Down on the Farm
For their soon-to-be-published book, Hudson River Valley Farms, author Joanne Michaels and photographer Rich Pomerantz visited more than 40 dairy, produce, fruit, and flower farms between Westchester and Albany. Here are profiles of 10 of these farms — and their farmers — taken from the text
(page 6 of 10)
Pine Plains, Dutchess County
Time slows down in the magnificent rolling hills of the upper Hudson Valley where 700 acres of Ronnybrook Farm span Dutchess and Columbia counties. As I approached, a herd of cows huddled together as if they were about to cross the road — which they did, after my car passed.
In the early 1980s, Ronny Ossofsky added two farms to the original one owned by his family. Taxes were high and land was valued for development, not farming. But Ronny decided to take a risk: He took out a mortgage on the farm and on July 4, 1991 at the Greenmarket in Manhattan he sold three products — whole milk, skim milk, and cream-lined milk. Soon after, the New York Times wrote an article about Ronnybrook’s excellent products, and New York magazine touted its chocolate milk. The press attention flooded the farm with sales.
In 1991 Ronnybrook products were somewhat unique. “We started making milk and yogurt with no stabilizers or hormones; while not organic, it’s minimally processed,” Ronny explained, going on to say the milk is not homogenized. “Most people allergic to milk are allergic to the processing.”
Ronny’s dairy employs 20 people and sells 18,000 pounds of milk per week to the Hudson Valley Fresh label. Ronny believes grass-fed cows give the best-tasting milk: Each animal (he has 150-175 cows) eats about 120 pounds of food daily. Unless it’s below zero, the cows go out and graze every day. As we toured the farm, I noticed the cows heading into their individual stalls in one of the barns; each had its own space and, interestingly, Ronny said, every cow always returns to the same pen. “Hi girls,” he said, taking me through the barn. “If they could talk, they’d say nice things about us.”
Ronny maintains he will never grow into a large conglomerate — and never sell out to one.
Next: Stone Barns Center for Food and Agriculture in Pocantico Hills