When asked how long he has been working his farm in Norwich, NY he replies with a simple, “Well, forever.” Dave grew up on the farm and was a young man when dairies around the Northeast started to disappear. Between 1980 and 2000 the number of New York dairy farms shrank from 19,000 to 7900 farms. At last count, that number is down to 7000.
Evans wasn’t the only small dairy farmer to notice. In 1996 the Northeast Dairy Compact signed into law to help regulate the wholesale price of milk. The intent was to raise and stabilize the wholesale price of milk but the attempt to battle the forces of the market failed. In 2001 the compact expired and Northeastern dairy farmers were worse off than they had been five years before.
Dave, his wife Sue, and his brother, who owns the farm next door, knew change was imperative to survival. In 1999 they decided to become certified organic and build a creamery. Aside from the obvious health advantages, Evans knew he needed to find a profitable niche in the market if his farm as well as others in the surrounding area were to succeed.
The idea was to, instead of appealing to the government for market protection, opt out of the dysfunctional dairy system all together. By building a creamery to bottle his own milk Evans removes the huge middleman dairy bottlers, who buy milk at a low price and then sell it to consumers at a higher price, from the equation. Both Evans and his fellow local dairymen reap much higher profit margins while consumers enjoy competitive prices for a superior product.
While many involved in such utopian-minded endeavors have failed, the success of Evans’ vision can be seen as you walk through the front door of the creamery where Dave and another local farmer greet us. To the right is a new, larger bottling machine ready for installation. To the left is Evans’ vintage milk truck still dripping sanitizing solution from the morning milk run clean up. Out on the dock the Angello’s Organics rig is loading cases of crème fraiche, milk and butter.
The environment seems at odds with the Evans themselves until you watch them in action. Dave, as he speaks on the importance of consumer education, dumps the waste milk out of a large stainless churn full of deep yellow butter while Sue slices sharp cheddar. Several of the elder of the Evans’ daughters cryovac the cheese while another puts labels on yogurt tubs.
The defining element of Dave Evans' revolution isn’t what he’s doing but what he’s not willing to do: Despite Evans’ success with the creamery he isn’t looking to expand. “I want this place to reach it’s capacity but I’m staying small.” He proudly tells us about another small creamery that is starting production in a nearby area with his help. Dave is measuring his true success by the reproduction of his idea, not the size of his plant.
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