Small yogurt processor finds success

CN-MR-2-Small yogurt 1by Jane Primerano
On a winding lane off Fairground Road in West Newbury, VT, a sign warns “Not a Thru Road, Your GPS is Wrong.”

Should a visitor continue up the lane anyway, he or she would come upon a sprawling contemporary house, a small enclosure for chickens and another lane headed to a barn. This is the home of Green Mountain Yogurt, the smallest Grade A Dairy in the Green Mountain State.
Diane Wyatt serves as spokesperson for the family business. She introduces a visitor to the four Jersey cows. Three are milked right now and a heifer calf may join her mother and grandmother in the rotation as well, Wyatt said.

The Wyatts bought Clover seven years ago and started making yogurt soon after, selling it at the Fairlee Farmers Market, several miles south on Route 5.

The family moved to West Newbury 20 years ago, buying the property and having the saltbox portion of the house built by students at the local tech school. The property came with a riding ring and Diane had a horse there. “I knew about horses. I had to learn about cows,” she admitted.

Wyatt chose Jerseys because of the high butterfat content of their milk.

The senior Wyatts owned a convenience store in Westfield, MA, but Diane’s mother, who is of Portuguese descent, grew up on St. Michael’s in the Azores. “They grew crops,” Diane said. “They always had a garden.”

Once arriving in Vermont, the elder Wyatts put in a garden, “They started small,” Diane said. “They started just selling the crops,” at the Fairlee market, she said. They added the yogurt but then found they were in violation of state laws and needed a commercial kitchen.

The cost would have been prohibitive, but a customer pointed them to the Vermont Technical College and a class took on building the commercial kitchen as a class project, obtaining a discount on material.
The compact working space meets all the state regulations. It is separated from the house by two doors and includes a milk room with two-bay sink and hand sink, a work room, a storage room and a bathroom. There is a required exterior access to the milk room and the inspectors have a key. Inspectors take raw milk and yogurt samples once a month. They always pass, Wyatt said.

While there are smaller dairies, mostly with goats, in Vermont, theirs is the smallest ranked Grade A. Generally the other dairies produce cheese which doesn’t require the Grade A designation, as yogurt does.

Much more space is dedicated to the milk producers. They are rotated among several pastures to graze in, but prefer the one closest to the house because they like to know what’s going on, Wyatt said. Their feed is supplemented with feed and grain in winter. “We add flax seed and organic kelp for extra nutrition,” she added.

Their barn is very comfortable for the cows. Originally, it had two box stalls, which was fine for two cows, but now they have tie/comfort stalls. “They love it,” Wyatt said.

The Wyatts grow the majority of the fruit for their flavored yogurt, including raspberries, blackberries, blueberries, elderberries, sour cherries, strawberries and rhubarb. They also grow Juneberries. A friend provides them with black currants, and that unusual flavor is popular. They buy apples from New York State and peaches from Springfield, VT, and from New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Georgia.

There is a big demand for coconut as people are beginning to recognize its health benefits. “We want to make coconut,” Wyatt said, explaining they can start with unsulfured, organic, unsweetened flakes from which they can make coconut puree.

The Wyatts make yogurt four or five days each week in their 25 gallon pasteurizer. They can make 600 cups each day. The first step takes three hours, followed by four hours of incubation and three hours to add the fruit. They make 40 to 60 quarts of plain and/or vanilla which they package as quarts. The flavored varieties are packaged in 8 oz cups.

They never make as much as they could. “We want it fresh,” Wyatt said. The yogurt is dated for four weeks of freshness, but actually lasts three months. “It just starts tasting a little tart.”

Two distributors pick up the yogurt which is sold in 18 stores and co-ops. The Hunger Mountain Co-op in Montpelier is the largest.

Green Valley yogurt has had the same logo and label since it started, but that is about to change.
Wyatt’s sister, Sharon, handles the labeling and website. She has been printing the labels herself but is going to a commercial printer from now on because of the quantity.

The other members of the family who work the farm are brothers Tom and Chris. Tom moved to the farm 19 years ago and his daughter, Sarah, grew up there. She is now a student at Castleton State majoring in psychology, but she helps the family out summers.

Chris was a builder in Idaho until he moved back to Vermont. He will use the workshop he is building to make items for the farm and to sell.

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