In this week's installment of First-Person Shooter, we gave two disposable cameras to Margot Brooks, a dairy farmer who specializes in producing, cheese, beef, veal, and raw milk on her farm Sugar House Creamery in Upper Jay, New York. As a fifth-generation dairy farmer who grew up on a 900 acre farm with 100 cows, Margot now runs a smaller operation with only 12 cows in order to make more premium and organic products.
On top of shooting photos of milking the cows and taking them out to the field to graze, Margot also captured a few exposures of hooping cheese curd into cheese molds and artificially inseminating a cow. She finished off her day by stockpiling bales of hay and feed in the barn, updating her breeding calendar to make sure her cows will continue producing milk for the coming year, and giving VICE a tour of her farm store where she sells raw milk. Here's what else she told us about the day when she snapped the following pics.
VICE: What was your day like?
Margot Brooks: I got up at 5:30 for coffee and was in the barn by 6 AM to start the sanitizer cycle on the milking equipment. We brought the cows into the barn from the pasture and fed them. Milking ensued, a process that takes about an hour. During this time, we observe the cows for signs of heat or any physical injury that needs tending to. Then I artificially bred a cow that was in heat, and tended to a leg wound. After milking, the cows were taken back out to pasture, a long trek down the driveway and across the main road.
I snagged a quick breakfast then bottled milk for the farm store. Casey made a batch of cheese, and I stepped into the creamery to help her "hoop" (quickly pitcher all the curd from the cheese vat into the cheese molds). Our friend Tyler, from Blue Pepper Farm, dropped by before the milking to help us stockpile a couple loads of hay. Then at 4:30 PM, we began the milking process again. By 7 PM we were done working for the day, and headed inside for beer and dinner.
How did you get into dairy farming professionally?
I grew up on my family's fifth-generation dairy farm in central New York. As a kid, I loved helping my dad with chores; feeding calves, cleaning up after milking, doing night checks on cows about to calve, putting in hay, ripping around on a four-wheeler. I also kept my own little herd of goats. It was a pretty magical way to grow up. I went off to college and filled my head with ideals about how humans should be living on this planet, and by my senior year, I realized that farming was a great way to practice those ideals while also producing something real and extremely necessary: food.
I noticed a big calendar. What's that for?
It's a breeding calendar. On it, we record freshening dates (when each cow has her calf) and observed heats. A big part of dairy farming is ensuring your future milk supply by getting your cows bred. A cow must have a calf in order to produce milk—something many people don't realize. We don't keep a bull. Instead, I breed our cows through artificial insemination using frozen semen that we keep stored in a liquid nitrogen tank.
Isn't raw milk illegal? How are you still able to sell it?
Raw milk laws vary from state to state. In some states it is illegal to sell raw milk for human consumption, but not in New York. You can become licensed to sell it, and you can do so only on the farm, meaning we cannot take it to a farmer's market or sell it in a store or to a restaurant.
How can someone visit your farm or buy some raw milk from your store?
Our farm store is open Wednesday, Saturday, and Sunday from 10 to 6. You can also book a stay at our farm through our website.