Small-Scale Pasteurizer Could Help Milk Sales

Front Page / Apr. 15, 2010 11:49am EDT

By Stephen Morris

Steven Judge of Royalton has some strong opinions on why all the news about the dairy business seems to be bad. His views are so strong and non-traditional that even he admits “If you speak to someone in the commercial dairy industry–such as co-op managers, processors, or manufacturers–they will tell you that I am nuts.”

The other subject about which he is passionate is the unlimited potential of his latest venture, Bob-White Systems, founded in 2006.

“Bob-White offers the service and consulting necessary for customers to bring their own milk to market,” says Judge. At present there is nothing in-between the on-farm sale of raw milk and entering the mainstream processing of industrial milk production.

“Our goal is to help farmstead and homestead farmers generate a business opportunity in their local communities. Soon farmers’ markets, country stores, and restaurants will have the opportunity to offer local milk along with eggs, produce, meats, and other Vermont products.”

The company exists to serve farms like the one Judge runs in Royalton where he maintains a four-cow “herd” of Jerseys on a small hillside farm. In addition to his barn, Judge has a small R&D facility where he and his partners are developing a pasteurizer geared to work on a farm of this scale. They currently have patent-pending protection on their invention and prototypes in operation.

“For the small farmer it has been like trying to build a rowboat using battleship parts” says Judge. The dairy business is so consolidated and industrialized that “there’s no equipment designed for the small dairy. The pasteurization equipment available is expensive and very difficult to support with only a few cows.

“This is one reason why the local, micro-dairy milk produced in Vermont is raw, non-pasteurized milk,” Judge explains. “For small farms to pasteurize their milk, it must be picked up by tanker trucks and shipped to large milk processing facilities—there is only one in Vermont—where the milk is mixed with fluid from many other farms.”

The mixing makes it impossible to say where the pasteurized milk actually comes from. It also takes away the Vermont cachet that has proved a valuable branding element to many other companies. Ironically, large companies such as Ben & Jerry’s and Cabot Cheese that trade heavily on their Vermont identity are not made with exclusively Vermont milk.

Judge and his associates aim to change all that, not only for this state but for communities everywhere that have been cut off from the source of their food.

Bob-White Systems is trying to fill the void that industry consolidation and factory farming have left in their wakes.

“We are dedicated to the sourcing and development of equipment and technology that will allow small scale dairy farmers to supply their neighborhoods with fresh artisan and premium dairy products produced and processed right on the farms. No trucks, no middlemen and no commodity prices,” says Judge.

Judge applauds the growing popularity of raw milk, which can only be sold on the farm where it is created, but says that not everyone is willing to take the risks associated with a completely untreated product. He will be offering what he describes as a “reasonable choice,” a product that has been minimally pasteurized using a low-impact process in which the milk is heated to 160 degrees for just a few seconds.

This kills harmful bacteria, claims Judge, making the product safer with a longer shelf-life than raw milk, but retains the freshness and full-flavor that are available from farm-fresh product.

As for economics, his four-cow dairy can handle the needs of 60 consumers, and most of the product would be sold directly to consumers, putting the mark-ups of distributors, marketers, and retailers into the farmer’s pocket.

Some would argue that a farm of this scale is not a farm, but rather a hobby. This is true, Judge admits, in that no one could base their entire livelihood on an operation of this scale. The advantage is that it can be managed without hiring outside labor.

In contrast, the economics of a 15-cow dairy “don’t work,” says Judge flatly.

Bob-White Systems is Judge’s “day job.” Until their small-scale pasteurizer is on the market, the company’s revenue stream consists mostly of selling hard-to-find equipment to other micro-dairies.

In addition to their website, the company has pages on Facebook and Twitter that you can find by searching for FarmsteadDairy.

Their logo (a bird in flight, within a circle) is vaguely evocative of something that is elusive until Judge explains the origin of the company name: “We’re the John Deere of the farmstead dairy industry,” he says with a grin. John Deere ... Bob White ... “Nothing Runs like a Deere” ... maybe nothing flies like a bobwhite?

Steve Judge may be (by his own description) “nuts,” but that’s a word that has been used historically to describe a lot of entrepreneurs, too.

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