COSSAYUNA, N.Y. — Milestones are becoming almost commonplace at Richview Farms in central Washington County’s pastoral hill country.
On Oct. 18, owners Erin and Dan Richards and business partner, Kyle Depew, obtained long-sought-after certification for their new venture, Bunker Hill Organic Creamery.
Six days later, the Richardses celebrated complete ownership of their 167-acre farm, made possible by the sale of its development rights, with help from the non-profit Agriculture Stewardship Association whose mission is preserving farmland in Washington and Rensselaer counties.
“It’s a very good day in New York state when we can celebrate another farm that’s been preserved,” state agriculture Commissioner Richard Ball said. “It took me 20 years to buy my own farm so I know what it feels like.”
The Richardses previously ran a farm on Route 40 in nearby Argyle and moved to their current location in 2013.
At first, they purchased the farmhouse, aging barns and 29 acres immediately surrounding them, while leasing another 138 acres with an option to buy from its owner, Illinois-based Iroquois Valley Farmland REIT, a farmland finance company that provides land access to organic family farmers.
Together, with help from ASA, the Richardses and Iroquois Valley worked through a plan to sell the entire farm’s development rights.
The land can never be used for commercial or residential development.
This allowed the Richardses to buy Iroquois Valley’s 138 acres at a much lower price, its agricultural rather than development value. Much of the purchase money came from the state’s Farmland Protection Program, and goes to Iroquois Valley.
Permanent protection from development means the site will always be available for future generations to farm.
The Richardses own Richview Farms and co-own Bunker Hill Organic Creamery with Depew, a lifelong friend of Dan Richards.
The Richardses realized they needed a new business strategy to stay in farming and still support their young family, now numbering four children. So about 10 years ago, they transitioned from conventional to organic dairy production, which fetches a higher milk price.
“We’ve taken this huge leap of faith in building this new creamery, hoping to set our own destiny,” Dan Richards said. “It’s a big risk.”
Co-owner Depew, of Moreau, said “People want local milk, especially organic. All of our milk is pasteurized, it’s heated to kill any potentially harmful bacteria or pathogens, so it’s safe for everyone.”
But the cream in Bunker Hill milk isn’t separated and milk isn’t homogenized, a distinct difference from most dairy plants, he said.
“At most farms, cream is separated and used for products such as half-and-half, yogurt and ice cream,” Depew said. “We give all the cream to the consumer, and we do not homogenize, which is forcing milk through tiny holes to break up the fat globules. Milk stays uniform, but you lose some nutritional value. We try to get milk from the tank to the consumer with the least amount of processing you can have.”
“The pump in our processing plant is a peristaltic pump,” he said. “There’s no impeller to beat the milk. There’s a hose that acts as a siphon to squeeze it. So it’s a very smooth transition. The milk isn’t disturbed nearly as much as it would be with a standard milk pump.”
Bunker Hill’s bottled milk is already found in area retail outlets such as Four Seasons Natural Foods in Saratoga Springs, Old Saratoga Mercantile in Schuylerville, and the owners are in discussions with large supermarket chains such as Price Chopper and Hannaford Brothers as well.
The new creamery is one of several significant capital projects the Richardses have undertaken since moving to their current location, on Bunker Hill Road. They’ve also installed robotic milking machines and built a new cow barn.
Agricultural Stewardship Association executive director Teri Ptacek praised the Richards’ and Depew’s commitment to sustainable farming, and helping preserve the area’s rural heritage.
“We are the strongest agriculture area in the entire Hudson Valley,” she said. “We are the powerhouse. So protecting this resource (farmland) is extremely important. It secures a source of local food for today and tomorrow.”
The ASA is nearing its goal of raising $9.4 million by 2020 under a Farmland Forever capital campaign. Since its founding in 1990, the non-profit agency has helped more than 125 farm families conserve 20,042 acres in Washington and Rensselaer counties.