July 31, 2009

The Coast: Halifax, Nova Scotia’s independent paper of record: on why a successful, walk-the-talk organic dairy farmer can’t get ahead—yet.

I first met the good folks at The Coast a few years back, when visiting my momma in Halifax, Nova Scotia, where half of the Boulder Buddhists moved, back in 1987. My friend/mentor Jim Gimian, publisher of The Shambhala Sun magazine, introduced me to Kyle at The Coast, and we stayed in touch off and on over the years. It’s a quality paper—fun, trouble-making, well-written, successful—a testament to independent journalism. ~ Waylon Lewis, ed.

Milking it

In the elusive hunt for the cash cow, Halifax Farmers’ Market regular Rick Rand created a hands-on farm-to-market business. But Nova Scotia’s nascent organic milk industry is facing a lot of bureaucratic bull.Photos Aaron Mckenzie Fraser

Cows are simple. There’s no other way to put it. They stare. And right now there’s a good two dozen staring at farmer Rick Rand.

Staring, chewing, staring, chewing.

It’s not love. At least not on the Holsteins’ part. Cows respond to being fed and being milked, which takes Rand, for his herd of about 50, an hour and a quarter starting at five in the morning and another hour and a quarter in the evening.

Staring, chewing, staring, staring…

It’s a little unnerving.

But Rand, a lithe 56-year-old with a clean-shaven smile, can see beyond the stare. It’s finally summer; the lifelong farmer and his son have cut back pasture grass because the sun and rain have outmatched the speed of these bovine eating machines. But Rand, who farms 300 acres within sight of Acadia University and the Minas Basin mudflats, is picturing winter.

“They cross the yard and go out into the freestall barn through three feet of snow. It’s fun to watch them; like kids bashing through snowbanks.”

Rand can also see beyond these cows’ milk. Or, perhaps, into it.

The fifth-generation farmer left school at 16 for this acreage, Fox Hill Farm, “to be home.” Rand worked side-by-side with his grandfather until his death in 1976 and with his father until he passed in 1995; today Rand works with his 23-year-old son Patrick. “This is my heart and soul, the farm,” says Rand, “what I eat and breathe and live every day.”

But Fox Hill milk no longer just goes from cow to tank to truck and away. Around half the milk stays on the farm and gets made into yogurt, gelato and cheese—there’s havarti, gouda, raw milk cheddar. Thirty-four products in all come out of Fox Hill Cheese House.

About 300,000 litres of fluid milk a year still goes to Farmers’ Dairy. But Rand hopes to change that.

“We are looking at more specialty cheeses—a bocconcini; it’s not made anywhere in eastern Canada that I know of. A nice blue cheese; we would need a separate room for that…”

Rand is a dreamer. And a doer. He started selling Fox Hill products at the Halifax Farmers’ Market in January 2005. Sometimes you’ll see his daughter Melissa, 26, there with him—she works as a cheese maker, plus she sells at the Lunenburg Farmers’ Market on Thursdays. Melissa and Rand’s wife Jeanita trade off Saturdays at the Hubbards and Wolfville Farmers’ Markets.

Before 2002, Fox Hill Farm was just about milk, and a truck that rolled up every two days to take it away.

Rand had been borrowing to buy quota—basically, to have the ability to expand his herd and make his operation as big as he could.

“Beautiful facilities, beautiful cows, I loved what I did,” he says. But “my son was 16 at the time, and we were just falling a little bit behind every month. I could see in five or six years major problems happening. My borrowing ability was nil, so we looked at dispersing.”


“We took a chance.”

On cheese.

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