A Family of Farmers Dedicated to Good Food
Originally Posted: Thursday, March 21, 2013
Food is at the heart of family, community and the prosperity of this country. You care about how you look and feel and it is vital to eating local. Eating local is the only way to truly get food that is good for you and filled with nutrition.
Make this simple choice three times a day — to consume as much of your food from people you know and trust to make it honestly. Think every time you take a bite — I’m so grateful for this delicious nutritious food that makes me healthy and live longer.
This is the story of a hardworking American farm family. People you want to know and people that work 12- to 15-hour days, every day, to make milk wholesome and good for you. These people are the reason we have beautiful cheeses and memorable restaurant experiences. Farmers are the real celebrities and worth celebrating.
The family that works together stays together and at this second generation dairy farm you can certainly feel the love among nine employees who work seven days a week to feed us and their cows as wholesome as they can on their 1,500 acres of farmland.
“Comfortable cows make better milk and if you don’t take care of them — they won’t take care of you,” Eric Ooms tells me on the way into the parlor for milking time!
It’s 3:40 p.m. and the second milking at A.Ooms + Sons. I met with Eric and his brothers Tim and Ron at their farm in Valatie. Time isn’t something you take for granted at the farm. With a daily wake up call at 3:40 a.m., 100 heifers and calves to tend to and 350 cows to milk twice a day taking up three to four hours a go (10-minute milking time per cow) organization and sanitation of the ladies is crucial.
As they are being “escorted” to their pristine clean milking stalls from their freshly groomed and saw-dusted beds the good news is that each day’s milking yields a total of nine gallons of raw milk per cow. These ladies live a noble life — comfortable, clean and happy as a herd. With transportation of fresh milk every other day from the farm Eric explains, “Highly perishable fresh milk has to move quickly.” That means the milk is loaded with nutrition from their family to yours.
With tight control on costs and premium quality milk the Ooms sell wholesale to Agrimark, McAdams, Cabot and Beechers — you wonder how much can they earn and why does the entire family stay in the dairy business — and — is it sustainable?
The answer is simple, even though the job entails long hours and hard work, they do it for you — for your health, the health of your children and the future of this country, which is also why Eric Ooms is vice president of the New York Farm Bureau.
He intimately understands the legislation needed to sustain the business of farming in our own region and nationally dealing with tax assessments, minimum wages and responsible farming practices. “Too many farmers are negative about farming and that it doesn’t make money, but the truth is who makes that much more money in a cubicle in corporate America anyway? I love my job. People have to be happy.”
Luckily for the hardworking Ooms brothers, their entrepreneurial native Dutch parents Adrian and Dinie Ooms emigrated from the Netherlands in 1950 (they met at a square dance in Altamont) and bought a farm in Old Chatham in 1952. They raised their five children on the dairy farm and in the farming business they started.
Living the farm life gave these children a head start and the boys grew up learning the business. “If you can communicate you can do anything,” Eric told me. “My father made a great living on 50 cows with a pasture-raised grass-fed program for five months a year, but feeding 500 grass-fed cows in the northeast is challenging to keep them clean, healthy and fed in the off season, so we raise as many cows as we can handle and it is working well for us now.”
In 1982, Adrian Ooms bought a second farm in Valatie where production runs today with the idea that with four sons — it would be easier to milk cows in two places. Uncle Tony also has a nearby farm he started in 1978 called Oomsdale Farm. Randy Ooms left for northern New York and bought a dairy farm near the Canadian border in Malone where he now milks a herd of 70 cows. One hundred and eighty acres of the original farmland in Old Chatham was donated to land conservation and today Eric, his wife Catherine Joy and their three children live in the same house on the property where he and his brothers were born and raised. His sister Cindy lives next door!
Food is all about relationships and these brothers work amazingly well together given their 24/7 work schedule tending to the rigorous daily routine at the farm. They rotate work schedules on Sundays for family time since they work 100 hours a week each, they grow 80 percent of their own feed for the cows which includes silage (first cut grass from last year that is fermented), grass from the third cutting last year, as well as corn silage (from corn they grow and stalks crushed). They even still buy John Deere tractors from the 1990s so they can fix them onsite in their impressive workshop!
Tim Ooms is the engineer and makes sure all of the CAFO and Comprehensive Nutrient Management Plans are kept up to date. It’s a lot of work but the state requires it and their strategy keeping the farm clean and profitable is working.
Today with 450 cows on the property that produce hundreds of gallons of fresh milk — it’s a kid’s paradise and the way life should be. There are a dozen show calves and one in particular has quite a personality. Alpo, she loves people — but at 1,400 pounds you need to be careful when playing!
At 14 years of age, Emily Ooms (Tim’s daughter) is already active in agriculture — she’s a Dairy Ambassador for Columbia County, member of the Eastern NY Holstein Club, tractor certified from a course at Wil-Rock, participates in Dairy Visions to visit farms, helps Dad milk some Sundays, takes care of the calves all of August to ready and show her “girl” at the Chatham Fair and in 2012 took home first prize as “Grand Champion of Holsteins” at the 4H show with a grand ribbon to prove it! She doesn’t know what she wants to do for work but if she ends up back at the farm in some capacity she will surely be an asset to the team.
Last year eager to visit farms and foster the entrepreneurial spirit to pair with the family business, Emily and her cousin Katelyn Ooms (Ron’s daughter) participated in the Farm Credit and FarmOn! Foundation funded Homegrown Business Challenge summer camp with Cornell Cooperative Extension, Questar III and 4H, and presented a profitable idea for a local farm to a “shark tank” showing off their business acumen and confidence in having an influential role at the farm one day!
Emily told me, “I never drink store bought milk — I always drank raw milk from the farm. I tried store bought once but it didn’t taste good — it tasted watery.” Clearly nutrition is beneficial; Emily is healthy, smart, gorgeous and affable. Eric told me, “The reason people started pasteurizing milk was to make sure it was safe.” That doesn’t mean it is necessary or more nutritious.
Support the Ooms family farm and their hard work by buying the just released first 18-month aged cheddar out now at Beechers Handmade Cheese in the flatiron district in Manhattan or online at BeechersHandmadeCheese.com.
Their formula for aged cheddar is a mix from Holstein cows the Ooms raise and milk from Jersey cows from another farm down the road. Kurt Beecher Dammeier, founder of Beecher’s Handmade Cheese, believes that truly great food starts with local ingredients and adds, “As a cheesemaker, we believe that the quality of the milk has a direct effect on the quality of the cheese, which is why we work only with locally sourced milk from dairy farmers who take great care of their animals consistently providing pure, great tasting milk free of added hormones.”
It’s a simple choice to eat local and opt out of processed food. It takes an extra 60 seconds to think and not even 60 cents more to spend — every meal — but the outcome is delicious goodness, better health and you support economic development in your local community.
It’s a simple choice that I make every single time I eat or drink anything. Knowing your farmer and eating the food he makes is life changing. If you haven’t done so already, meet your farmer and be conscious of your food choices. Your life depends on it. God bless what America used to be — local food production and the Ooms Family dedication to GETürDone! FarmOn!
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