by Karen Van Wyk
Andy Smith and Caitlin Frame, owners of the Milkhouse, are a strong example of the valuable heart of small farmers.
They both did not grow up as farmers yet lived in relatively rural communities. Smith received his biology degree and Frame her environmental science degree. They became interested in Michael Pollan’s books, especially “The Omnivore’s Dilemma,” which enlightened and motivated them to move toward the work of farming.
They ventured out and managed a small farm – a micro dairy of four to six cows in Lincolnville, Maine, right after graduating from college.
Not long after, another opportunity arose that provided them the responsibility of working and managing a 60-cow dairy farm in South China, Maine. The owner had recently bought a larger farm. He offered Smith and Frame the opportunity to manage the dairy farm and live there as well. Smith recalled that period as an extremely valuable time of learning as well as a great blessing and said he is forever indebted to the owner who gave them this good fortune.
Today, Smith and Frame own the Milkhouse Dairy Farm and Creamery in Monmouth, Maine, having purchased it in 2015.
The Milkhouse is a pasture-based organic farm where 30 – 35 cows are milked at a time. They also raise bull calves for beef, 60 pigs yearly, hens (for eggs) and grow hay, mostly for their own animals. The farm has 250 acres for pasture and hay. The raw milk is bottled and sold directly into stores and also from the farm store. They make yogurt as well.
The cows’ grazing season is May through October. Milkhouse rotationally grazes their herd. They generally have fresh pasture every 12 to 36 hours and average 80 to 90 percent of dry matter intake from pasture. Milkhouse believes in raising cows in this fashion. They believe it’s better for the cows and it produces a better product for the end consumer.
The Milkhouse operates with simple economical sense. As an example, they move fences so the cows can graze instead of paying for store feed (which is also less healthy for the cows). The pigs feed on the whey from the milk products as well as leftover cream. The pigs are butchered locally and the cut meats are sold at their farm store. This store brings in around $50,000 annually, Smith reported.
The largest challenge has been in losing contracts with larger milk producing companies, Smith said. Many family-scale farms are being forced out of business by large corporate entities. However, the organic market has allowed Milkhouse to survive and even thrive for years. Smith and Frame are committed to getting their cows to pasture and report that on hot, dry summer days they have had to walk the cows a long distance from the milking facility. It can take as long as a half hour to get the herd of milkers to and from pasture twice a day. But this challenge does not discourage Milkhouse as they continue to grow.
They have a competent and reliable crew of four full-time employees as well as one part-time and one seasonal. They have contracts with several Hannaford stores in the area as well as local markets. They have also begun selling bulk yogurt to local school districts. What Milkhouse sees in the future involves the Maine Organic Milk Producers and Maine Farmland Trust, who they are working with to come up with an in-state processor for organic milk.
The Milkhouse has put their hearts into organic food because they believe it is better for people, the land and communities.
As a single source dairy farm, their uniqueness is appreciated by those who desire local dairy and meats. They know the products they purchase are dependably organic. Smith and Frame take pride in the work they do. The animals and the farm are their business yet also a part of their family.
The Milkhouse exemplifies dedication to organic farming and hopes to encourage many smaller scale farms to enjoy their work and develop their niche.