#Farmlove – How Sweet it is at Sweet Rowen Farmstead
Back before Paul Lisai established his own milking herd and creamery, he worked for several farms in Vermont—and even New Zealand—learning the ropes of the dairy business. Along with all the practical knowledge he gleaned, Paul also landed on a name for his eventual business. “The old farmers would say, ‘Go get a bale of rowen for the calves,’” he explains, referring to the second cut of sweeter, finer hay that grows in after the first haying of the season.
Paul’s Sweet Rowen (say row like cow) Farmstead began with eight cows in 2011 a few years after he graduated from college with an agro-forestry degree. He grew up in Vermont but not in farming. It was during college in the part of the state known as the Northeast Kingdom, that he decided a small dairy operation could meet his goals for making a sustainable, regenerative living from the land.
“Dairy is the most vibrant agriculture community in Vermont,” Paul explains. “It’s a lot of work but cows give milk every day and you can make a living 365 days a year. It goes back to community and tradition and a constant connection to the land.”
Now firmly established on its own 160 acres in West Glover, Vermont, Sweet Rowen has a herd of 30 distinctive Vermont Heritage Linebacks, a landrace cross that Paul carefully developed based on a breed with historic connections to the northeast corner of the state. He has also cultivated his line of animals to optimize their closely managed, pasture-based diet of fresh grass and hay. Paul’s mission with his operation overall is to sequester as much carbon as possible in his land with no plowing or tilling.
A co-op member from Sweet Rowen’s inception, Paul is hugely appreciative of the flexible support he has received from the co-op. His value-added dairy products, including cream-top whole milk and fresh and aged cheeses, is now sold as far away as New York City and Portland, Maine. Creamy fresh farmer’s cheeses are flavored with herbs, garlic and tomato, even nettles. Ripened cheeses include Storm, a buttery, bloomy rind similar to brie or camembert; Mountain Ash, which is dusted with fine ash for a whisper of smoky flavor; and Solstice, a firmer, tomme-style cheese lightly washed with a byproduct of locally made Eden Ice Cider.
Including Paul, Sweet Rowen now employs three people full-time and two part-time. The team uses a significant portion of the milk produced by the herd in its own creamery, but Paul still sees great value in co-op membership. “I really like being involved with the co-op,” he says. “There’s a real community aspect of it and I have a lot of pride in the Cabot brand—as much as my own brand.”
The work is constant and vacations basically nonexistent, but Paul points out, “I’m living in a place I want to live and after chores I can take a couple hours a few times a week to cross-country ski or canoe.”
There are other rewards, too, the young farmer adds. “There’s one story I think of a lot,” he recounts. “A neighbor who I wouldn’t expect to have the money to spend extra on food told me, ‘We buy your milk and we really enjoy it.’ That they make it a priority to buy it when it costs quite a bit more and make it a point to tell me how good it is, that’s something that keeps you going.”