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25 Rte 10 Piermont, NH 03779
Robie Farm, Piermont, NH
As with most farm families, the kitchen is where the action is. One winter morning at the Robie Farm, as members of the family completed their first-of-the-morning chores, each came in to fix breakfast. Freeman, the eldest son of Betty Sue and Lee, after completing what he called his “grunt work,” set two Robie farm-fresh eggs spattering in the fry pan. Mother, Betty Sue who tends to be more exacting when it comes to describing the family’s farm responsibilities, quickly put things in a more precise perspective by saying that Freeman does the “everyday outdoor and crop work that is required to keep a farm going.” She went on to offer that Freeman is also the family historian and continues to research the previous six generations of the family – a seventh generation had just been born. Back in the 1800s the Robies farmed in Corinth but the because the land along the Connecticut River had rich soil, the family picked up stakes and moved to Piermont where they are to this day.
A second son, Mark, who tends to the cheese making, had been up since dawn milking the cows and rotating his cheeses; he came in for his quick breakfast fix, putting his arm around his mother as he entered. She had saved him some of last night’s chili for his omelet. Next rolls in Nathan, not a blood son but very much a part of the family, “our adopted boy,” she calls him. Nathan had met Mark at a YWAM (Youth With A Mission) School in Texas and joined the family farm six years ago. Nathan makes ice cream, separates cream, manages the farm store, makes deliveries, works the farmers’ markets and does much of the bottling. He even occasionally makes cheese. Finally, Lee, actual name Lyman and the current patriarch, hobbles in on crutches. Lyman is the family name that alternates with Freeman for each generation’s first son but “Our favorite Aunt Bea did not like the name Lyman so she called him Lee,” says Betty Sue, explaining the family’s break from tradition.
Having had one knee replacement in 2003, Lee decided to tackle the other knee so that he might attack his own chores with his old unfettered vigor. And so begins the day for a closely knit New Hampshire farm family, which like so many other dairy families, is struggling to make ends meet in a rotten economy.
Actually, farming was not Lee’s first challenge. He had met and married Betty Sue in July of 1970 and after receiving his Masters from Springfield College in 1976, he became Parks and Recreation director for the town of Jaffrey, New Hampshire.
Seven years later, Betty Sue and Lee decided that they wanted to raise their sons on a farm as they both had been raised, so they returned to Piermont, as Betty Sue says, “to give our sons a life.” They rented a farm near Lee’s parents’ homestead and began farming.
The year 1976 was a year of disaster for the senior Robies; a ventilation fan froze in their three-story barn causing the barn to burn down. Over 50 cows died and “as the couple were getting older, they lost interest in the farm after that” said Betty Sue “so we began working their land after we came back to farm.”
In 1987 with the advice of University of New Hampshire Co-operative Extension dairy expert, John Porter, Betty Sue and Lee rebuilt the devastated barn, but rather than relying on the traditional fans to keep the air moving, the Robies were inspired to establish an “open ventilation” system where windows open and shut by thermostatic control, thus fans were a thing of the past. So effective was the system, in fact, the design was later copied by the University of New Hampshire for their dairy barns.
Today, the Robies raise their herd of cows without growth hormones and sell young Holstein antibiotic free beef finished with three months of cornmeal to assure well marbled meat so near and dear to lovers of good steaks. As for their milking cows, they milk around 50 of them at any one time. They also raise pigs fed from the whey of Mark’s cheese making process.
The Robies sell raw milk in stores as well as at their farm store. Citing recent studies showing that raw milk leads to fewer allergies and health problems than pasteurized milk, Betty Sue offers herself up as proof of the theory, saying she is lactose intolerant but has not so much as a hint of a side effects from raw milk. For those folks concerned about the sanitation hazards of unpasteurized milk, the Robies assure them that the need for pasteurization has become minimized with the use of modern milking techniques and clean barns. With the careful washing and sanitizing of stainless steel equipment, risk of contamination is greatly reduced. The farm is fully licensed by the state of New Hampshire as a raw milk producer and distributor. To be sure, anyone interested in buying raw milk, knowing the methods used to produce it is important.
Mark uses only his farm’s raw milk to make his cheese assuring that it can honestly be classified as a farmstead cheese. Fresh cheese is not an option for Robie Farm as federal law requires raw milk cheeses to age a minimum of 60 days. To quote cheesemaker Mark Robie, “cheesemaking was one of the paths we have chosen toward our economic freedom from the seemingly arbitrary federal pricing structure for fluid milk.” Success he feels will come from adding value to their raw milk and direct marketing to the consumer. The farm produces five different styles of cheeses, ranging in body from hard to semi-soft. Piermont is a semi-soft tomme, toma and Gruyere are of the alpine family, Swaledale is a cloth bound cheddar type cheese and Manch-vegas is what the farm calls a “Yankee-friendly, cow-milk version of the Spanish cheese Manchego.”
Their well-stocked farm store is located in the space under the farmhouse that was once used to store working tractors. For customers, an antique register rings up payment on the honor system. The store is stocked not only with their own cheeses, eggs, meats, milk, and baked goods but with products from nearby farms as well. When queried about the store’s hours, Betty Sue replied, “from when we get up in the morning to when we go to bed in the evening.”
Robie Farm’s newest experiment in adding value to their milk is to make yogurt. The customers enjoy being a part of taste testing. “Everyone loves our first efforts of plain and maple, made from real New Hampshire maple syrup and once Mark gets a uniform consistency with each batch, we will market it as another Robie Farm high quality product,” says Betty Sue.
Lee and Betty Sue Robie
25 Rte 10
Piermont, NH 03779-03200
http://www.robiefarm.com/find-us.html for Robie Farm products in restaurants and stores. Also ask about mail order.
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