MOHNTON, Pa. — Adaptation is often used to describe an organism’s response to the change of environment. As the environment in farming especially for dairy is changing, it is important to be open to different ventures.
“Diversity: It’s the key,” Mark Weber said of Allegheny Valley Farms as he sat in his office surrounded by photos that document the farm through the decades and cows that have graced the stalls of the barn.
The Weber Farm has been a dairy operation since the 1700s. Henry Weber bought the farm from William Penn and the family’s sheep skin deed can be found today at a local museum. The farm has seen many changes over the years since Mark took over the reins as the 10th generation.
For 25 years, Mark and his wife, Kim, milked cows and raised meat chickens on a private contract. Today the Webers’ don’t have the milk cows, but still have the chickens, and added rabbits along with Kim’s Bakery to make up Allegheny Valley. Prior to selling the milk cows, a close family friend suggested the Webers’ look into creating their own yogurt and sour cream. Mark attended Penn State’s Cultured Dairy Products short course and did a follow-up short course with University of Wisconsin.
As the Webers’ cooperative at the time started to tighten the belt on how members could use their milk, he decided to pull out and outsource his milk from a smaller neighboring farm. The smaller farm runs 12-15 head of Brown Swiss and is not controlled by a cooperative.
Mark prefers the tan, pearl pink-eared Brown Swiss because of the ration of protein to fat that is in their milk. “Protein is what holds the stuff together,” Weber said of how the breed’s protein stacks up against their other high-fat competitors like the Jersey.
The small family owned and operated business has their products competing with larger brands such as Dannon or Yoplait in many grocery stores like Shady Maple, Render’s in Kenhorst, and Ebenezer Groceries in Ephrata.
“That’s not our bread and butter,” Weber said. The business mainly works with private commercial accounts that utilize Alleghany Valley’s products within their own like potato salad. The wholesale of yogurt and sour cream is a big part of the success for the family.
“We are happy with the little bit we do. It helps us survive,” Weber said.
The processing of the products is time sensitive. The heating and cooling can take up to three and four hours, respectively, while the incubation of yogurt is eight hours and sour cream is 22 hours. As soon as the products are set, they get packaged and placed into a cooler. The yogurt flavors range from the basics like plain, vanilla, strawberry to adventurous flavors like black cherry, peach and raspberry.
Mark delivers all the products to the businesss’ commercial accounts, Kim said.
“We let the product talk for itself. If the chefs are happy, why worry?” Weber said about his minimalist marketing strategy for Allegheny Valley.
The Webers have two sons Aaron, 21, and Noah, 20, who currently play a part in the operation and future of the business. Aaron, a graduate of Garden Spot High School, decided to join his father in the running of the farm. He manages the field work, and makes repairs, along with handling the many odds and ends around the farm. Noah will be transferring from a local college to Saint Joseph’s University in Philadelphia to major in food marketing. Both Aaron and Noah plan to take over the dairy operation when their parents are ready to retire.