by Troy Bishopp
REMSEN, NY — “Sending my perfectly-good milk down the drain is one of the most demoralizing things I’ve ever had to do,” said Leon Atwell. Like hundreds of dairy farmers around the Northeast, Atwell struggles to survive during the COVID-19 outbreak that has caused ongoing interruptions of bulk milk pickups. “Dairy farms don’t have a huge profit margin to begin with, so anything you take away is very detrimental to us,” he said.
For anyone that knows the “intestinal fortitude” and work ethic of Leon and Angela Atwell, you know they will overcome any setback with uncanny farming vigor. It was this unending enthusiasm and determination that took them into the world of processing back in 2015, when they took their own milk and established their Grassy Cow brand of fresh cheese curds and farmstead cheese. They have built quite a following of loyal customers throughout the North Country and Mohawk Valley for their grass-fed cheeses.
“Bottling our own milk was always in the back of our minds but amped up when you watch your hard work go down the drain,” said the Atwells. The Atwell’s started setting up equipment for their creamery process six years ago that included some expansion space. “It takes a long time. It’s not like you can just say okay this terrible scenario has just happened, and we’d like to start bottling milk. You really have to have had some kind of a basis to start with,” said Angela.
Facing change head-on, they also got a boost from friends and neighbors, Dan and David Synakowski from Remsen who lent them their jug filling machine. “We’re thankful for our parts suppliers and NYS Ag & Markets inspectors for getting this small venture off the ground in a timely fashion so we can feed our community wholesome dairy products,” said Atwell. Although they’re only using 5% of their milk to bottle, Leon says it still beats dumping it in the fields.
“We’re not set up to do a larger volume at this time. Every week I’m making little changes that are improving our efficiency so we can do more and more, but it’s never going to take the place of the milk that we put on the truck and sold through our cooperative,” he said.
Listening to their customers, they opted for a rich, “creamline” whole milk offering that yields the taste most are seeking to stock their shelves with. The six-week adventure is picking up momentum as more people learn about this new product line. “We’re bottling about 300 gallons a week and climbing,” said Leon. They’re also formulating an equally tasty chocolate milk line. “We are overwhelmed, gracious, and thankful for the community support we’ve had, said Angela. It’s why we, and thousands of dairy farmers around the area, work so hard to feed our neighbors. We’re all in this together.”
To learn more and get some awesome dairy products: Visit www.grassycowdairy.com.