About 11 years ago my wife June and I held hands and jumped off a cliff together. We were in our mid-30′s then.
She was (and is) a successful Senior Software Engineer and I had owned several small businesses.
We ditched it all, sold our home near Boston and moved to a 50 acre farm in Upstate New Y0rk in 1998. We brought our two young boys, Aaron and Joe, who were at the time age 10 and 12 respectively. We brought our samoyed dog named Sammy. We brought our wits. That was about all we had.
That first summer, on a balmy evening with fireflies all about her, I saw my wife lovingly petting our first jersey cow in our lower meadow and I knew I was home.
I certified the farm as organic in 1999, and in the last 10 years we have raised a variety of crops and animals. At one point we had well over a thousand mouths to feed, what with the cows, goats, chickens, pigs, turkeys and humans we had around. The boys embraced the farming lifestyle.
I had no idea what I was doing then. No farming experience to speak of, as I was a property management geek from Phoenix, Arizona. But I had spunk and pluck, I guess, and some real determination to do something meaningful.
Everyone in town took to calling me Noah, because I did truly have about two of everything. I learned about organic food, what it means to the earth, and how it not only sustains and nourishes us but also how it leaves the dirt better than you found it (once you split a single bottom plow through fallow ground that hasn’t been worked in over 100 years you never come back!). I am no scientist, but this intrigued me.
I also applied some common sense: do I want to eat food with the chemicals and toxins or without? I chose without, thank you very much.
I began to read, study and interact with other farmers in Upstate New York. I began to realize that there were many great products being made up here. Many organic, some not. Remember, this was 10 years ago and organic was still privately regulated and a very, very small segment of the food industry.
That next summer it hit me at supper time that every single thing on our plates (including our dessert of homemade ice cream) came from the farm. I got really warm and fuzzy inside with that realization.
I started a small distribution company out of the back of my minivan, because I had lots of organic eggs around and we needed a place to sell them. I started to visit some local retailers and coops in our area. Before long, I was hauling local honey, milk, cheese, eggs, and yogurt around to stores.
Without capital, this venture didn’t last too long. I knew, however, that we were making great stuff up here and we just had to figure out how to get good stuff from upstate to the good folks in NYC. We needed a distribution connection.
I took a job off the farm for a couple of years as a Grocery Manager at a local Coop grocery in Ithaca (fondly referred to as San Fransisco-East by some). I learned as much as I could about the organic/natural food movement and organic farming. The Coop, 6,500 square feet of whole food goodness, was doing $8 million in sales when I left to return to the farm full time.
I kept after the notion that a group of organic farmers, working together, could establish and maintain a local, sustainable organic line of dairy products. Something told me it was possible, and some time had clicked by then. It was 2003, and the organic movement was really showing promise. Consumers were flocking to the food without chemicals and poisons! Hooray!
I spent the next 6 years working with all levels of the food chain. I talked with farmers. I met with dairy plant managers. I lived on an Amish farm to learn how they raised organic hens. I visited with retailers. I took ride-alongs in big trucks with distributors. They all kept telling me the same thing: if you can make it and get it here, we’ll support it.
The national organic brands (Horizon, Organic Valley, HP Hood for Stonyfield) had successfully crafted and executed long term exclusivity contracts, some as long as 25 years, with all the dairy plants in New York. And New Jersey.
We met with farmers and continued to work leads. Finally, Upstate Niagara agreed to bottle Nymilk at their facility in Rochester, New York. In April, 2009 we introduced Nymilk and Nycheese to retail markets in New York and New Jersey. It was the first local, certified organic product to be offered by many retailers.
We are excited and thrilled that we have come so far. It has been a long road. We are now is the process of trying to notify consumers, chefs, retailers and bloggers that these products exist. My sense is that once people know about us, they would happily support us. We are offering what they are asking for: an organic, local, sustainable line of dairy products for New York consumers.
It has all been worth it. And June and I are still holding hands.
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