People are willing to pay a premium for Todd Fliehman’s fresh milk, but the owner of Swallow Hill Jersey Dairy farm says it’s not enough to sustain the business.
Customers who stop by the “Milk Shed” at Fliehman’s farm on Corry Road near Bowersville in Greene County are seeing a letter taped to the cooler. Fliehman said he plans to end operations next month.
“Backed in the corner by continuous low milk prices and equipment breakdowns, Swallow Hill Jersey Dairy has come to the end of its season,” Fliehman’s letter reads. “Though the decision was heart wrenching, we will be processing through the month of December and selling out in January.”
Fliehman produces approximately 315 gallons of white milk and about 70 gallons of chocolate milk every week. In addition to the “Milk Shed,” Fliehman supplies cheesemakers and coffee shops with his product: a slow-pasteurized, non-homogenized milk from Jersey cows. The bovines are fed on non-GMO feed and do not get added hormones to increase milk production.
Fliehman and his father Larry do all the work, including delivering the milk to a food cooperative in Cincinnati and to several other communities.
Fleihman said he can’t afford to hire help and still pay the loan off for the pasteurization and bottling equipment.
Fliehman has been in the milk business since 1992 after he graduated high school. He started his dream of bottling and selling directly to customers out of the Milk Shed in 2014. Hearing from disappointed customers is making his decision to quit even harder, Fliehman said.
“Really there aren’t other dairies around that does this on a farm,” he said. “I don’t know what to tell people when they ask me ‘where can we buy milk like this?’”
Low milk prices are forcing many small and medium sized farms to close.
According to a May 13 Dayton Daily News article, Ohio has 33 percent fewer dairy farms than it did a decade ago. During that time, milk prices have dropped from $23.16 per 100 pounds in 2014 to $14.43 in April, according to the article.
Chris Moyer, a farmer in Wilmington, stopped by the Milk Shed with his family on Christmas Eve to get two half-gallons of chocolate milk. Moyer described the milk as so good “it’s almost like dessert.”
“It’s neat the milk comes right off the farm and it’s right here,” Moyer said. “I don’t know what the difference is, but you go to Kroger and buy milk or Costco and it tastes nothing like the milk here.”
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Moyer said it’s sad to see a small farm go out of business, but it’s not surprising as small operations must compete with the large industrial farms that keep food costs down.
“This will never come back,” he said. “It will be something you tell your kids about some day, like our grandparents have told us about different things.”
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