Under Virginia law, it’s illegal to sell unpasteurized milk, but nearly two decades ago, a local farmer found a way around that.
The Hedgebrook Farm in Winchester offers herd sharing program, which they call “cow boarding”. While selling unpasteurized, or raw, milk is illegal, it’s completely legal to drink the milk if you own the cow. So the customers can buy ‘shares’ of the herd and board them at the farm, where the farmers care for them.
But the farm’s owner, Kitty Hockman-Nicholas, says it all started as an accident.
“A friend of mine had friends and they wanted to have raw milk, so they bought two beautiful Jerseys from us and took them to his place,” Hockman-Nicholas said. “He was to milk, and he called me that night while I was eating dinner and said, ‘Kitty, you gotta come and get these cows. I cannot milk these cows.’ And I said, ‘Okay.’ And that’s how the program got started.”
Hockman-Nicholas says her farm was the first in the Commonwealth to offer herd sharing.
“We set the precedent,” she said. “I like being the first at things.”
In the years since they began, the farm has increased their shareholders. Shareholders have the option of picking up the milk at the farm, pick it up from a farmers market in Winchester, or have it delivered. Hockman-Nicholas says more and more, people are concerned about what they’re putting into their bodies.
“People need to be thinking about what they’re eating,” she said. “It’s either pay now or pay later. Because your body, there’s only one of them.”
Raw doesn’t mean unregulated. Hockman-Nicholas says inspectors check out the farm regularly and it’s animal welfare approved.
The Hedgebrook Farm cattle are grass-fed and spend most of the year outdoors, and Hockman-Nicholas says they get plenty of TLC. Together, she says it makes for happy cows, which make better milk.
And her shareholders agree.
Riccardo Stocco, the co-owner and chef of Violino Ristorante Italiano in Winchester, says he doesn’t serve the milk in his restaurant because of the regulations around it, but he chooses to serve it to his family.
“It tastes better, like drinking fresh water and distilled water, or,” he said. “Eating a piece of fruit ripened on a tree and eating a piece of fruit ripening on a truck on the way to the grocery store. Totally different taste. Much sweeter, much better.”
To find out more about purchasing shares of the herd, you can visit Hedgebrook Farm’s website.