FARMINGTON — There’s a new milk in town and it’s making its debut in area stores this week.

Sandy River Farms, an organic dairy at 560 Farmington Falls Road owned for 60 years by the York family, has started processing and bottling its own milk under its farm label.

Half-gallons and gallons of low-fat organic milk along with pint-size containers of chocolate and strawberry flavored milk are on the shelves at Tranten’s grocery stores in Farmington and Kingfield, at the White Elephant in Strong, and at Ron’s Market, Mosher’s Seafood and Arkay Pizza in Farmington. It is also expected to sold at the Farmington Hannaford in the coming weeks once the Yorks get their bar code stickers, farm manager Erik Johnson said.

“It’s local, it’s fresh and it tastes great,” he said. “And we have control over our product.”

“We are getting great support from the local stores and we have had very positive feedback. It is a win-win situation,” he said.

A local daycare center also has a standing order for 20 gallons of low-fat milk a week, said Johnson’s father-in-law, Bussie York.

York said they are looking for more stores to carry their products but the biggest challenge is marketing the new Sandy River Farm brand to the public.

“A lot of people know us but they may not know the name of our farm,” he said. “The big problem is that people may have been buying Oakhurst or another brand for years and may be hesitant about switching to milk they don’t know.”

He says he would like people just to try a glass to see how sweet it is and taste-testing events are planned at local stores.

York believes the “old-fashioned” way they are processing the milk — by slowly heating it to 145 degrees and holding it there for half an hour — retains the flavor better than the instant-heat method used at commercial processing plants.

The milk is also fresher since it is only being transported from the barns across the street to the dairy, he said.

And because they are saving on transportation costs, they are able to keep the price lower than other organic brands and comparative to the cost of non-organic milk, he said.

York said he didn’t know of any other dairy farm in Maine processing its own milk on the premises.

According to the Maine Department of Agriculture, there are about 50 organic dairy farms operating in Maine.

“This is a niche market,” Tim Drake, the executive director of the Maine Milk Commission said. 

“Anytime an agricultural enterprise takes its future into its own hands is a good thing. It can be a huge risk but you have control over your own product,” he said.

The Yorks built a milk processing operation on the lower level of a new farm store that will open this spring. It will sell milk and yogurt, ice cream and cheese and produce and meats from area farmers, York said.

“We are starting out slowly. There is a learning curve but the orders are increasing and we have repeat orders without doing any advertising,” he said.

“I am hoping this will be a big draw in the local area. And once the store opens and we start home deliveries this summer in glass jugs, I think it will take off,” York said.

The milk is being delivered now to stores by pickup truck, and York hopes to purchase a delivery van by the summer.

Another product the family is making is ice cream — maple walnut using local maple syrup, vanilla, chocolate and ginger. It is available in three-gallon tubs but once Johnson locates smaller containers, it will be sold in local stores.

“It seems to be doing well and people are asking for it,” Karen Thorndike, co-owner of the White Elephant said. “And I like to buy local.”

The manager of Tranten’s in Farmington, Ralph Parker, said the store prides itself on selling local products whenever possible.

“People prefer to know where their food comes from,” he said.

He said he tried the new milk and was impressed with the flavor.

“I love it,” he said. “People just need to give it a chance and try it.”

The milk processing equipment was bought used from a Connecticut dairy farm that went out of business, Johnson said. He and York drove down to the farm sale, bought what they could haul home, and Johnson, with lots of advice from other producers, assembled the parts into a fully-equipped dairy.

The operation has been certified organic by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which assures consumers of the quality and integrity of organic products. These operations are subject to an annual inspection and spot checks to ensure they continue to meet strict standards.

Facilities are also monitored by Maine Department of Agriculture agents and by Horizon, which buys the rest of the York’s organic milk.

According to Horizon’s website, each of the 600 farms it works with across the country is required to demonstrate compliance with a site-specific organic system plan and with the national organic program standards.

The York’s processing operation has two pasteurizing vats, a cream separator, an homogenizer and a chiller that brings the milk quickly down to 38 degrees. It then is pumped into a 200-gallon holding tank and into the bottle filling system, Johnson said. there is also a large, walk-in cooler that can hold over 2,500 gallons of milk.

The family is processing about 200 gallons every other day with the rest of the 6,400 pounds produced by the 64 head of registered milking shorthorns being picked up by Horizon.

For information, Johnson or York can be reached at 778-3835, or by e-mail, [email protected]

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