Posted: Saturday, July 16, 2016 12:30 am
By Tessa Edick
For Columbia-Greene Media
Strong rural communities are key to a stronger America.
This is a story of a sustainable off-the-grid food system with a single blade of grass, a cow, a farmer and his entrepreneurial spirited family. No corn. No grain. Just grass.
At 13 years old, Tim Joseph decided to be a farmer. Today, he’s convincing conventional dairy farms to switch to organic in dairy by grazing cows exclusively on grass and teaching honest practices to prevent sickly cows and avoid use of antibiotics or chemicals in feed.
“Less stress,” he explained, is key to productive cows and Maple Hill Creamery is leading the way to supermarket shelves across the county in 5,000 stores with 100 percent organic and grass fed dairy certification — the first of its kind in the industry.
This is disruption at its best and Joseph is an innovator. Hailing from a rural area in Western New Jersey, one of four children, he works together with his siblings building their thriving business by aggregating dairy from New York state farmers. As a kid interested in agriculture, he sought out his dream and decided to move to Dutchess County in 1999 to start a dairy farm. He banked on a regular income with checks to arrive twice a month from the subsidy payouts on conventional dairy, but didn’t know a thing about crops or cows and those checks didn’t make ends meet.
With a herd of 60 head, the previous farm owner showed Joseph how to get started on his land but the road was long, hard and broken with the subsidy checks not nearly covering the cost of production. And with a family of five children and his wife working too, he started asking: How am I going to make this successful?
“Like any business you are delusional at the start and on the farm it’s a bit more complicated because your house and life are tied in so you are at a point of no return,” he said.
After acquiring additional cows production became “super difficult” and many mistakes were made about herd health, finances, debt, employees and conventional practices, so the family decided they were more “organic minded” and in 2007, shifted to the Organic Valley cooperative and grass fed ideas.
“We believed in it but we were so broke and to shift from conventional to organic the cost of feed was prohibitive, so we went grass-fed initially and learned a lot,” Joseph said.
By mid-2008, Maple Hill Creamery was looking into value-add products to develop and bought a 30-gallon pasteurizer, which began their path to the success it is today making yogurt and cheese learning the business of food on a farm at the source with a unique idea in diary — a “100 percent grass-fed” product that before now had been exclusive to beef production.
By fall 2009, Joseph quit his second job to focus solely on the farm and new creamery, run out of a barbecue restaurant kitchen, delivering products to the Fulton Fish Market with distribution first with Angello’s for New York City placement of Maple Hill Creamery Grass-Fed Organic Yogurt.
It was a family affair. Joseph’s wife, Laura, focused on marketing, and his sister, Julia, and her husband, Pete Meck, moved to assist Tim and Laura with production and marketing until 2012, when they moved the entire operation to Stuyvesant with capital investment to grow the creamery, which was taxing to manage with their farm two hours away. So, they sold the herd — and the farm — to focus on lifting up other like-minded struggling farmers and pay them a living wage, according to the Organic Valley Co-op, which is a branded entity collectively owned by farmers with 100 percent organic certification. This means you “pay in” to become a member and part of set pricing by a free market based on covering the cost of production and profit margin by federal order.
In the organic certification system, certifiers are accredited by the U.S. Department of Agriculture with audits, checks and balance in place, including spot checks in a rigorous system of records, traceability and pricing. In the same vein as the Pennsylvania Certified Organic 100 percent grass-fed certification program Joseph launched in 2014, the commitment is to making the highest-quality certified organic 100 percent grass-fed, whole milk dairy products from the start and offering consumer exceptionally delicious dairy products with practices better for cows, farmers, the environment and you.
Joseph runs Maple Hill Creamery as a proud and successful farmer collaborating and aggregating from 69 certified organic grass fed farms in New York state with a business acumen, a responsible dairy brand and a keen understanding of boots on the ground from running a farm and managing a herd himself that led him to become a national brand regionally focused on sourcing — deep into supply, education and tightly focused transitions.
Joseph and family invite all New York state farmers to be a part of this conversation to grow the product sold in 5,000 stores on both coasts and growing strong. The Joseph family looks to add new state farms and expand their line of yogurt cups, Greek yogurt, drinkable yogurt, cheese and the Grafton cheese partnership of cheddar, kefir and mozzarella and by 2017, have 100 family farms make up the Maple Hill Creamery brand.
What’s not to love? And the cows are happier too! Join the conversation and Maple Hill Creamery in the good food mission at your table. FarmOn!
To contact Tessa Edick, email firstname.lastname@example.org or on Facebook @FarmOn Foundation.