30 August 2011

( a visit to wholesome dairy farms’ kitchen, where cows are the real bosses )

by marian wolbers

the big news at wholesome dairy farms in yellow house, pa, is the kitchen—not the perfectly textured yogurt that begs to be placed in a bowl and married to juicy peaches, cherries, ripe blueberries, or tupelo honey.

it’s the new kitchen—not the fact that curds produced there are already driving traffic to philadelphia’s trendiest new restaurant, the blind pig, where hungry canadians are heading, reportedly driving across the border just to get a taste of the poutine firsthand. (poutine is a french canadian dish of french fries slathered in gravy and curd, which takes three days to make.)

it’s the kitchen where dairy manager rebecca seidel performs milk magic, taking the nutrient-rich, raw milk from the farm’s ayrshire herd and creating creamy yogurt, yogurt cheese, ricotta, domestic feta, kefir, and any other yum-food that gets seidel’s culinary talents churning.

in fact, with this kitchen in operation, visitors can soon expect frozen yogurt to make its way into a freezer out there in the lush countryside. and as always, jugs of raw milk are available anytime in the small dairy store, so customers can purchase products directly, right next to the barn. the milk is also sold at kimberton whole foods, echo hill country store, and hershey harvest.

wholesome dairy farms, run by veterinarian-farmer mark lopez, where he settled down with his veterinarian wife, is one of a select number of farms that must pass stringent, state-regulated, twice-a-month safety and sanitation tests month safety and sanitation tests for pure, raw milk straight from grass-fed cows. developing a kitchen has been part of a larger plan lopez had for his evolving business, which he hopes will one day be not just totally natural, but fully powered by solar energy. early on, he knew that his main product, the milk itself, was special: “i love the milk itself. i just don’t get enough of it. this milk is like midas—you know, how everything midas touched turned to gold ? anything you make with this milk is awesome.”

unlike the raw milk, though, products like yogurt and kefir have to be pasteurized. hence the kitchen. it’s not big. “it’s made out of a shipping container,” explains lopez. “at first,  we called it ‘the container.’ then, for a while, it was ‘the yogurt container.’ finally, it became ‘the kitchen.’”

it sits behind the store area, and inside is sink areas, shelving, and a shiny pasteurizing vat, similar in size to a smallish kiln used for making pottery. the remnant chunks of newly made feta cheese—raw milk feta aged for 60 days—lie on the cutting table near an enormous knife, as seidel has just finished processing her latest savory treat.

as lopez and his dairy manager display the kitchen with obvious pride and hope for its future, the kitchen seems to represent more than an officially okayed and designated room that the health department approves of. it is an expression of a continuous, careful, natural, organic expansion of a dairy farm that is udderly dedicated to providing people with good food.

texture is important. so is purity of taste. and, comparatively speaking, processed and over-processed dairy foods cannot come close to what wholesome dairy farms can make in its comparatively tiny kitchen.

( the milk store, fresh feta, mark lopez & rebecca seidel and yogurt & fruit for breakfast - 
photos by marian wolbers; cow-savvy eye-scenes courtesy of www.wholesomedairyfarms.com )

it’s local. it’s tangible. it’s where a simple, healthful, white liquid transforms into a   myriad of partly solid (yogurt, various spreads, ricotta) and solid (cheeses, kefir, squeaky curds) foods that can be enjoyed “as is” or cooked as ingredients in everything from lasagna and stuffed shells to elegant appetizers, spinach-and feta pies, and desserts. 

which is precisely why the farm will not only survive but grow—at its own, good, pace, much like a cow’s own pace: steady, not fast; dependent on good care and great hygiene; calm, free of injected hormones, uncrowded, unstressed.

apparently, having a vet as their owner means living the good life for the 45 or 46 cows that fit into the barn’s stanchions. these girls are well tended, well fed on ample pastureland, and well exercised, roaming outside 7 hours by day and 11 at night. it’s a complete no-brainer, then, that they are relaxed when it comes to sanitizing their teats to prep for the milking machinery, yielding both good milk and an easier milking experience for lopez and seidel at 6 a.m. and 4 p.m. daily.

a dairy farm, as everyone knows, is a fulltime work-life. yet it’s a life lopez loves, evidenced by his giving up a veterinary practice to devote himself to this cow-venture. “you know,” he comments, “i never drag myself to the barn.” summing up, he shares his simple equation for success: “happy cow, happy veterinarian, happy customers.”

it’s a sweet life for a family, too, for this operation exists not just on any old farm, but on the same land where lopez spent happy summer days. it’s not unusual for his mom to wait on you when you drive up to purchase dairy or their nitrate-free meats and free-range eggs. today, the farm is well on its way to becoming a model for green energy and locally produced food, with methane-reduced dairy cow feeding strategies, oil-reclaiming practices, and ever-evolving, holistically driven, scientifically sound facilities and practices.

