|T O P I C R E V I E W
||Posted - Sep 05 2017 : 5:52:16 PM
Author: Clarence Fanto
Now that the historic High Lawn Farm has put the finishing touches on its seven-year, multi-million dollar renovation and restoration — including the reconstruction of the original 1915 hay barn and other buildings that burned down in 1957 — one of the region's major high-tech dairy producers has created a museum and visitors center.
It will present the history of the farm and outline its commitment to the future, said David Klausmeyer, former general manager and currently an informal adviser.
High Lawn is the last dairy farm in Berkshire County with its own processing facilities and commercial delivery of a variety of finished dairy products, including ice cream, Klausmeyer said.
The farm has seen a dramatic increase in sales from close to $4 million in 2015-16 to $5.2 million for 2016-17, with further growth anticipated. It serves a lengthening list of colleges, cafes and groceries large and small, said General Manager Roberto Laurens during a tour of the high-tech facility that houses 120 Jersey milking cows and an advanced, robotic milking system that's online 24/7.
High Lawn also processes milk from Dutch Hollow Farm in nearby Schodack Landing, N.Y., Laurens said.
The museum displays a kaleidoscopic view of the farm's early, labor-intensive equipment, including a vintage tractor and a hand-drawn fire hose cart from the late 1800s, and its walls are adorned with archival photos as far back as the 1890s and descriptions of High Lawn's operations since H. George and Marjorie Wilde acquired it in 1935.
The 1,600-acre site, including 700 to 800 acres used as the working farm along Route 7 and Summer Street, has produced dairy products for commercial distribution since 1923.
High Lawn has been a farm since the mid-1800s, when Sandisfield native and paper manufacturer Elizur Smith acquired the land for $7,500.
In 1998, Klausmeyer explained, he was brought on board as manager to help the next generation of Wildes "save the farm, it wasn't a sure thing since they had heavy burdens to lift."
He had been president of Mead Specialty Papers from 1980 to 1994. Laurens took over management of the farm in June 2002.
"We appreciate the support of the Berkshire community so we want to invite people back to the farm," Laurens stated.
An open house for the public to celebrate the launch of the museum and visitors center is set for Saturday, Oct. 14, from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Tours will be available, including the new cow barn with its "on demand" automated, robotic, computerized milking system, the calf barn, and the new milk-processing plant completed in 2015.
Days and hours of operation for the museum are still to be determined. Group visits can be arranged by calling the farm at 413-243-0672.
A portion of the museum honors Marjorie Wilde, a second-generation leader of the family who played a crucial role in expanding and preserving the farm. She brought 40 Jersey milking cows to the site; Jerseys are prized for the higher protein content, nutritional value, as well as enhanced flavor of their more easily digested milk.
In its first decades under the family's ownership, the farm had employed and housed 35 workers from 25 families, including immigrants from Italy, Ireland, Sweden and Poland.
The current work force is 26, Laurens said, since the milking operation was automated, eliminating the need for five farm employees to milk the cows at 5 a.m. and 4 p.m., 365 days a year. No jobs were lost, however, as workers were transferred to other departments.
The farm's extensive water supply is on site, fed by a spring at the portion of the farm on the Stockbridge side of Route 7. It's a public supply subject to stringent environmental standards, since it's consumed not only by the herd of Jerseys but also by the staff, including Laurens, who live on 12 houses within the farm.
During a tour of the milk-processing facility, which produces close to 20,000 gallons a week on average and also churns out multiple, customized flavors of ice cream, manager Jason Garnish pointed out that the milk market "is really tough, it's like a roller-coaster ride, right now we have way too much milk in the Northeast. It's a difficult business, it's a lifestyle, definitely, not just a job."
According to Chief Herdsman Walt Pyle, the herd is replenished as about 150 calves are born annually. "Our ideal is to milk cows for 10 months, give them a two-month vacation, and then have them start calving all over again, a total of five calves per cow on average," he said. Cows live for about 10 years, typically.
In June 2002, High Lawn was featured on national network TV when candidate for governor Mitt Romney visited the farm during a campaign tour. Coincidentally, he used the stop to celebrate a state Ballot Commission ruling confirming his residential eligibility to run for governor.
The farm's commercial distribution has widened dramatically in recent years, not just in Massachusetts but also in portions of Connecticut, southern New Hampshire and Columbia County, New York.
Major regional customers include supermarket chains (Big Y, Stop & Shop, Price Chopper), as well as Guido's Marketplace, Harry's Market in Pittsfield, Wild Oats in Williamstown, Loeb's in Lenox and Whole Foods in central and eastern Massachusetts.
The farm also supplies numerous cafes, including Barrington Coffee, Lenox Coffee and Dottie's Coffee Lounge in Pittsfield; Berkshire Medical Center and Fairview Hospital; Kripalu, Canyon Ranch and high-end restaurants such as the Red Lion Inn and Mezze Bistro.
During the school year, customers include Williams College, UMass/Amherst, MIT, Emanuel College, Lesley University, Smith College, Amherst College and Phillips Academy. In Boston, a dozen Cafe Nero shops are being supplied — the chain is expanding to the U.S. from its home base in the United Kingdom.
In a statement, the current Wilde family owners reaffirmed their intention of "preserving the past, which in no way precludes investing in the future. Here at High Lawn Farm, it has always been about the cows since our great-grandparents decided back in the 1920s to build a dairy farm of only Jersey cows. Today our family is dedicated to preserving their vision and tending to that which they so carefully built."
"We are committed to contributing to the betterment of the breed, in order to produce the highest quality, best tasting Jersey milk products possible for our neighbors and beyond," the Wildes stated. "We are invested in the successful continuation of a way of life our ancestors believed in and dedicated their lives to — small-scale, family-run farms."