Dairy farming in the United States has not been without its challenges in the last few years. Excess milk production and variable commodity prices set by the United States government consistently below the cost of production has made it hard to be sustainable.
Growing up on a commercial dairy farm in Middletown, New York, as a 3rd generation dairy farmer, Sam Simon understood not only the importance of farming but also what the lifestyle means to farmers. His grandparents were Jewish dairy farmers in Germany. Fleeing Germany in the 1930’s as Holocaust survivors they were only able to bring furniture not money. Upon their arrival in New York they sold the Steinway Pianos they brought and took the cash and bought a farm in Middletown that eventually became Sam’s father’s farm. After Sam’s father passed away in 1969, Sam ran his family farm with the help of one very committed employee. Sam juggled his farm management responsibilities while studying at St. Louis University Medical School and the University of Pittsburgh Medical School specializing in Orthopedics. He opened his practice in 1977 and continued the dairy farm until 1983 when he sold the dairy herd. Between 1983 and 1995, Sam cashed cropped the farm to provide added income for his mother.
In 1995 Sam’s passion for the industry was rekindled when he purchased the 150 acre Plankenhorn Farm in Pleasant Valley, NY. Out of respect for the original owners Sam kept the farm name. Ironically, the original owner of the farm died on the day that Sam was born. Over the next three years Sam restored the nutrients in the soil and the buildings were renovated and restored. The 60 cow stantion barn was turned into a 44 head comfort tie-stall barn with mattresses. The sale of his practice in 1998 allowed Sam to pursue his ambitious dream of working and milking purebred Holsteins. A small purebred herd was purchased out of Warwick, NY. With his herdsman, Tom Manning, he created a successful herd under the Sam-Sim prefix. Some of the most prestigious cows to come from Sam’s herd included his New York State Fair 2nd place winner and best udder of the 4 year old class, MD-Carrolton Lizzy EX-94 GMD DOM and Sam-Sim Diehard Irish EX-91 GMD DOM. Irish was purchased by Regancrest Holsteins as a 2 year old and is one of their families with several bulls in AI and embryos sold around the world. The Sim-Sam herd was ranked in the top 25 of New York State and top 200 in the country by the Holstein USA for genetic quality. In 2011 Sam received the prestigious retired Master Breeder award from the New York Holstein Association.
In 2004 Sam decided to use his knowledge and commitment to the industry. “I wanted to help improve the livelihood of local farmers that produce premium quality dairy products while preserving the agricultural heritage of the Hudson River Valley”, said Sam. The Hudson Valley Fresh cooperative was formed by three dairy farms that for a short period of time had their milk processed at Ronnybrook Dairy. Soon after, HVF moved to Boice Brothers Dairy in Kingston, NY which has been run by the family since 1914. A collaborative agreement between HVF and Boice allowed only HVF milk to be processed at the plant. All milk entering the plant had to meet the criteria < 200,000 cell count and < 5,000 raw bacteria count. The farms are within 20 miles of each other located in Dutchess, Columbia and Ulster County. Sam states that when the customer buys Hudson Valley Fresh the milk is a locally produced food that puts money back into the community rather than supporting the food industries of China, New Zealand or other far off places. The time between milking the cow and the finished product being purchased by the customer is less than 36 hours.
At present, there are 10 family farms. All meet the above criteria and have been recognized by DHIA for their quality. Their herds include Jersey, Holstein, Guernsey, Brown Swiss and Ayrshire. Farms producing HVF milk include Bos-Haven Farms, Coon Brothers Farm, Walt’s Dairy, LLC, Tollgate Farm, Stormfield Swiss, Shenandoah Farm, Domino Farm, Triple Creek Farm, Dutch Hollow Farm and Willow Brook Farm. Even though Sam sold his herd in 2012 he continues to raise heifers and sells them to other farms and at NY State club sales. His role in Product Development and Agricultural Relations along with his duties as Managing Partner of Hudson Valley Fresh for over 13 years keeps him on the front line.
In return for the farmers’ efforts, they are assured $23.00 per hundred weight for all milk sold under Hudson Valley Fresh label. The current commodity price the farmers are receiving is $16.00 per hundred weight. The difference in price is given to the farmers in the form of a monthly dividend. They share equally irrespective of the size of their herd. This month that is $7.00 per hundred weight. Quarterly, the farmers also share in the overall net profit of which 50% is reserved for equity in the business.
