Bobolink a surprise detour for couple
MILFORD — Bobolink Farm and Bake House is a second career for both Jonathan White and his wife Nina. Jonathan worked as an engineer for 17 years while Nina, a graduate of New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts, worked in ballet and modern dance.
She had a significant performing, choreographing and teaching career before they launched their first farm on leased land in Sussex County.
There, as beginning farmers they leased land, and more recently, in 2010, they purchased 187 acres of preserved farmland in Milford and established the farm they now operate.
Jonathan handles much of the business of raising pigs and milking cows at the farm while Nina handles the retail store and website.
Bobolink offers a variety of pasteurized milk and creams from their pasture-based dairy herd as well as cheeses, breads, sausages, whey-fed pork, hams and grass-fed beef.
Tucked away on a rural road in Milford, the farm is not too far from Rutgers’ Snyder Research Farm in Pittstown, accessible via Route 78, and not too far from Rts. 29 and 31.
“When we bought this farm in 2010, it was all cropland,” Jonathan said. “So we had to reclaim the cropland, and the best way to do that is by grazing cows on it. They bring life back to the soil.
“Now here we are nine years in this location, it’s completely green.”
He added Stamet’s Road in front of their farmhouse used to flood on a regular basis, with as little as an inch of rain, but now as pasture, flooding is not longer an issue.
The Bobolink Dairy and Bake House Farm store sits right next to their house, and features a large mural by Princeton-Hopewell area painter and illustrator Illia Barger.
Jonathan said the farm is not Certified Organic, but they work to exceed the program’s standards.
“Our cows eat no grain, they eat 100 percent grass, and the pork we sell is a by-product of the cheese making,” he said. “The whey from cheesemaking gets pumped back to the pigs, along with stale bread.”
The Whites are the only non-Amish members of a farmers’ cooperative in Lancaster, Pa., and they buy piglets from an Amish farmer each year in April to raise on Bobolink’s pastures.
After the pigs go to slaughter in November, Jonathan said, “we stop making cheese from the cows’ milk and then spend about six weeks making sausages, bacon, salami and prosciutto.”
Products they sell at the Bobolink farm store include a variety of cheeses, breads, grass-fed beef, suckled veal and whey-fed pork, but White said they don’t sell whole pigs.
Jonathan minds the herd of about 125 cows with the help of two other people, while the cheesemaking and bakery has about five employees.
“We also sell at farmers’ markets, so we have about 14 people on the payroll,” he said. “There are just three of us concentrating on the farm stuff, and it turns out running the pastures and the cows and making cheeses is relatively easy compared to marketing and distributing this stuff and going to farmers’ markets.”
Jonathan and crew milk the cows once a day from May through November and then dry them off for the winter. They start up again when the calves are born in March, he said. Many of their cows are crosses of Kerry, Jersey and Guernseys they call Bobolink Blacks.
“We sell vat pasteurized, 100-percent grass-fed milk from our co-op and our store, so what we sell in that store is as close as you can get to raw milk in this state.”
While the Whites have dairy on their farm, Jonathan said they don’t think of themselves as “in the milk business. We’re not producing mass quantities of milk at a low price. We’re producing modest quantities of very high quality milk which get us a very high price for our cheeses.”
“My cows give me 6 liters, 15 pounds of milk a day. … They cost me about 150 dollars a winter in hay each, so they pay for themselves in three days’ milking. Right now we have about 50 we’re milking and a herd of about 125, including yearlings and calves.”
“We leave the calves with their moms for at least two or three months, sometimes longer,” he said, “and a calf born late in the season will stay with its mom longer, or it’s just not going to make it through the winter.”
The bakery portion of the retail stand started as a lark, he said, “but now it’s a significant portion of our business,” and Nina uses grain from Amish farmers in Pennsylvania and other organic growers in New Jersey.
“Nina became the go-to person for people growing unique grain, because other bakers say they need standard flour. Just like my milk quality varies from field to field, the same thing applies with our cheesemaking and breadmaking techniques, you have to adapt to natural changes in the raw material,” he said.
“It means taking a more interactive approach. You don’t follow a recipe, it’s more touch, feel and taste,” he said.
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