Marketing cheese from Martha’s Vineyard

by Enrico Villamaino

The USDA Value-Added Producer Grant (VAPG) program was created to help ag producers enter value-added activities to generate new products, create and expand marketing opportunities, and increase producer income. In selecting awardees, the USDA focuses on beginning and/or socially-disadvantaged farmers, small and medium sized farms, ranches structured as family farms and farm and ranch cooperatives.

Located on the island of Martha’s Vineyard in Chilmark, MA, the Grey Barn & Farm is owned and operated by Eric Glasgow. He spoke to Country Folks about his family’s business and its recently awarded VAPG grant.

The Grey Barn & Farm was founded by Molly and Eric Glasgow in 2009. The farm had been a working dairy up until 1961; when they purchased the property they had the intention of turning it back into a working dairy. Its previous owner had been raising Charolais show cattle. Neither Molly nor Eric had any previous farming experience.

The contiguous farm comprises approximately 100 acres with an additional 125 acres of rented hay fields. The Glasgows milk approximately 45 head, utilizing the milk for cheese production. The cows are a mixture of Dutch Belted, Normande and Friesians with a focus on grazing production. For winter, they have provided their livestock a bedded pack barn.

Marketing cheese from Martha’s Vineyard

Eric Glasgow, co-owner and operator of the Grey Barn & Farm on the island of Martha’s Vineyard, demonstrates one of the daily tasks of being a cheesemonger. Photo courtesy of Grey Barn & Farm

In addition to the cows, they also raise whey-fed pigs and grow approximately five acres of organic vegetables. They operate an on-farm bakery as well. Eric said their farm stand business has increased steadily throughout the years and that the overwhelming majority of the product they produce is now marketed directly to consumers through the stand.

The Grey Barn & Farm has just shy of 20 full-time, year-round employees across the business, and they seasonally increase to approximately 40 employees during the peak summer season. The farm operates year-round in terms of milking the cows and producing cheese, but the vegetable and retail operations scale up significantly in summer. They keep the farm stand open all year for the benefit of the local community.

The farm’s cheese is sold throughout the country, and they work with two different retailers who sell online. They also do some limited local wholesale, but their other products are generally only available directly from the farm.

“Most of the cheese stays in the New York and New England areas, though it does make it into specialty cheese shops and restaurants across the entire country from time to time,” Eric said. “Our meat and vegetables really stay on the island almost exclusively.”

He explained that their creamery was originally designed as a multi-purpose facility. Over the years they decided to focus exclusively on cheesemaking. “We narrowed down the specific types and styles of cheese that we make. With our revised operations in mind, it became clear that it would make more sense for us to look at updating and modernizing our facilities,” Eric said. “The VAPG program provided us with the funding to really do the sort of planning we need to do and hire the outside expertise to design a facility that is up to date in terms of the latest in design and equipment.”

The Glasgows used the grant funding to engage a consultant to do a targeted sales and marketing study so they could better understand where they fit in the broader artisanal cheese market domestically. They’ve also engaged a different consultant to help with redesigning their process flow and to specify equipment and construction techniques for updating their existing facilities.

“We expect to take this information and translate this into building plans and hopefully tap into other sources of grant funding to help us realize this vision,” Eric said.

For more information visit thegreybarnandfarm.com.

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