GRANVILLE, N.Y. — Connecticut native Jody Somers went to Italy, by way of Texas A&M, so he could learn how to make cheese.
He came home with a wife from Tuscany and now they run Dancing Ewe Farm, a diverse farm set on 55 acres of upstate New York hill country, a stone’s throw from the Vermont state line.
The main attraction is the farm’s 100 head of Freisan Lacune dairy sheep, which hundreds of visitors saw during the 26th annual Washington County Fiber Tour on April 28-29. But the farm also offers a wide variety of woolen products; imported Italian wines, meats and olive oil; and sheep’s milk cheese.
“Everything kind of helps the other,” Somers said. “I wouldn’t say one thing is more important than the other.”
Somers was raised on a farm in Colchester, Connecticut. He studied animal science at the University of Connecticut and earned a veterinary degree at Texas A&M, specializing in large animals.
At first Somers and his wife, Luisa, looked at property in Vermont, which they quickly discovered was too expensive for their budget. His mother suggested they give upstate New York a try.
Granville was just the kind of place they were looking for, with considerably lower property values.
He started out buying cow’s milk to make cheese, but Sandy Buxton, a Washington County Extension agent, told Somers that he would never be able to compete with more well-known cheddar producers such as Cabot and Grafton Village Cheese Co.
“Sandy told me, ‘You know sheep and you train Border collies. Why not milk sheep? It’ll be a whole lot more marketable,’” Somers said.
He listened, and is glad he did.
Dancing Ewe Farm has carved out a niche for itself with a popular Tuscan-style Pecorino, the name given to all Italian cheeses made from sheep’s milk. It’s primarily sold at farmers markets throughout the region.
Guests may also sample it at the farm, which has a large farm-to-table dining banquet hall.
Raw sheep’s fleece is stored in large quantities and taken to Prince Edward Island every other year for delivery to a mill that specializes in making high-quality woolen blankets. It takes about 2,000 pounds to produce 150 blankets.
In addition to dairy sheep, the Somers also have a few Shetland and Romneys, which are raised just for their wool.
The self-guided fiber tour gave people a chance to visit nine different farms and a fiber processing mill in the area.
“This time of year is so exciting for all of the farms involved,” said Judy Leon, owner of Alpacas of Haven Hill in Greenwich and tour committee chairwoman. “I love interacting with the public and seeing families that come back to our farm year after year to find out what’s new and how our herd has grown. They are fascinated with the baby animals, with the farming equipment and buildings, and with the beauty of the Washington County countryside.”
Host farms raise everything from Angora rabbits and Cashmere goats to alpacas and several breeds of sheep. Demonstrations included sheep shearing, sheepdog herding, felting, dyeing and spinning.
Visitors enjoyed seeing many of Dancing Ewe Farm’s 150 newborn lambs, most of which are sold to a Hudson Valley farm that raises them for meat production.
Dancing Ewe Farm has a true international flair by maintaining ties to Luisa Somers’ Tuscan roots. Her family still runs an olive farm with 350 trees.
The farm’s growth, in all of its many directions, is the result of slow, steady progress.
“There’s a lot here, but we didn’t start with it all,” Jody Somers said.
Paul Post is a freelance writer in eastern New York. He can be reached at email@example.com.