Dharma Lea, LLC one of the Savory Institute’s accredited hubs, in Sharon Springs NY, USA is in the midst of some exciting new developments. The grassroots efforts of Phyllis and Paul Van Amburgh that began years ago are bringing much needed disruption to the dairy industry and farming in their region –with ripple effects across the USA and perhaps farther.
Phyllis and Paul turned their modest 70 cow organic dairy to a 100% grassfed dairy operation in 2008, and in 2010 they were the first to join the Joseph/Meck family in supplying milk to their newly formed Maple Hill Creamery (MHC) yogurt company. It was in this beginning -developing the 100% grassfed production model and providing learning opportunities within it for their neighboring dairy farmers -that formed the basis for an affiliation with the Savory Institute. Today those early pasture walks have grown to become a myriad of support for MHC’s milkshed, and gathered the attention and support of a host of regional players.
The mission, beginning in 2008 with seminars and pasture walks to provide resources and training to local producers, has been to increase the number of capable practitioners. The Hub is committed to reaching people who earn their living farming.
Over the last year and a half Paul and Phyllis wrote a series of articles for Graze magazine about 100% grassfed dairy production, all of which were heavily based on Savory Holistic Management and incorporated its wisdom. In as much time there has been overwhelming excitement about 100% grassfed dairy and the effects of its success have flowed over organic dairy markets, with price increases happening to counter the disruption caused by Maple Hill Creamery’s growing market for Organic 100% grassfed milk. Interest in 100% grassfed dairy production and its promise of superior outcomes have captured the attention of Danone the world’s largest yogurt company. They have partnered with MHC to launch Stonyfield’s (Danone subsidiary) 100% grassfed yogurt, hosting Phyllis and Paul to present their Savory HM based production model to staff.
Interaction with the farmers of the MHC milkshed continues to be the centerpoint of dharma Lea’s efforts. MHC is committed to Savory Institute Holistic Management practice as the basis for providing advancement in its business and production support, and the Hub is held close by the Creamery, sharing values and methodology. Paul is employed by the Creamery as “Chief Grazing Officer” to manage and gather milk supply. This year he is joined at MHC by Ashley Pierce, another of our dharma Lea Hub members. Ashley will be traveling to Zimbabwe this June to complete the Savory Institutes Hub Leadership training. Phyllis, the founder and director of the Hub, is contracted by MHC to provide direct consultation and training and support to all MHC farmers, currently sixty two 100% grassfed, and twenty six organic, farms.
Phyllis and Paul have presented concepts of Holistic Management at the first annual MHC meeting, and have been invited back for the third, this fall. They have conducted two Holistic Planned Grazing introductory workshops, presenting to over 50 farmers. In 2015, as the Hub’s demonstration site, dharma Lea hosted dozens of MHC visitors including investors, distributors, and, staff. The success from our implementation of Savory Holistic Management at the demonstration site is impressive. Many of last year’s visitors will return again this year, with many others, to see our work for themselves.
Also this year, 2016, the Hub is extremely excited about a partnership with MHC that will bring transparency and a closer connection of its farmers to its customers. MHC has contracted the Hub to develop a comprehensive support and incentive program that will enhance the adoption of Savory Holistic Management by its farmers and staff. The program will aim to assess and monitor metrics that are indicative of production techniques and practices that are regenerative to the landscape, improve the farmers’ wellbeing, and promote the health and wellbeing of the cows. By providing a price incentive to farmers, consumer dollars will flow back to the farmers to support superior production practices.
With the continued efforts of the Savory Hub and MHC the dairy farmers of the Northeast region are likely to continue to be the cutting edge of advancement in regenerative outcomes. Their success will become an example and model for the implementation of truly sound farming practices rooted in Savory Holistic Management, and will lead the way for empowering consumers to support their farmers in doing so.
And the Hub is growing. Because of the impact of the work dharma Lea has done to date, it has attracted some great new people and projects for the future. The Van Amburgh’s oldest daughter, Grace, 15, is ready for hands-on involvement and will travel with Ashley Pierce to the hub training in Zimbabwe. They will be joined by Denise Kelly, also on her way for hub leadership training in Zimbabwe this month. Denise is a member of the Village of Sharon Springs board, and an active member of the community, and she is generating interest in the local government, with hopes of bringing collaboration with the Hub. These three new members will be assisting in the management, organization, and coordination of Hub activities.
In 2017, dharma Lea will cosponsor and host the Grassfed Exchange annual conference. The hub demonstration site will be a stop for attendees. It is sure to be a highlight!