Continuing with a project we started earlier in the year – 20 Questions with 14 Dairy Farmers – we are excited to introduce Sarah Van Orden. She’s a young, passionate and driven dairy farmer who also tends to pigs and chickens, but could be described as a workhorse – wait until to hear what she reports on her time clock! She is challenged like all other farmers and young people, but her accomplishments are aplenty! She built her farm from the ground up, makes cheese from the milk produced on her farm and is proof that women can do anything men can do! Meet New York’s very own – Sarah Van Orden!
I’m Sarah Van Orden and I am a 12th generation farmer. I grew up in Catskill, NY, where my brother and parents farm. I farm in Ovid, NY (Seneca County), where I own and operate Crosswinds Farm & Creamery. I’m 34 years old, 6’1” and farm with my patiently dauntless boyfriend, Charlie Morrow.
2. Why are you a dairy farmer?
I’m passionate about cows (Brown Swiss, to be precise.) and feeding people. I think farming chose me more than I chose it. There’s no life nobler than providing the most important input for human survival. Farming challenges me like no other career ever could: on any day I am a caregiver, an equipment operator, a vet, an accountant, a nutritionist, a salesperson, a cheese maker, a teacher, and occasionally a miracle worker!
3. How would you describe your farm?
My farm is a constant work in progress. We have a Coverall (or otherwise called a “hoop” barn) with sand beds for our 60 milking cows, bedded pens for heifers, and a milking parlor. The majority of our herd is Brown Swiss, which we love for their high component milk and ruggedness. The farm has 17 acres of pasture plus rented land for dry hay, but we purchase the majority of the feed for the cows. We have a small herd of pigs and about 50 laying hens. In addition to all that – our farm stand is stocked with our own cheese!
4. If your cows could talk, what would they say about you?
I hope they would say they appreciate all that I do for them!
5. What is your favorite thing to do on the farm?
Most days, I really enjoy milking, as I can observe every one of the cows and catch anything that may be new or different. The rhythm and routine of milking cows is relaxing, and it’s always gratifying to be “harvesting” your crop! It’s also my time to think and plan. While some business folks may use a white napkin, my “to-do” list is always jotted down on a brown paper towel.
6. How many hours do you typically work in one week?
Between the farm and the cheese business, I work 80-100 hours, sometimes more. (Did I mention my boyfriend was patient?)
7. Did you go to school to be a farmer?
I was thrilled to attend college and finally get to take agricultural classes! I earned a BS in Animal Science and MS in Agricultural Business from Cornell University.
8. What do you for fun off the farm?
I drive tractor trailer, including hauling horses up and down the east coast. I have also rung hand bells for 28 years, and am a slightly ruthless Euchre player.
9. What personality trait makes you a better farmer?
Determination and perseverance, also known as stubbornness.
10. Is your glass of milk – half full or half empty?
Usually completely empty, because I drink a lot of it! Too often it is easy to assume that there will always be more time to accomplish everything we didn’t get to today, or wanted to do but didn’t. In reality, we never know when someone or something will be gone forever. So sometimes I look at the glass as half empty to remind myself to enjoy life’s moments and focus on those who are most important while I can.
11. What challenges you as a dairy farmer?
Balancing the demands of the farm, a growing cheese business, and a personal life is definitely a challenge. There are never enough hours in the day! But I am also challenged with the task of connecting consumers with the realities of modern farming, and the role technology plays in farm sustainability. I try to educate my customers so that their food choices are based on sound science, not fear or misinformation.
12. What is one thing you are most proud of in regards to the farm?
That we have started and, literally, built this business from the ground up, surviving many challenges along the way.
13. Do you do anything special for your cows or calves?
Our calves are housed in groups with milk available to drink 24/7. In cold weather, they have jackets to keep them warm. Our cows have sand beds to relax in, and a buffet to snack on as they choose. They get pedicures and haircuts twice a year, to keep them comfortable and looking good.
14. What is one thing you recycle, reuse or repurpose on the farm?
Almost everything on the farm has been recycled or reused. We dismantled the barns at another farm, moved them, and are using the materials for construction here. We capture the sun’s energy with a solar thermal system and use it to heat water to wash the milking equipment. Our pigs eat whey leftover from cheese making, and beer mash from a local brewery.
15. What do you usually wear to the barn?
Rubber boots are standard; the rest varies from jeans and a t-shirt in the summer to five layers of clothing ranging from long underwear to Carhartt insulated bibs in winter – with no skin exposed! (It gets cold!)
16. Where does your milk go?
I handcraft some of our milk into two styles of cheese: Morning Glory, a soft, fresh spreadable cheese, and Butternut, a nutty Alpine (Swiss). Our cheese is available at the farm, on our website, at area farmers markets and retail stores. We are currently working on turning more of our milk into delicious dairy products and expanding our sales area.
17. Do you have a nickname for your cows?
All of the cows have names; some have nicknames based on their behaviors. The cow names start with the same letter as their mother’s name, so we can keep track of families. Some families also have theme names; we have cows named after cars, cities, food, and Cornell hockey players, among other things.
18. What is your favorite dairy product?
It’s impossible to choose just one! Nothing beats an ice-cold glass of whole milk! I also couldn’t do without coffee yogurt, ice cream, butter, or Cabot sour cream. Our own cheese also rates pretty high on the list!
19. What is the last thing you do on the farm before calling it a day?
Double check that everyone has feed and water and is comfortable. It is extremely peaceful in the barn when everyone has been “tucked in” for the night.
20. What do you want everyone to know about you – the dairy farmer?
I am just one of the thousands of farmers who work day in and day out to ensure that you have delicious, healthy and safe food.
* * *
Did you enjoy reading about Sarah? Want to try her cheese and find out what she’s up to today? Friend a farmer! Follow Sarah and her farm on Facebook!