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Interview with a Farmer: Lisa Kaiman, owner of Jersey Girls Dairy in Cheseter, Vermont

Interview Jersey Girl Dairy

How did you get started in farming?
Well, while attending veterinary school, aspiring to practice in food animal medicine, I saw the ‘accepted’ food animal system and decided the best course of action to impact what I concluded I could not work in day-in and day-out would be to teach by example. Do what I do, not what I say. So, I spent the next few years working on different dairies and observing the set-ups from a cow’s eye view. Noting what they (the cows) seemed to like and even more importantly what they did not like. Found a farm that looked like it would be conducive to my ideas, and proceeded to set up a dairy based totally on cow comfort.
When did you buy Jersey Girls Dairy?
Bought my farm in 1995, no water, heat, kitchen, bath, 20 amp temporary electric service (could run one light bulb at a time) and spent the next two years bringing the house up to twenty-first century amenities while still working on another dairy and acquiring my first cows. Then, I worked a couple full-time and a couple part-time jobs to get the loan to build the dairy. Put up a milking barn, parlor, fixing up the existing 1830 barn for use as my young stock barn, bedding storage shed, outdoor animal shelter, hay storage, pasture system fencing and water…took another couple years. First milking at Jersey Girls Dairy was on October 2, 1999.
What did you do before you were farmers?
I was studying to become a veterinarian since high school, until the realities of the plight of our food animals hit me, quite literally in the face.
What are some of the greatest challenges of farming?
Well, it’s farming, so, everything from the weather, supply availability, feed costs, bedding sourcing, labor shortage, time shortage to, of course, financial pressure. As commodity prices remain stagnant for decades, operating costs have about doubled just in the 15 years I’ve been dairying. So, as a small-scale dairy, the ‘expert’ advice from the powers that be, such as the Department of Agriculture and Extension Agency, is to diversify and develop value-added products. Well, all well and good, but this just adds the challenges of regulation, marketing, production, distribution…. Like I said, it’s farming, it has every challenge…not for the faint at heart!! But if it is your life’s blood, your heart just keeps bumping through whatever comes.
What do you like best?
For the obvious answer…milking cows. The most rewarding part of my work is when a customer tells of how my animals and my work has changed their life, health, or connection and taste for local, small-scale, sustainable food.
What is a good early story about when you started farming?
One morning, as my neighbor, Mr. Jewett, was walking back up our road from retrieving his newspaper, as he did every morning about the time I was heading back to the house after morning milking for another cup of coffee and hopefully some breakfast, I waved back to him waving his paper in the air at me. But instead of making the turn up his driveway, he kept coming up the hill to me, still waving his paper in the air. When he got to me, shaking his head and shaking the paper at me, he stated firmly, “This, this is why you can’t get a date!” and opened up the front page to a big photo of me getting a big kiss (technically getting slipped the tongue) from one of my calves. See, when a newspaper or magazine wants to do a story of the ‘little farmer girl,’ they always want a shot of the calves all around you. The best way to get that to happen with my animals, since they hesitate to come toward a stranger pointing a big black foreign object (a camera) at them, is to offer them kisses. So, I do that and they come for kisses from ‘mom’ and the photographer starts shooting too soon and when I turn, smile, and say ‘ready’ it’s too late and I think to myself…here we go again — farmer kissing cows shot. I get a lot of flack for that from other farmers and have had a few strange phone calls from guys thinking, well...
How many and what types of products do you have on your farm? And do you plan to expand?
We produce and sell both raw and pasteurized (never homogenized) bottled milk, butter, buttermilk, a soft fresh curd cheese called quark, certified-humane veal, and four flavors of pure veal sausage (no pork fat). Also, we use the typically wasted organ meats for doggie treats. Actually, we have just acquired the farm next to us and are expanding to meet our demands. No matter what, we’ll always remain small scale to insure the integrity of our products and farming practices.
Any new projects on the horizon?
One of our farming must do’s is to use everything, waste nothing…so we are working on some buttermilk dressing and whey marinade ideas to make good use of the ‘by-products’ of our current products.

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