,
a multi-generational diversified farm (and processing business, and cross-country ski destination, and many other things) run by Jake Harris and his family. Committed to innovation and giving new ideas a try, Jake is also participating in Dr. Pereira’s cohort. It was great to meet his herd manager Steph Tibbets, a graduate of Vermont Technical College’s dairy program, who is also excited about small farm innovation. Their milk came in many different flavors, and the blueberry was outstanding.
Final stop – Three Charm Farm.
A first-generation goat and sheep dairy, owners Ingrid and Edward helped us fulfill the trifecta of spring babies by getting to snuggle some newborn lambs. Three Charm Farm processes all their milk into a variety of products including cheese and yogurt. Ingrid and Edward received a 2022 Marketing and Branding Grant to develop a marketing plan and outreach strategy as they grow their markets.
Thanks for hosting us Maine, we are inspired by the innovation and energy in the dairy community and cannot wait to come back for another visit!