Today Hudson Valley Fresh produces nine premium quality dairy products– whole, skim, low-fat and chocolate milk, along with half & half, heavy cream, yogurt, ice cream mix and sour cream. All of the administration and ordering is done by Ordering Manager, Lisa Jackson, while Sam’s wife Gail is in charge of the finances. Through patience and aggressive marketing that includes product taste tastings the HVF products are now delivered across the country by six trucks and can be found in approximately 162 locations. Marketing out of large grocery store chains and specialty shops like Adams Fairacres Farms, Hannaford, Hahn Farms, Fishkill Farms, Mother Earths Storehouse, Quatros, Rossi & Sons Deli, Marona’s Market, Mrs Greens National Market, Slammin’ Salmon, Stop & Shop, Sprout Creek Farm, Bladucci’s, Fairway and Dean and Deluca in Manhattan. Hudson Valley milk is also provided in local schools through a partnership with FarmOn! Foundation’s school lunch initiative. This initiative subsidizes the cost of milk to lunch rooms in the valley. Also, Hudson Valley Seed (independent of HVF)- educates children in nutrition and wellness through curriculum-integrated lessons in school gardens. The importance of educating the public is recognized by the HVF farmers and as a result Dutch Hollow Farm has independently started a learning centre at their farm allowing people to experience dairy farming first hand with hopes of making a difference in public education and promoting the farm to table aspect.
Supplying numerous large coffee chains in Manhattan, Sam emphasises how quality can affect the taste of a coffee especially the froth and taste on specialty coffees. “I had one of my chains in Manhattan ask for a better price because they could “apparently” get the same product cheaper elsewhere. I decided that if I was going to do that then I was not keeping my promise to give our farmers the price they deserved for their product. After a bit of reservation, only because of the volume of the sale, I stuck to my guns and did not budge on price. It took about 5 months, but they eventually came back and admitted that our milk was worth every penny because their lattes and cappuccinos did not taste the same with the competitor’s brand,” said Sam.
I whole heartedly can attest to this customers statement, from the website, after picking up an HVF Chocolate milk at Adams market after the interview, “We love chocolate milk. For years, we have tried different local brands. We recently discovered your chocolate milk in the Union Market on 7th Ave in the South Slope. It was a REVELATION!…Silky and satiny and smooth and SO chocolate-y! Nothing comes even close to your magic! – Phyllis & Mitch Brooklyn
Even though Sam is proud of the quality of the Hudson Valley products he admits his real mission was to secure a future for dairy farming in his area while preserving the land. “Our mission is to secure living wages for our farmers and their families. By ensuring a fair price for our farmers’ goods, we keep those farmers in business, which means preventing the loss of their land to development. Our Hudson Valley Fresh farms are currently preserving 8,000 acres of open land.” A testament to this, is a quote on the Hudson Valley website www.hudsonvalleyfresh.com by William Kiernan, Jr. of Walts Dairy, “We are not looking for anyone to save us, we want to save ourselves. We want to secure our position in agriculture on our own, so we can stay here and farm. We either make Hudson Valley Fresh successful so we gain the proper compensation, or we won’t survive.”
Retiring at the end of 2018, Sam Simon has full confidence that his successor, Ron Stanton will ensure the farmers receive adequate compensation while continuing to make Hudson Valley Fresh recognized in the market place for quality.
Hudson Valley Fresh – Facts
- Mission statement- Hudson Valley Fresh, Inc. will encourage the growth of a strong and sustainable, local and reginal food system within and for the Hudson River Valley, deeply rooted and nurtured through collaboration, community engagement and education.
- HVF farms Somatic Cell Counts (SCC) runs under 200,000 cells per milliliter (mm) and on average around 110-120,000 per milliliter (mm) as a group whereas most organic and industrial farms have an average of 420,000 cells per mm and the governments legal limit on bulk milk is 750,000 cells per mm.
- Low SCC means more Omega 3’s which are essential for normal growth, brain function and development and are known to reduce inflammation.
- HVF farms do not use rBST or rBGH ever because we believe in providing the highest quality milk without the use of hormones.
- All HVF milk is processed at Boice Brothers Dairy and no outside milk is co-mingled with HVF farms milk to ensure taste and quality.
- HVF milk is delivered to stores within 36 hours of pickup at farms ensuring the utmost freshness.
- HVF milk is not ultra-pasteurized. It is only pasteurized for 20 secs at 166 degrees for optimum flavour and quality. Most other dairies pasteurize to 280 degrees breaking down the lipase and protease therefore extending shelf life rendering it flavourless.
- HVF meets strictest standards of Kosher law and are certified Kosher by KOF-K Kosher Supervision.
Written by Lexi Wright