by Bethany M. Dunbar
EAST ALBANY — Sweet Rowen Farmstead — dairy farm and creamery — is back in business.
Paul Lisai has built a small pasteurizing plant at his home and is bottling milk and making cream-style cheese. He hosted a grand opening on Mother’s Day, Sunday, and he is delivering milk and cheese to area outlets this week.
Mr. Lisai started bottling and selling milk from his Randall lineback cows under the Sweet Rowen label last summer. A mere three months after he started building up his new business the creamery where he was pasteurizing milk — also the creamery used by Ploughgate Cheese — suffered a devastating fire.
“People were just kind of catching on a little bit,” he said. He hopes they liked the first taste because soon he will have the capability to produce much more local fresh pasteurized milk.
Pasteurization kills bacteria that can be harmful. Mr. Lisai uses a system of gentle pasteurization, raising the milk to a temperature of 145 degrees for half an hour. At this time he can do 50 gallons in one batch, but before much longer he will be able to do 200 gallons.
Mr. Lisai is working for Bob-White Systems, based in South Royalton, which sells pasteurization equipment for small farms.
The company is developing a pasteurizer called Lili, which stands for Low Impact, Low Input. The pasteurizer raises milk to a temperature of 161 degrees for just 15 seconds. It is not yet approved by the federal Food and Drug Administration. Meanwhile Mr. Lisai is selling the approved equipment and acting as a consultant for other small dairies on behalf of Bob-White.
After the fire last year, Mr. Lisai had to do some soul searching to decide if he really wanted to go back into setting up a creamery. He was immediately approached by the Vermont Farm Fund. The fund was established by Pete Johnson of Craftsbury and the Center for an Agricultural Economy in Hardwick after Mr. Johnson’s barn burned. After that fire, there was so much outpouring of support to rebuild Pete’s Greens that Mr. Johnson and the center decided they wanted to establish a fund that would help other farmers who had been struck by a fire or natural disaster.
That encouragement helped Mr. Lisai decide, and the next decision was where he would build it. Some options included at the Pete’s Greens barn or at the Vermont Food Venture Center in Hardwick, but in the long run Mr. Lisai decided he wanted the creamery at his family’s property, where he plans to farm eventually. At this point he is leasing a farm, owned by John and Lindsey Davis, just a ways down the road from his home.
Mr. Lisai said building a new creamery was quite an undertaking. He mentioned that the people at the Vermont Agency of Agriculture have been extremely helpful. Half of the cost of the project was setting up a waste water system. He did the carpentry himself.
The United States Department of Agriculture gave Sweet Rowen a grant for producers who are adding value to their products. It’s a matching grant of $47,869, which means Mr. Lisai must spend an equal amount of his own money on the project.
So far he has hired one part-time employee. An intern is starting next week. He plans to hire one more full-time employee by the middle of June.
At this point he is processing about 180 gallons a week and milking just five cows. He is a member of Agri-Mark and shipped milk to the co-op all winter, but with only five cows milking right now he is not shipping milk to the co-op currently. He expects to be shipping again by June.
He hired Marisa Mauro as a consultant to help him make cheese. Ms. Mauro is the owner of Ploughgate Cheese. The two had been sharing equipment and creamery space before the fire.
Mr. Lisai grew up in southern Vermont. His father managed an apple orchard. He studied agriculture and forestry at Sterling College and worked on several area dairy farms, including the Jones farm where he first found out about Randall linebacks. The family gave him one to start his own herd. Randall linebacks were originally bred for three uses — draft, dairy, and beef. They were among the first cows brought to the Americas, Mr. Lisai said.
Mr. Lisai named the farm Sweet Rowen after the second cut of hay each season. It’s a traditional New England term. Mr. Lisai decided the name would give a nod to the area’s strong roots in dairying while highlighting the idea of new growth.
Future plans include starting a dairy community supported agriculture (CSA) group. CSA customers sign up to buy a planned amount of food directly from farmers.
Sweet Rowen milk is available at Four Acre Farm in Barton, Buffalo Mountain Co-op in Hardwick, Currier’s Market in Glover, Newport Natural Foods in Newport, Pete’s Greens in Craftsbury, and at the creamery in East Albany. Mr. Lisai said he expects the cheese will also be available at these outlets by this coming weekend. Other outlets may be added later.
For more information, see Sweet Rowen’s web site: www.sweetrowen.com.
contact Bethany M. Dunbar at [email protected]