Ah, the good and simple life. Living on a farm out in the country, with some hens, goats, sheep, and a few cows thrown in for good measure. Sounds idyllic, doesn’t it?
Well according to author Angela Miller’s 2010 memoir entitled Hay Fever, farm life is anything but easy and carefree. Miller, a Manhattan-based literary publicist, decided one day that her frenetic, super urban lifestyle needed a U-turn into a more placid diversion of some sort. So she, together with her somewhat reluctant hubby, purchase and move into a 19th century farmhouse in rural Vermont, that comes complete with a little over 300 acres of surrounding countryside. The year was 2001, and the farm was envisioned to be a refuge from the NYC hustle and bustle. But the farm’s history as a working creamery and cheese making facility put a bug into Angela’s brain that she too could run a profitable dairy based concern as had its originating owner, one Consider Bardwell. However, until profits materialized, and because she couldn’t bear to totally cut herself off from her literary clients in the big city, Angela came to the conclusion that she would still need to continue being a literary agent during the middle of the week, and run the farm on extended weekend stays. The latter task was made all the more difficult since she had precious little experience in farming, much less operating an artisanal cheese making business.
Angela and Rust, her husband, acquire the requisite goats and other barnyard animals, as well as assemble a cast of farmhands, cheese makers, vets and a sundry other rural characters. They also attend many cheese making workshops and seminars and believe that armed with their newly gained knowledge, they are well on their way to building a world class cheese company on the premises of Consider Bardwell Farm. However, that road is fraught with many unforeseen bumps and learning curve detours that constantly make the project an iffy proposition at best.
This book is a cautionary tale of sorts as Angela recounts the difficulties of running and maintaining the farm, which is the primary source of goat milk that is crucial to the cheese making venture. The year 2008 proved to be an especially difficult time and she particularly concentrates on the many problems that they ran into. For example, one variety of cheese that had previously been a prize winner, was rejected by specialty food retailer Zingerman’s of Ann Arbor, which stated that the 250 pounds that were delivered to them did not match the taste profile of the winning cheese that their buyer had sampled some seven months earlier. It was returned and ended up being fed to the neighbor’s pigs. Soon after that, the farm instituted a new, more stringent control process, continuously testing and grading all the cheese being produced to assure consistent quality from one batch to another.
Currently, Consider Bardwell Farm makes over fifty thousand pounds of cheese annually, has won many prizes, and sells their products at over a dozen East Coast farmers’ markets. They are also found in the cheese carts of many fine dining establishments, as well as in numerous gourmet food shops across the country.
Speaking of farmers’ markets, my husband and I love to visit Kalamazoo’s outdoor version held every Saturday, between May and November on Bank Street. It is extremely popular, judging by the hordes of shoppers it attracts each week. It is also very well run and draws in many participating vendors, thanks in large part to the efforts of the People’s Food Co-op, which took over managing its operations from the city this year.
Last year, we remember purchasing a number of different goat cheese products at the market made by a small local producer. Now that vendor is nowhere to be found. We also searched for them at Sawall’s and the Food Co-op, both of whom used to carry their cheeses, but again these had disappeared from the dairy cases. I even went so far as doing a little more detective work by looking up the farm online. That resulted in the discovery that their prior site had been disabled, and that neither their phone number or email address worked anymore. Yes, artisanal cheese making is a tough, risky business. No one is guaranteed to make a profit and as a result, some farms don’t make it at all.
So go to the Kalamazoo Farmers’ Market, get something yummy (preferably cheese) to munch on and spend some time reading Hay Fever. After all, it’s summer. Time to kick back and relax.
Unless of course you live on a farm!
For more information of the Kalamazoo Farmers’ Market go to: http://farmersmarketkalamazoo.com/
Hay fever : how chasing a dream on a Vermont farm changed my life