Upper Valley consumers relish locally grown, raised, and produced food items. One need only visit the Norwich Farmers Market on a Saturday morning in the summertime to realize how true that is. Knowing where and how the food we consume is raised and comes to market is becoming vitally important for more and more people every year.
Local food producers have responded to this trend. Producers and growers such as the Robie Farm in Piermont, Root 5 Farm in Fairlee, Crossroads Farm of Post Mills, Sunrise Farm of White River Junction, and our own Honey Field and Sweetland Farms here in Norwich, respond to consumers’ needs and wants with a variety of local meat, cheese, and fresh produce offerings.
Historically, Vermont has a renowned reputation as a dairy-producing state. And despite the fact that the number of dairy farms has declined in the state in recent decades, locally produced dairy products are widely available to area consumers, thanks in part to one Norwich dairy enterprise.
The Norwich Farm Creamery (NFC) operates out of the historic Norwich Farm, a long-time dairy farm in Norwich, on Turnpike Road. The managers and partners in the farming endeavor are Laura Brown and Chris Gray. Their Creamery leases its facility from and works in close cooperation with the non-profit Norwich Farm Foundation (NFF), which owns the Norwich Farm.
In 2022, the NFF bought the Norwich Farm from the Vermont State Colleges, with the purpose of it developing into and remaining a self-sustaining agricultural asset for the community.
The NFC began operation in 2017, with the goal of producing and selling local and sustainable dairy products to the Upper Valley community. “The Norwich Creamery focuses on fresh, pasteurized dairy and we appreciate that everything we make each week is sold and consumed within a thirty mile radius of the farm,” explains Laura Brown. “Feeding our community directly is so rewarding. Each week we make and sell about 750 individual items, which are in turn feeding thousands of our neighbors.”
A series of responsibilities shared between the co-manager couple are what make the Creamery a success. “We are a small-scale Grade A creamery…We do everything between the two of us. Chris hauls the milk, processes it in the creamery, and delivers to our customers,” Brown says. “Laura takes care of a lot of the packaging, all the sales, marketing, and books, and runs our farm store. We also have a (Richmond Middle School) 7th grader, our daughter Gigi, who is our all-around backup system and milk crate washing specialist,” Chris Gray adds.
Though Norwich Farm has a history of dairy operations, no dairy herd exists on the site at present, and the NFC relies on milk for its products from another Upper Valley farm – Billings Farm in Woodstock. “When we found ourselves without an on-farm milk supply, we reached out to Billings Farm and Museum, home to a legendary dairy herd,” says Brown. “Their Jersey breed cows are fed a grass-based diet and are impeccably well cared for.”
This working relationship with Billings Farm benefits both operations. “The Creamery adds value to the raw milk by processing it and marketing it. Part of this value is then returned to Billings in the form of an above-market premium that we pay for the raw milk.”
The taste derived from the Billings cows is an added benefit. “The high butterfat from this herd gives our products their delicious flavor,” Brown says.
Being closely associated with the Norwich Farm Foundation, the Creamery is also involved in numerous community and educational volunteer efforts. “We pour hot cocoa at the MCS (Marion Cross School) skating party, scoop ice cream at the Women’s Club concert on the green, and are full-time at the Norwich Farmers Market,” says Brown. “We have hosted students from King Arthur Baking and will be having a Hanover High School class visit in March. We ran a ‘milk-to-school’ pilot program with MCS in the past, which is something we want to build on in the future,” she adds.
The future of the Farm is of paramount importance to both the Farm Creamery and the NFF. For it to remain a sustaining agriculture entity – and serve as a community and educational asset – is the overarching goal of all involved. A major component of that goal is returning the Farm to a dairy-farming operation. “Over the next five years, we will be increasing our processing infrastructure and bringing back a working herd of cows. The goal is a milking herd of twenty cows, which means keeping about forty animals on the farm,” says Brown.
Being sustainable depends on an economic plan that works. “When we process all that milk directly through the on-farm creamery and sell it locally and regionally, then the financial model works. That means this farm system has a long-term future,” Brown adds.
Fundraising was critical in coming up with the initial down payment for the of the Farm, and remains so for its long-term goals. The Norwich Farm Foundation continues fundraising efforts through grant applications, a GoFundMe campaign, and community outreach. A visit to their website, (norwichfarmfoundation.org), will bring you up-to-date on their plans, goals, and fundraising opportunities.
As far as the Norwich Farm Creamery, one can find their products at area stores such as Dan & Whit’s, at the Norwich Farmers Market, and at their Farm Store at 701 Turnpike Road. The self-service store is accessible to customers at any time of day. Besides their own dairy products, the store features produce, meat, cheese, and dry goods. Norwich Farm Creamery products are either, “All from local,” Brown says, or “The best in the world we can get.”
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