Farmers see future, not past, in delivering milk to your doorstep
COPAKE — After 40 years in the dairy business, Fred Barringer has decided to try something new –making a profit.
He plans to do it by bringing back something old — delivery of milk in glass bottles straight to the customer’s door.
Nostalgia and convenience are major selling points of the idea along with the burgeoning locavore movement of recent years. People want to buy wholesome fresh food produced on local farms, whether it’s vegetables, fruit, meat or milk. It’s also a way to keep the land open and in farming, said Mr. Barringer, pointing to the gradual, constant march of farms, particularly dairy farms, out of business. The landscape “keeps changing,” he said.
So on December 2, a white step van bearing the Hill-Over Healthy and Fresh, LLC., logo will make its maiden voyage of route deliveries to eager customers who have signed up throughout Columbia County.
The following weekend, December 3 and 4, Mr. Barringer’s new farm store at Hill-Over Holsteins on Route 22, just north of the Ancram Town line, conducts an open house, when people can tour the farm, sample and buy Hill-Over products and meet the cows responsible for them.
The new endeavor will be a family affair, with Mr. Barringer’s daughter, Hope, as chief executive officer, handling day-to-day operations, dealing with the milk factory and customers, placing orders, coordinating drivers and routes. Mr. Barringer’s former son-in-law, Dexter Hathaway, is the resident carpenter, who remodeled what was previously an old 20-by-20-foot garage into the new, freshly-painted farm store. Though daughter, Vanessa Dunning doesn’t live on the family farm anymore, she provides consulting support and makes maple syrup that will be sold at the farm store at her place in Wyoming County. Even granddaughter Carli Sue Hathaway will contribute by making butter the old-fashioned way with elbow grease and a churn.
The Barringers have enlisted a Ghent baker to make pies, cookies and scones. Rory Chase of The Amazing Real Live Food Company in Ancramdale, a purveyor of probiotic and artisanal cheese, ice cream and kombuchas (tea believed to have medicinal properties), will initially sell some of his own cheeses at the farm store and later make and sell cheeses from Hill-Over milk. The store will also sell local honey and fresh eggs.
But the star of the show is the milk and dairy products: whole milk (cream-on-top), 2%, chocolate, heavy cream, half and half, plain yogurt and eventually cheese and ice cream. All the milk will be pasteurized and all, with the exception of the whole milk, will be homogenized, no raw milk will be sold.
“I’ve been in this business for 40 years and not made any money, we just stay in business. As a small farm, we have to find a niche market, become the retailer instead of the wholesaler,” said Mr. Barringer, who started farming in 1971 on the former Pells’ farm on Center Hill Road in Craryville. He moved to his current location along Route 22 in 1980. He milks 72 registered Holsteins and Brown Swiss.
The small size of his milking herd allows Mr. Barringer to pay close attention to his cows, producing top quality milk with a low somatic cell count. The herd’s last somatic count, which measures infection, was 68,000. A count under 100,000 is extremely good, while the average of area herds is between 200,000 and 400,000 and legal limit is 1 million.
“We have to use our smallness to our advantage,” he said.
Currently, Mr. Barringer ships an average of 5,000 pounds of milk daily to the Marcus Dairy in Danbury, CT. Beginning the week of his first home deliveries, he plans to ship one day’s worth of milk a week to Milk Thistle Farm off Allendale Road in Stuyvesant, where Dante Hesse operates a milk processing facility, opened this past spring.
Mr. Hesse will process the milk in batches of 464 quarts into whatever products the Barringers order, based on their delivery customers’ requests and what they find sells and doesn’t sell at the farm store. The farm’s custom-built delivery truck, currently being manufactured by Workhorse, the company that makes UPS trucks, will pick up the milk order directly from the Stuyvesant plant, head-out on its delivery route and wind up at the farm in Copake.
The price list for delivered products are: $4.50 for a half gallon of whole milk, $3.50 for a quart; $4.40 for a half gallon of 2% milk, $3.50 for a quart; $3.75 for a quart of chocolate milk; a quart of half and half $4; a quart of heavy cream $6.50; $5.50 plain yogurt; and eggs $3.50/dozen. Prices at the store will be somewhat less.
A $1.50 deposit must initially be paid on products that come in glass bottles, but that will only be a one-time cost if the bottles are returned.
The reason for going with American-made glass bottles is simple, Mr. Barringer said, the milk “tastes better” than milk from waxed cartons or plastic containers.
Though he knows that he is paid $20.50/hundredweight by Marcus and he knows the prices he will paid by his delivery customers, Mr. Barringer said he does not know, at this point what that means in terms of profits exactly. “There are too many variables. We’re still finding out costs” some of which are cropping up as he is getting ready to launch the business. The delivery truck, he had hoped would be ready at the start has been delayed and he has had to rent a truck. He still doesn’t have a definite cost on truck insurance. He knows the business will start out with a negative cash flow, at least until sales volume builds.
Mr. Barringer hopes he will find himself facing the same dilemma as farmers he knows in Saratoga, who started with one milk delivery route and have had to expand to three or four. “The demand is there,” he said.
Asked if he thinks it’s a little late, at age 63, to be starting a new business venture, Mr. Barringer said, “Not at all. My grandfather didn’t quit milking cows till he was 83 and my uncle is still milking cows at 85.”