Regenerative and environmentally friendly agriculture is at the center of Cherry Grove Dairy Farm and Creamery
FRIENDLY FARMING: “We practice rotational grazing, moving cows to different pastures daily or every few days,” says Tish Streeten, Director of Education, Events and Community Outreach at Cherry Grove Farm. Pictured is Anna Reinalda, herd of cows, with her loads in one of Cherry Grove’s pastures.
By Jean Straton
RRespect for the land, the environment and animals has always been Cherry Grove Farm’s priority. Located on Lawrenceville Road (Route 206) in Lawrenceville, the farm has a long history, dating back to pre-revolutionary times.
In 1987, the three Hamill brothers, Oliver, Sam and Bill inherited over 400 acres of undeveloped land in the Lawrenceville/Princeton area. Their ancestors had actually farmed the land at one time, but over the years the dairy farm was leased out to various farmers, and the land suffered from increasingly intensive conventional farming techniques, says Oliver Hamill.
“Preserving the land and locally grown food are family passions, and we set out to create something special – something that would give back to the community while keeping the land healthy and undeveloped for generations to come.”
The Hamills, along with their children, were determined to regenerate the land by adopting sustainable agriculture, using period pastoral techniques as a guide. The focus would be on artisanal farmhouse cheese, and anything done on the farm would support the production of a quality artisanal product.
“What we do here at Cherry Grove is actually more than just sustainable or organic,” says Tish Streeten, Director of Education, Events and Community Outreach. “It’s called regenerative agriculture. We work to restore the ecosystem and create beneficial environmental outcomes for current and future generations. Our goal is to continually increase biodiversity, enrich soil and improve ecosystem function, which in turn provides higher yield and better health and resilience for soil, plants, animals, people and the community.
“Everything on the farm is interconnected, interrelated and works together,” she continues. “We practice rotational grazing and we do not use any chemical fertilizers, herbicides or pesticides. We do not use antibiotics, steroids or growth hormones. It’s much healthier for animals, plants and people.
The 120 dairy cows that live on the farm are milked twice a day. They include pure Jersey, with some Milking Short Horn, Friesian, Holstein, Guernsey and Norman blends.
“Cow’s milk reflects the changing of pasture grasses and plants season after season,” notes Oliver Hamill, “and you can taste those seasonal changes in cheese varietals. We emphasize making cheese the European way, focusing on quality, not quantity,”
As part of the farm’s sustainable ecosystem, the farm also raises a mix of chickens, including heritage breeds, a small number of heritage breed pigs, and beef cattle. In addition to providing eggs of different colors (customer favourites), the chickens provide another important service, says Streeten.
“The chickens roam the pastures when the cows have left, to eat parasites that could harm the cows when they return to that pasture. So everything and everyone works together to create good health.
Indeed, at Cherry Grove, everything is implemented, and nothing is wasted. As Streeten continues: “We are a dairy and cheese farm. When you make cheese, the milk is separated into curds and whey. Cheese is made from the curd and whey is a by-product that is usually discarded. We feed our heritage breed pigs our whey, which provides them with an excellent source of protein, active beneficial bacteria and gives the pork an extra delicious flavor.
Also, she continues, “Beef cattle are not our primary focus, but we keep a small number of beef steers that graze with the dairy herd when they are young. So while we raise cattle and hogs, and they provide meat to our customers, their primary focus is to provide diversity and create a healthy, interconnected farm with zero waste.
Honey is also available from the farm’s hives, as well as from other local beekeepers. It is a growing part of the farm operation and increasingly popular with customers.
The cheese-making process is a very precise effort, with milk flowing from the “parlor”/cow barn into the temperature-controlled creamery, overseen by Head Cheesemaker Paul Lawler. Award-winning cheeses made from raw cow’s milk, including Havilah, Toma, Rarebird, Abruzzo Jawn, as well as pasteurized Buttercup Brie, are produced, notes Streeten.
The Farm Store, run by manager Maddy Weber, is open seven days in the summer from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. It is a popular stop for customers. Items include the farm’s special cheeses, eggs, meats, and honey. Additionally, jams, chutneys, soups, chilies, sauces and stews, either made with Cherry Grove products or other local producers, and non-alcoholic beverages, including a particularly delicious lemonade, are all available.
Autumn Cow Parade
Cheesemaker and chef Christine Shaw also creates soups, sauces and pesto from farm produce and local ingredients, which are sold in the store and at farm markets.
Cherry Grove offers a variety of classes, workshops and events for children and adults. Streeten hosts workshops and classes in cheesemaking, foraging, herbalism, and more, as well as events such as First Fridays with Flowers, farm tours, hay rides, garden parties, and more. anniversary, fall cow parade and farm-to-table dinners.
Accountant and course and event coordinator Helen Cull teaches the cheese-making course and oversees much of the farm’s operations.
When people plan a farm tour or guided pasture walk, they’ll see the cows up close, maybe being milked (depending on the time), and if they’re lucky, they may even see babies calves and piglets.
Two goats, Vincent van Goat and Mr. Tumnus, as well as Leda, the sheep, are also present to welcome visitors to the farm. Customers can interact and feed them, but they are only allowed to eat carrots and apples.
An agricultural film festival could also take place this summer, adds Oliver Hamill. “Last summer, we installed a big screen and made outdoor films, in collaboration with the Garden Theatre. It was very popular with people, and we hope to try it again.
K-12 students, college students, scouts, and 4-H groups, as well as corporate team-building groups, adult community groups, and individuals (adults and children) love all visit the farm.
Cherry Grove Farm is unique, and learning about this special place is indeed fun for all ages. It offers the opportunity to understand and experience a way of life that makes a significant difference for the earth, for animals and, ultimately, for people.
Cherry Grove customers include many long-time regulars from throughout the Princeton area and beyond who appreciate the farm and its dedicated staff.
As Streeten points out, “The people I work with at Cherry Grove are very special. We all really care about what we do and believe in it. We all work well together, doing what we do best (be it cheese making, cow raising, sales, education or events) playing our part in this intertwined agricultural ecosystem. People and the community are as much a part of a healthy ecosystem as the soil, plants and animals.
“I like to get people, especially children, interested in farming and caring for the land and animals. I like to show people how to make cheese or how to use a certain herb to soothe a bug bite. The more people we can connect to nature, our food and our food systems, the better our world will be. »
“We look forward to engaging even more with our community,” she continues. “It is surprising that many do not know that there is a diversified dairy farm of more than 400 acres and a farm shop just four miles from Palmer Square. We would like to be a resource to reconnect our neighbors, from toddlers to elders, to the land and to a source of their food.
“I love being at this beautiful farm where the animals are looked after so well. Who wouldn’t like to come to this idyllic place every day?
FFor more information, call (609) 219-0053 (farm store). Website: cherrygrovefarm.com.