JACKSON CENTER — Martha Thomas knows and loves milk, but is suspicious of the stuff that is sold in the familiar plastic jugs at the local supermarket.
“You have no idea where that milk came from,” Thomas said, of the mass-produced moo juice found in grocery and convenience store coolers across the country. “That stuff may have come from a thousand miles away. There’s just no way to tell.”
As the owner of FreshStart Farm, which sits a few miles northwest of Jackson Center at 18120 Pasco-Montra Road, Thomas has no such problem with the milk she produces and sells. Every drop of milk on FreshStart Farm comes from 40 Jerseys situated several hundred feet outside her front door. And most of it leaves the premises in a fashion that is completely foreign to anyone who isn’t old enough to remember 45-RPM records. Thomas sells her milk in glass bottles and does not homogenize it.
Where the ‘whole’ milk sold in most stores has about three percent butterfat content, FreshStart Farm’s whole milk runs anywhere from four and one-half percent to well over five percent butterfat. Since the FreshStart Farm milk has not been homogenized (a process where the huge butterfat molecules are pulverized so they will mix evenly with the other elements in the milk and not separate), the cream can easily be seen rising to the top of the clear glass bottles.
Thomas, who runs FreshStart Farm with the help of her sons Caleb and Zeb, is a firm believer in the ‘buy locally’ and ‘farm-to-table’ concepts. All of her Jerseys are primarily grass-fed, while any grain used to feed the cows is GMO-free and bought from a farmer – who is a zealous anti-GMO advocate – just down the road. Thomas then cut out the middleman between FreshStart Farm and the consumer by buying the equipment to store, bottle, and sell the milk herself.
“People want to know where their food is coming from,” Thomas said as she was busy filling 50-odd half-gallon glass bottles earlier this week. “They don’t want milk from cows that have been fed GMOs and who knows what else.”
FreshStart Farm sells milk that is just one step from being considered ‘raw milk’, which is milk that is unpasteurized (as well as non-homogenized) and is illegal to sell in Ohio. However, while FreshStart Farm does pasteurize all of the milk it sells out the front door, a significant portion of the milk goes to those who own what is known as a herd share, which allows those shareholders to get their milk in raw form prior to pasteurization. That privilege comes attached to a reel of red tape, as those who want or insist on having raw, untreated, fresh-out-of-the-teat milk have to be clear that they understand what they are getting is in fact raw, untreated, fresh-out-of-the-teat milk.
“They have to sign a paper this long,” Thomas said, holding her hands about two feet apart.
Thomas never considered putting her milk in anything other than glass jugs. Plastic bottles impart a petrochemical aftertaste and are environmentally hostile, while paper cartons are not worth the energy used to produce them. In another throwback move by FreshStart Farm, customers pay a deposit on the milk bottles, then bring them back so the containers may be thoroughly scrubbed, sanitized and used again and again.
Thomas seems to have struck a rich vein in the burgeoning farm-to-table crusade. FreshStart Farm is now supplying its high-fat, non-homogenized milk to the Second Street Market in Dayton, the Olde Thyme Pantry in Lima, and most recently to Wagner’s IGA stores in Minster, New Bremen, and Fort Loramie. She has also started a delivery service twice a week which reaches from Cridersville to Waynesfield. This is in addition to her regular customers who stop by the FreshStart spread to pick up milk, cheese curds or yogurt, all of which traveled less than the length of a football field from the cow to the cooler.
“The only way you’re going to get fresher milk than this is go out and get it from one of the cows yourself,” Thomas joked.
FreshStart Farm’s store hours are from 2 p.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesday through Friday, and from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday. It is closed Mondays. More information and a list of products available are can be found online at www.freshstartfarm.net.
Tom is a contributing writer for the Sidney Daily News. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.