by Laura Rodley
When Sorrel Hatch was four years old and her brother, Rhys, was two, their parents Clifford and Patricia Hatch bought a ‘fixer upper’ home in Gill, MA. It was 1989.
“It was a wreck,” Sorrel recalls, now 28. They were living at their aunt’s in Whately while it was being fixed up. They were so excited to help, whenever their father left to work on it, they chorused that they wanted to go, “Up in Gill, up in Gill.” The refrain stuck and the resulting 12 acre farm was dubbed Upinngil Farm. For the locals, it is a household name.
Its first incarnation was as Upinngil Sheep and Apiary, with the family raising Finn sheep for wool. Now it is a 100 acre farm, made up of three separate but nearby locations. Sorrel’s parents still live on Center Road. The store and farmstand sits on 35 acres on Main Road where she lives. Her father, a lifelong herdsmen, is the owner, and she is the farm manager. They specialize in a niche market of selling raw milk from a herd of 27 cows, as well as cheese, strawberries, raspberries, maple syrup, produce and wheat and rye grown on 20 acres.
Customers drink raw milk for its high levels of calcium and enzymes, since it retains the vitamins B6 and B12 mostly destroyed by pasteurization, and because of its taste. “It’s so delicious. After drinking it for two months, I’ll never be able to swallow ‘cheap’ milk again,” said Toni Julianelle-Diaz who has been driving 45 minutes to the farm from Millers Falls since 2006 for the milk and the farm’s daily baked scones.
Out of the herd of 27, they currently have 12 milking cows. “Whenever you have cows, young ones growing up and dry and resting, always have double the animals.”
“Our milk is steady. Our everyday keystone product is our milk. It attracts a lot of customers. You can’t get it everywhere. It’s difficult to get a license,” she said. Each state has its own regulations. “In Massachusetts, they can only buy it on a farm. We follow very strict standards, super clean bacterially. It’s tested every month, and has to be as clean as though it has been pasteurized to meet grade A standards,” said Sorrel.
To achieve these standards, the cows are kept pastured.
Instead of a pipe-line system, the milk collection is controlled by using individual electronic bucket milkers for each cow. “Most dairies have a pipeline, an honor system way of milking; all of the milk is combined,” she said. “There’s no way to separate the milk. If one piece of sawdust gets in it, it astronomically raises your bacterial count.”
Regarding bucket milkers’ benefits, “If a cow kicks off the machine, and it goes into the sawdust, we feed that milk to the pigs or the chickens,” she said.
The milk is kept “super sanitary, super fresh and super cold.” After first milking, 6:30 a.m. to 8 a.m., the milk is bottled almost immediately. First it is held in refrigeration tanks. “It goes from 102 degrees, body temperature of cow to 36 degrees in less than two hours. That’s important. That’s the law in Massachusetts,” she said. Back in the 1950s, when laws were passed regarding pasteurized milk, they didn’t have good refrigerators, she noted.
When there is extra milk at their farm, they make hard cheeses, various types of cheddar, swiss and blue cheese.
The third factor in producing high quality milk is the breed they chose: Ayrshires. “They produce really nice milk for milking,” said Sorrel, “with high protein and medium fat content.”
Whenever a bull calf is born it is given to a neighbor to raise as beef, and then sold in their store. “Farmers have always shared equipment, shared work. We don’t need more animals. It makes sense for him to take them,” said Sorrel.
“We found our niche market, thanks to the cows,” Sorrel concludes.
by Laura Rodley