Widening the World

Sidehill Farm News

Widening the World

There are definitely times when dairy farming seems like a very small world. It’s those moments when Paul says “I just realized I haven’t left the farm in two and a half weeks,” and you realize that aside from the trip to Shelburne Falls to make the bank deposit last Monday, you haven’t either. It’s when you chat with a customer, and you can’t think of anything to talk about except cows’ reproductive cycles. When the only people who get your jokes are other dairy farmers. Last year, in attempt to halt the contraction of our world, we started to subscribing to the Greenfield Recorder. The idea was to have a perspective-widening source of news in front of our faces every morning, but half the days, the paper blows away, and we don’t see it until our neighbor Melanie finds it in a tree half a mile down the road, four days later. So much for institutionalizing a connection to the outside world. Now it’s true, that this proscribed world is partially a choice - one could organize one’s schedule to go to a dance class once a week, or meet some friends for dinner on occasion. But dairy farming is, by definition, a sharing of your life with cows, and cows are on 24/7. You look away for 10 minutes, and I’ll be darned if those cows haven’t filled in all the blank spaces on your calendar while your back was turned.

So when we received an email from Rigdzin Tarshin earlier in March, we felt a little breeze from the window to the world outside. Rigdzin will graduate from Babson College this May with an MBA. After graduation, he will return to his native Tibet to manage a yak cooperative he helped found. We had met Rigdzin briefly at a Massachusetts Cheese Guild tasting event this past fall, where he told us that our yogurt was his favorite of all the yogurts you could buy in the Boston area. We were very flattered to receive such a compliment from someone from a culture with such an ancient and developed tradition of fermented dairy products. We told him that there was a small Tibetan community near where we lived, and they also really liked our yogurt, and that he should come visit us sometime. But we also met about 2000 other people that day, and by 5 o’clock, we couldn’t remember a single face or name from that day.

But Rigdzin remembered us, and asked if he could come out to the farm and ask questions about how we ran our operation. So on this past Monday, Rigdzin arrived in Hawley with his friends Tsering Chostso, and Kunchok Gelek. Kunchok lives in Amherst with his wife, who is a PhD candidate at UMass. Tsering is visiting from Tibet, and is headed back there soon. The three of them, aside from speaking excellent English, had excellent, thoughtful questions on a level we don’t often get to explore with most visitors. They wanted to know the details of how piping systems worked, and the costs of specific machinery. Questions about marketing and labor efficiency and what were the mistakes that we made in the beginning. When he returns to Tibet, Rigdzin will be working with nomadic yak herders, establishing a processing facility and markets for value-added products  made from their milk. We talked through ideas for quality control, for incentive systems, for packaging. He described the challenges he will face in working with herders who milk by hand, sometimes out in the field, with animals that only produce milk seasonally. And because yaks are hairy, and Tibet is dusty, our milking pipeline, where the milk moves through an enclosed system of stainless steel pipes from the time it leaves the cow, had Rigdzin and Kunchok excitedly discussing the possibilities of a sanitary system, At the same time, Tsering and Paul were sketching out the workings of a vat pasteurizer, and modelling milk production predictions through lactation curves.

The five of us spent nearly two hours together talking not only business, but talking about why we do what we do. When it came time for them to leave, we felt we had made a strong connection with three kindred souls - good-hearted people who want to use their skills and education to make life better for their communities. Paul joked that we would be willing to come to Tibet to do some consulting on Rigdzin’s project. There was a heartbeat, in which we realized that impossible as it may sound, we would really love to do that. And in that same heartbeat, Rigdzin, Tsering, and Kunchok’s eyes lit up at the same possibility. 

So best of luck and all blessings to Rigdzin, Tsering, and Kunchok. Even if we never get a chance to visit Tibet, you have fired our imaginations, widened our world, and reinforced the truth that there are good and kind people everywhere. Thank you for that. 

And cows of Sidehill Farm, be ready for a short notice on vacation.