Larson Farm: From raw milk to gelato

Rich and Cynthia Larson watch as daughter Mercy embraces a calf outside the barn Thursday. KATELYN BARCELLOS / STAFF PHOTO

WELLS — Rich, Cynthia and Mercy Larson of Larson Farm in Wells aren’t just farming for themselves. They’re farming for their community. “We want to be an integral part of the local food landscape,” Rich Larson said. “We’re not doing this to survive. We’re farming to thrive, all of us together.” The Larsons bought their dairy farm 40 years ago and started off as a large, commercial farm with 150 Holstein cows. “The profit margin kept getting smaller over the years,” Rich said. “It was hard.” The Larsons — father, mother and daughter — sold their dairy herd in 1993 and several years later started fresh with a single Jersey cow in order to rebuild their soil and improve their products. “We focus first and foremost on soil health,” Rich said. “We don’t use any artificial fertilizers, chemicals or insecticides. The result is a living soil full of beneficial microbes and fungi that convert the soil minerals into a form that benefits plant growth, creating lush grass and clover pastures that are highly nutritious for cows. With healthy soil,Vermont sunshine and rain, cows convert organic pasture into high quality dairy products.” Today, the Larsons raise 20 Jersey cows, assorted heifers, and 25 Devon beef cattle. “We chose Jersey because they have the highest butterfat and they’re efficient grazers,” Rich said. Larson Farm raises only certified USDA organic, certified grass-fed, cows and cattle. “A cow’s natural diet is grass,” Rich said. “The benefits of a grass-only diet can be measured in the milk’s fatty acid profile. One hundred percent grass-fed milk is higher in Omega 3’s.” The cows also possess the valuable A2 gene. “Studies indicate that dairy from animals possessing the A2 gene are easier to digest,” Cynthia Larson said. “All our cows are tested 100 percent A2A2. We’ve been breeding for it for 10 years.” Twelve years ago, the Larsons started selling raw milk through their on- farm store for its health benefits. “ Milk naturally cont ains active enzymes that help facilitate digestion,” Cynthia said. “Pasteurizing milk kills off those enzymes and damages beneficial proteins.” Rich said the Larsons began working with Rural Vermont to spread the word about the benefits of raw milk and to change legislation eight years ago. “ We also brought in expert witnesses like Mark McAfee owner of Organic Pastures, a large raw milk dairy in California, and a representative from the Weston A. Price foundation testify to Vermont legislators that raw milk is safe and healthy,” Rich said. The Larsons worked for more than five years in at least two sessions with Vermont legislators and board members from Rural Vermont until new legislation was passed to allow delivery of raw milk to Farmer’s Markets to make it more available to their customers, Cynthia said. The Larsons recently received a Working Lands Grant from the state of Vermont, along with a USDA grant, both of which enabled the construction of their new commercial creamery, Cynthia said. “We decided to create the creamery because cows milk ever y day, 365 days a year, but we were selling mostly on weekends,” Rich said. “We had extra milk and we wanted to find a more profitable way to market i t . For our particular operation, yogurt and pasteurized, non-homogenized whole milk worked the best.” Next month the Larsons said they will offer maple, dark chocolate, and sweet cream gelato as well as skyr, an Icelandic drained yogurt, all of which is available at a variety of outlets across the region. “ I love to carry their products because they’re local, they have amazing practices, and they sell really well for us,” said Jessica Garrett, manager of the Stone Valley Community Coop in Poultney. “Their cream-top milk is very high quality and tastes amazing, and their yogurt is fantastic,” she said. “It’s highly sought after by our customers. Besides that, they’re a pleasure to work with and they’re invested in their local community. We want to stay invested in them as well.” In addition to expanding their line of products, the Larsons have transformed the north half of their farmhouse into a 3- 4 bedroom bed and breakfast. “ We hope people will come and spend a week here with their families, see how the farm works and experience local attractions,” Cynthia said. “Next summer we’re going to start hosting pizza and gelato night here at the farm. We have a woodfired pizza oven and we’ll be scooping seasonal flavors like fresh blueberry and strawberry, too.” Sustainable agriculture is a deeply rooted community connection, Rich said. “ We strive to bring forth quality food for our community,” he said. “ Our mission is to demonstrate that a small organic farm can be financially sustainable, and connect people with nutritious, wholesome food.”

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