January 2023 marks 20 years since what you know today as Crosswinds Farm & Creamery officially began! Time sure flies, when you’re having fun and when you’re not – it’s been an evolution for sure. But do you know the story of how the family bringing the milk, cheese, and meat you enjoy each week came to be? Throughout the coming year, we’re going to bring it to life for you right here!
First, let me introduce myself – I’m Sarah! I’m the face you usually see in our market booth and the driving force behind this crazy adventure of a life our family has. One of our customers recently asked “you farm, you make cheese, you go to markets, you homeschool – you’re not really busy, are you?” Nope, not really! Those things are my life in a nutshell right now.
I grew up in the town of Catskill, on the Hudson River in eastern NY, where my family has farmed since 1680. How did I get here?
Looking back, it’s been a string of serendipitous connections that have made all the difference.
I fell in love with all things farming (especially big brown cows) earlier than I can remember. Greene County is not a strong agricultural area; there were only 2 working farms in my school district at the time. I was often singled out as a farm kid, but it was always something I was proud of. When I was 6, the whole 1st grade toured our farm, with the current county Dairy Princess assisting. I declared that someday I would be a dairy princess too!
The highlight of my summers growing up was showing our cows at county and state fairs, which is where I met other kids who were like me & loved farming just as much! At 16, I was the first Dairy Princess our county had had in 10 years. On a whim, I entered a scholarship competition with an interview component. One of the fellow competitors I met there would later be my college roommate, and the event connected me to the 4H dairy quiz bowl program in a neighboring county. We earned a trip to the state competition – held at Cornell – which also included a behind-the-scenes tour from a current student, which made me feel at home at a place that would otherwise have overwhelmed me.
Dairy quiz bowl took me to national competitions in Louisville and Columbus, all the while learning, and meeting more people whose life revolved around agriculture. After high school, I chose to come to Cornell for Animal Science, and then had an opportunity to complete an MS in Farm Business Management as well. In high school, my exposure to “business” was the DECA club which sold pencils and candy in the school store. At the time, I had no interest in selling pencils – the irony of now owning a retail store! When I got to Cornell, I was exposed to the world that is business and business management and realized that I loved working with numbers as much as animals. I chose to finish my masters because I knew once I left school to farm, I would never go back.
After teen years full of extracurricular activities (but NO basketball) and working on the farm, I was bored at college. So I took crazy course loads, worked multiple jobs, and tried not to get into too much trouble! I don’t think I ever seriously considered a career other than farming, though at the time I certainly did not foresee what our business would look like today. I defended my master’s thesis in December 2002 and started milking my own cows in January 2003!
For Sale: Used SunshineUsed sunshine, huh? What the heck am I talking about?
Our farm philosophy is fairly simple: Use plants to capture solar energy. Use livestock to turn human-inedible plants into tasty, nutrient dense, dairy & meat products. Really, the stars of this system are the microbes that exist both in the soil and produce nitrogen, and in the cows' rumens (stomachs) that turn plant fibers into protein.
Beyond this basic philosophy are a million logistical details that influence how the process is completed. Our management focuses on minimizing inputs onto the farm as much as possible. For the cows, that's only salt and minerals including selenium, which our soil in the Northeast is deficient in. We do need to harvest a good portion of our acres for winter feeding because of the layout of our farm, so there are inputs required to do that.
Pigs are not ruminants; they have a simple stomach that functions the same as yours and mine. They don't have the benefit of rumen bacteria and therefore need more essential amino acids supplied in their diet. Their diet includes grain which is an input to our farm; we include excess milk & whey from our dairy which reduces the amount of grain required.
Time on the tractor gives me a chance to catch up on podcasts, and lately I've been binge listening to "Working Cows", a podcast focused on all things related to regenerative farming & ranching with livestock. I believe it was Steve Kenyon in episode 95 that said farmers and ranchers are one of two things: used sunshine salesmen, or earth miners.
If you're not taking full advantage of soil and rumen biology, you're either depleting soil nutrient reserves or need to add nutrients in the form of fertilizers, most of which are petroleum derived. We'd prefer to manage our soils, grass, and livestock in ways that allow us to focus on being used sunshine salesmen! We think you can taste the difference, as well as reaping the health benefits of nutrient dense foods!
This year, online ordering & shipment has become commonplace for nearly everyone. You can order just about anything and have it delivered to your doorstep within a few days.
This week, a highly anticipated delivery arrived, but not in an Amazon box. You know you’re a farmer when the most exciting delivery in months arrives in a container like this:
This is a special shipping container charged with liquid nitrogen and used to ship frozen bull semen. It keeps the semen safely frozen at -320⁰ F. UPS drops it in our driveway, we transfer the semen to our liquid nitrogen storage tank, and then the shipper is returned & reused.
We’ve worked hard to reduce purchased inputs in our business, but semen is one of the necessities. Every cow needs to deliver a calf in order to start producing milk. Ideally, they have a calf once a year. And each of these pregnancies requires a semen source. We choose to not keep any bulls on the farm, mostly due to the safety risk, but also because we want to choose the best genetics available to improve our herd.
There are not a lot of other Brown Swiss herds, at least not compared to Holsteins or Jerseys (the two most popular breeds). By purchasing frozen semen, we can utilize bulls from the best herds in the US and Europe, from which we could not feasibly purchase a live bull.
So, about three times a year, this farmer spends a lot of time pouring over catalogs and selecting the best matches for our ladies, just like a fantasy football team. Yep, bulls have stats just like pro athletes. Some are all around all-stars, while others excel in certain traits that we might want to focus on improving.
Most of our semen is ordered from one Wisconsin-based distributer specializing in Brown Swiss, who has been shipping directly to our farm for years. If you’re curious, check them out at brownswiss.com!
This week’s delivery included bulls with names like Spark, Kade, Powerball, Juke & Kingsman. Within a year we will have their calves running around, and in about 3 years their daughters will be producing the milk in your cheese. One small delivery will have a longterm impact on our farm!
There really is no limit to what can be delivered to your door!
I'm half of the Crosswinds farmer duo bringing you farm fresh cheeses, beef, and pork from the heart of the Finger Lakes! Stay tuned for our daily adventures growing a family & a farm, and food for your table. We welcome your questions & comments, but please keep them respectful! For the latest updates, please follow Crosswinds Farm & Creamery on Facebook or Instagram!