By Georgina Schaeffer
As I pull my car into Brookby Farm in Dover Plains on a chilly January afternoon, Jaime Vincent quickly ushers me inside her 1800s farm house. She’s laid out an assortment of freshly-baked biscuits with three kinds of homemade jam and butter to sample. Two dogs, Beau and Roxy, greet me and give me the sniff over. Ultimately, I meet with their approval. Jaime’s husband, fifth-generation farmer Steve Vincent, joins us at the kitchen table. The Vincent family has owned and operated Brookby Farm since 1850, when nearly 400 acres was given to Steve’s great-great grandfather as a wedding present. Today, Brookby Farm is the last remaining dairy farm in Dover Plains.
The business hasn’t been without its twists and turns for the Vincents. When Steve’s grandmother died in 1980, she had done little in the way of estate planning for the commercial dairy with 80 cows. “Everything had to be sold,” Steve says. “Dad got the land, but nothing else.” When Steve’s dad got older, the property was subdivided between six children, each of them receiving between 50-75 acres. But when it was time for Steve to sit down with his own three adult children, Steven, William, and Elyssa, to discuss development rights for the property, the decision was unanimous: they would keep the farm and placed their four barns and 50 acres in conservation with the DLC in 2018. “This preserves the open space for future generations,” he says. “In 50 years, when I’m dead and gone, this will still be here.”
Steve and Jaime ran a small beef operation and farmed hay while the kids were growing up, but the milk barn remained empty until four years ago. It was William, who graduated with an agricultural business degree from SUNY Cobleskill in 2011, who first raised the idea of bringing dairy cows back to Brookby Farm. The Vincents began by buying a few calves while William was still in school. Ultimately, the operation grew to a milking herd of some 40 cows. They contracted with Marcus Dairy, a local distributor and the farm seemed to be on its way. But when the price of milk plummeted when Russia was sanctioned for entering Crimea in 2014, the Vincents needed a new plan for Brookby Farm.
The family spent a year researching the raw milk industry and waited another six months for a permit, meeting the stringent criteria for unpasteurized products. They scaled down their operation, milking between 12 to 18 cows, just enough to be sustainable on their land and land available to them with rotational grazing. Today, their mixed herd of Holstein,
Jersey, Brown Swiss, Normande and Ayrshires cows are fed a grass-based diet without any chemical fertilizers. The Vincents are slowly transitioning their herd away from Holsteins, which produce a milk that has a low butter fat content, to breeds like Normande cows, known for their higher butter fat count. This higher butter fat milk is favored by artisan cheese makers, among them Colin McGrath. The Vincents now sell all of their excess milk to The McGrath Cheese Company, whose raw cow milk cheese, Rascal, can be found from the shelves of Adams Fairacre Farms to the menu at the Rainbow Room in New York City.
McGrath isn’t the only die-hard fan of Brookby Farm’s raw milk. Families drive from all over the county and beyond to visit the farm. “Anyone can come in, watch the process and try it if they wish,” Steve says. “Kids have no idea where their food comes from. They love watching the milk go from the cow, to the hose, to the receiver jar, and in to the tank.” International tourists have included a couple from Holland on a farm tour of the North East and a man from Russia who brought his mother and swears the milk cured his arthritis. The Vincents strive to have a herd of good, calm cows for the public to visit and help milkaround 4pm. They also prioritize having one of the cleanest facilities, which themicro-biologist who monitors the farm once referred to in jest as “boring.” These efforts have been recognized with the Super Milk Award,given by the Empire State Milk Quality Council, as well as theDairy of Distinction Award.
With a growing customer base, the Vincents’ current project is renovating a new, larger farm store. In addition to their raw milk, the farm sells their own farmstead cheeses, pasture-raised meats, fresh eggs, homemade jams, as well as foods from local farms and makers in the Hudson Valley. Jaime is also conceiving a private event space for the community in the future. Deep roots and a desire to contribute to the area keep the Vincents motivated on their journey. “It’s beneficial to the town,” Steve says. “No one isbuilding farms.” Certainly, Brookby Farm has benefitted under the fifth- and sixth-generation stewards, and the seventh-generation stewardship is looking bright, too: “My one-and-a-half year oldgrandchild’s favorite word is “moo.”
This article was originally published in the Spring, 2019 issue of the DLC newsletter, Gaining Ground.