on a sunlit morning, after all the big-eyed, brown-and-white beauties have gone out to pasture, you might find lopez and his 3-year-old daughter happily scooping up yogurt and granola for breakfast. it’s one of lopez’ favorite things they do together.

thanks to the new kitchen, of course.

how to get wholesome:

for info on raw milk, mark lopez, dvm, can be seen on youtube in “how to milk a cow.” you can also visit wholesome dairy farms in person, or virtually on facebook.

for directions to buy milk and ridiculously sly dairy, see their website: www.wholesomedairyfarms.com. open tuesday through friday from 10  to 5.30 and saturday from 9 to 4.

for fast relief from stress:  click on the “photo gallery” on the farm’s website for a fine album of joyful bovines. you will soon see that just looking at cow-faces—kelly, ivory, gilly, yogi, claire, sheron faye, and all the rest of the lassies—both mesmerizes and relaxes. these indeed are lucky, lucky cows. 

02 August 2011

news, not blues volume twenty-four is out !

grab it up ! volume twenty-four of news, not blues is out !

it's quite book-savvy too.

( a place where books hug the heart )

a place where books hug the heart
by jennifer hetrick

it’s only been a few months since boyertown welcomed itself the reprieve of something long overdue—a bookstore, and one with copy after copy at a price that doesn’t pinch wallets in half too hard.

the book nook at 130 east philadelphia avenue, in the old rhoads opera house building, opened its doors to the public april 30.

owner holly wood, who knows her name’s pun-worthy nature will never lose its luster, spent 13 years as a stay-at-home mom and knew that after the stint, she wanted to bring her love of reading into the boyertown community, given that no one else had dived into those proverbial pages of life on the main strip of route 73.

before the business plans had unfolded, holly’s husband james researched to find out if any bookstores, exclusively new or mingled with used copies, had been in the town in the past. he discovered that a stationery store which also sold books carved its history into the town in the 1960s but that nothing else had popped into the picture since then.

with the next closest used bookstore as gently used books in douglassville, wood has etched an important resource into the streetscape in boyertown, already reeling in regular customers who visit her a few times a week to peruse her constantly changing selection on the shelves.

the storefront spans a little less than 1,000-square-feet and has possible room for expansion if needed, wood says. with trade-ins thickening her supply more and more each week, she reveals that she’s noticed mystery thrillers taking quite a hold on local readers with their purchases. classic literature and of course romance are also often-grabbed sellers, and her children’s section has grown considerably since those mid-spring days of operation.

“books are very important,” wood says. “reading is good for your mind, keeping it active, and it’s needed in daily life.”

she has read so many books over her lifetime that pegging one as her favorite is an impossible feat, but she has always encouraged reading fruitfully with her children who are often seen trotting around the store, throwing their mom a hand in helping to organize books on the shelves. out of all the tasks though, spencer, 13, emily, 9, and natalie, 8, gravitate most fanatically to stamping the prices on the books.

the rhyme-happy and easily accessible location of the book nook is all the more valuable in the local landscape for the fact that more affordably priced books are certainly a financial relief in a time when economic conditions are dragging so much down across the municipal, county, state, and national levels. books at sensible prices and within a reasonable reach between running errands in town lead to this storefront standing as quite its own gem in boyertown.

while wood serves to try to keep an eye out for books customers request, the summer reading requirements students in area senior and junior highs are mandated to eye-peruse before each new academic year have become a big hit for the shop, especially via facebook wall inquiries. the idea came to wood because of her son’s junior high summer reading requirement list sitting in front of the family. since the book nook has been receiving such attention for how wood strives to find exactly what people are looking for within the world of books, this is just one more angle of how she keeps shoppers peeling their way through her storefront and is becoming increasingly appreciated by locals, even away from online book-selling sites.

with paperbacks, trade-ins are 25 percent of the lowest cover price toward store credit. hardcover books of fiction and nonfiction, less than three-years-old, are worth up to 50 percent of their selling price and are generally sold at 75 percent of the cover price, with all books taken requested to be in good condition, and luckily, that usually works out, wood says.

up to 50 percent store credit can be applied to purchases and doesn’t expire, wood explains.

some people even stop in to donate their books, not expecting store credit while kindly building the supply on the shelves which is now beyond 23,000 books.

dvds in the front movie (sometimes with the books they stemmed from also on the shelf) section of the store are a popular seller too, with trade-in credit as $1 each.

wood donated several gift certificates as prizes to the boyertown community library with its children’s and adult summer reading program, which has book slips available to be filled out for attempted wins. slips are due by august 16 but can be submitted to the library sooner.

being able to supply people with the exact books they’re looking for is what wood says she appreciates most about her everyday efforts handled one book at a time, making boyertown a bit more wholesome one page at a time.

the book nook is open tuesday through saturday from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. and sunday from 12 to 5 p.m. search for “the book nook in boyertown” on facebook to find out more.