Grown in Marin
University of California
Grown in Marin

Portable dairy wagon hits the road

Portable Dairy Wagon
What's black and white and green and has four wheels? And what does it have to do with helping dairy operators discover new markets?  

I was at Beechenhill Farm with Sue and Terry Prince for several days in England's Peak District National Park this September revisiting farms from my agritourism project in 1997.
 
As Sue says: "Beechenhill Farm is a 92-acre hill dairy farm, in the Peak District National Park. We moved here 25 years ago in 1984 just as milk quotas were introduced into the European community. So, immediately, our plan to pay our mortgage with increasing our production of milk was scuppered and we had to look for another way of increasing our income." Sue and Terry are local farm and community leaders, milk 40 Friesian Holsteins, run a lovely farm B&B, and are experimenting with value-added products like cheese.
 
I arranged for Sue to visit with Ellen Straus in 1998. She took home the "organic" milk idea and initiated an organic dairy conversion on their farm. Their story and other farm tidbits can be found at their website http://www.beechenhill.co.uk/farmingfacts.asp.
 
To me, Sue is the "Ellen Straus" of her community and has created many diversification schemes to help protect the farm landscape: cultural and environmental. She describes one project called Food from the Peak District, http://www.peakdistrictfoods.co.uk/, which she initiated in 2001. "And that was all about food and building a local food economy and making links between tourism businesses and local food producers. "
 
Her latest project is the Peak District Dairy Wagon, a mobile dairy processing facility, where farmers and their families from the area can relearn dairy processing skills lost in the 1930s when the milk marketing board was created.
 
Over 30 farmers went back to college - actually Reaseheath College, Centre of Excellence for Dairy Technology at Nantwich, for day-long sessions trying their hands at making cheese, yogurt, and ice cream. It was while Sue and fellow farmer Sarah Helliwell were elbow deep in cheese curds, that they came up with the idea of a mobile dairy teaching unit, driven by a technician, travelling from farm to farm.
 
Sue worked long and hard to find funds, until HRH Duchy of Cornwall, Prince Charles, stepped in and provided funding to kick off the project.
 
Twenty farmers participated in the two-year project begun in 2007. So what's next? "I've got the the trailer in my dairy yard,” says farmer Angus Dalton, "as several of us plan to bid on purchasing the wagon so that we can use and share it several times per week to make our small batch cheeses and ice cream." Angus quips, "The college that originally built it is also interested in using it as a training tool around the country so we'll see who ends up with it."
 
You can find out more about this idea if you think it would be useful in Marin and Sonoma counties at http://www.dairywagon.co.uk/.  - Ellie Rilla
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