Ardith Mae Farmstead Goat Cheese
One of the things we love about Columbia County is how many farmers and producers are able to operate and thrive here. One of those is Ardith Mae Farmstead Goat Cheese, located in Stuyvesant, NY. In the past, our Farm has sold milk to Ardith Mae for a mixed milk cheese, and our current creamery operations manager is a good friend of the farm. We recently spoke with owner Shereen to learn more about her story and goat farming.
Can you tell me a little bit about how Ardith Mae was started?
I was living in New York City and when I started shopping at the Union Square Greenmarket, it became a really important part of my life, and I got into canning and preserving. After a couple of years in the city, I was ready for something different, and I found a 10 month internship at a goat farm in northern Vermont. After the internship, I started my own farm in Pennsylvania and began selling at the very same farmer’s markets in NYC that introduced me to farming. I grew up in Southern California, and my mom was very into holistic practices. I started following similar practices in caring for my dogs and my goats, and soon became an Animal Welfare Approved farm. Northeast Pennsylvania is not the greatest place for farming. There’s a lot of rocky soil and not many holistic farms in that area. The majority of the farms at the city market I attended were from Columbia County so I’d had my eye on it. After about seven years in PA, the Columbia Land Conservancy was able to match me up with a farmer who I actually knew from the Greenmarket who had acreage to lease. So I moved the herd up here, leased the acreage, and improved the buildings. Right now, I am looking to move the farm in order to expand.
What’s your mission?
We’ve been Animal Welfare Approved for 10 years, and we really want animals to be animals and not push them for production. We have an every other year breeding cycle so that we don’t burn our girls out, and because of that have a 10 year production cycle.
Also, my farm isn’t just about profit, I want to provide a place that my employees like to work, and at a living wage, and I want to help other farms. I’ve seen farmers struggle because they don’t have the value-adding capacity or need storage, and we really need to add value to our product to survive. I want to be able to give back to the community that’s given me so much, and at the same time allow my animals to have as carefree of a life as possible.
If someone could only try two of your products, which two would you give them?
Definitely the fresh chèvre. Ours is different than others. It’s very spreadable and light, not dry like others tend to be. The other one would be our Mammuth. It’s a lactic set Camembert that we allow to set for 12 hours at a lower temperature so that the flavors can really develop. It’s delicate and well-balanced with a little bit of salty, sweet, and acidic notes. I think those two really set us apart from other cheese makers.
For those who aren’t very familiar with goat farming, is it considered part of the dairy industry?
Yes, it is part of the dairy industry, and it’s becoming more popular actually. The clientele is really funny about anything with mixed milk. I thought people would like that option, but they really go for the goat milk-only products. I have to get creative with flavors to get them excited about mixed milk products. But there are more and more goat farms popping up in the Hudson Valley. It is a more expensive product because it is more expensive to produce. Goats have lower yields and fat content than cows. I recently received a grant from Hudson Valley Economic Development to purchase a refrigerated truck to bring cheese to the city. Before this, Grazin’ was hauling my cheese for me, which was such a great partnership that really helped me out and saved me money over the years. Now, though, we are getting our own truck, and my goal is to haul for other farms as well. You know, usually we’re all driving to the market and passing each other at 5 in the morning, and it just makes sense to work together to bring more fluid milk, cheese, and other local products to the market. The truck will have the capacity for product from three farms including my own.
What do you see as the biggest challenge is for local agriculture and producers right now, and what is the benefit to consumers to purchase locally?
It’s hard to make money farming, especially as a small or family-owned farm. You have to find the time to do everything and to find the right team who is capable and believes in what you’re doing. It’s an around the clock job. I’ve worked seven days a week since January to meet the need. It’s hard to find time for the self-care that we all need to keep going. I think I glamorized what running a farm really involved before I got into it. It’s not just caring for the animals or making product, and not having an administrative or marketing background has been a challenge. Learning to run a business, and a farm business specifically, is an incredible challenge. It’s harder than farming itself. My operations manager Lindsay came on board when the pandemic hit because she was in need of work, and I needed extra help. Her background as a photojournalist and photo producer, both jobs being logistics, marketing, and business administration heavy, has been such a perfect fit and definitely changed our business structure. You don’t realize when you’re doing the work of running the farm every day how much money you’re losing sometimes. So having the right people who believe in what you’re doing and are passionate about it is a definite challenge. It’s taken me 14 years to get there.
But we still continue grow and find our work really meaningful—more so now that ever. That’s something I think a lot of us in the farmer community are realizing right now. There are so many silver linings in the way the farming community is coming together during this pandemic to help keep everyone in business. It’s sweet to be a part of it and to make quality food for people and see more and more people recognizing the value.