Growing a Community Through Love for the Brown Swiss Cow
Story and photos by Leslie Lynn Lucio
On any given day by 10am, Laurie Cuevas and Bruce Jenks have already put in about six hours of work on their micro-dairy at 102 Mill Valley Road in Hadley. The two work day in and day out to provide the highest-quality fresh, raw milk for a community they are deeply invested in.
“Laurie and I are a two-person army who use up every minute of every day,” says Bruce. There is constant work to do at Mill Valley Milk Company and farm store, but their passion for farming and the time they get to spend with their beautiful, giant Brown Swiss cows keeps them loving every moment of it.
Both Laurie and Bruce grew up on dairy farms. Bruce says the experience made him who he is today. “I developed a love of the land and a respect for animals; it became ingrained in every fiber of who I am.” Laurie agrees. She developed a strong work ethic from her parents, whom she refers to as the hardest working people she has ever known. Laurie grew up with the plan to follow her parents’ path. Then, when she was 16, milk prices were so low that her parents couldn’t make ends meet and lost the farm. This event in her family’s life made her choose a different path, the polar opposite to farming.
“I worked for a global plastics company in marketing and sales,” she recalls. “Problem was, every single day I would wake up and put my corporate girl costume on and look at myself and think, ‘Yup, you’re still a farmer.’” After 20 years in that white-collar world, she decided to go back to farming.
Mill Valley Milk is the latest addition to Laurie and Bruce’s dairy offerings. They began with Maple Valley Creamery, making ice cream using fresh, rBGH-hormone-free milk from other small, local dairy farms in the Pioneer Valley. Until recently, you could only find Maple Valley ice cream in local markets (and you still can), but this year Laurie and Bruce opened up the Hadley Scoop Shop on Route 9 in Hadley, where you can try all their flavors.
While running Maple Valley Creamery, Laurie and Bruce got involved in their local 4-H club. Both grew up as members of 4-H, something that was very rewarding for them in their own youth. “The Massachusetts 4-H dairy program is full of learning opportunities and we embraced them as much as we could. There are dairy shows where the kids groom and prepare their animals for breed conformation competitions, as well as judging clinics where they learn what makes a quality dairy cow,” says Laurie. They learn about nutrition, genetics, teamwork, dedication, and sportsmanship.
Watching the 4-H’ers shine as they learn has been a big reward to them. “Early on, the kids learns that they are ambassadors for the dairy industry. They represent our future. I always told them, ‘You don’t have to grow up to be a farmer, but it’s important you understand where your food comes from and what it’s like to put in an honest day of work,’” says Laurie.
It was the Brown Swiss cows that Laurie and Bruce kept for the 4-H that led them to Mill Valley Milk. The 4-H calves matured into heifers that eventually became cows to milk. For a while, they kept or gave away the milk to other farmers. With a herd that kept growing, and more milk to give away, they had to decide what to do with what they considered their expensive pets. Laurie and Bruce became very attached to each calf in their care and considered selling some of their Brown Swiss, but couldn’t bear to part with them.
“They were a part of our family and we knew no one could love them the way we do. We had to find a way to keep them and let them earn their keep,” says Laurie. It was then they decided to work towards running their small dairy farm and farm store.
Being able to keep their family of cows has been fulfilling to Laurie and Bruce. They’ve also been grateful for those who have helped them along the way. With the support of their families, and friends like Terri and Gordon Smith of Fort River Farm in Hadley, both Maple Valley Creamery and Mill Valley Milk Company have grown and thrived. The Smiths have been instrumental in the operation, hosting the 4-H animals in their beautiful barn and leasing Laurie and Bruce the space for Mill Valley Milk and their farm store. With the help of a farm viability grant, community support, and everything they could stash away from ice cream sales, Laurie and Bruce renovated the barn and built the store, transforming the Smiths’ farm back into the working dairy it had been 50 years prior.
Laurie and Bruce know that their customers make a conscious decision to come to them and they take that seriously. In turn, they give the best they can to support both their cows and their neighbors, stocking the store with locally sourced products including cheese, honey, butter, yogurt, free-range eggs, maple products, and fudge alongside their own raw milk.
But it all comes down to their love of those Brown Swiss cows. Working everyday with the sweet dairy cows has been a joy for them.
“We can manage our small herd in the most humane way possible, and we feel we owe it to our girls to give them a good life,” says Bruce. It’s a common sight on Mill Valley road to see these gentle giants grazing on the Hadley grass, and both Bruce and Laurie always welcome people to come meet them.