July 13, 2022

Environmentally-Friendly, Regenerative Farming Is Focus of Cherry Grove Dairy Farm and Creamery

FRIENDLY FARMING: “We practice rotational grazing, moving the cows to different pastures daily or every few days,” explains Tish Streeten, education, events, and community outreach director at Cherry Grove Farm. Shown is cow herd manager Anna Reinalda with her charges in one of the Cherry Grove pastures.

By Jean Stratton

Respect for the land, the environment, and the animals has always been the priority of Cherry Grove Farm. Located on Lawrenceville Road (Route 206) in Lawrenceville, the farm has a long history, dating to pre-Revolutionary War days.

In 1987, the three Hamill brothers, Oliver, Sam, and Bill inherited 400-plus acres of undeveloped land in the Lawrenceville/Princeton area. Their ancestors had actually farmed the land at one time, but over the years, the dairy operation was leased to various farmers, and the land suffered under more and more intensive conventional farming techniques, explains Oliver Hamill.

“Land preservation and locally-grown food are family passions, and we decided to create something special — something that would give back to the community while keeping the land healthy and undeveloped for generations to come.”

The Hamills, with their children, were determined to regenerate the land by embracing sustainable farming, using vintage pastoral techniques as a guide. The focus would be artisanal farmstead cheese, and everything done on the farm would support the making of a quality handcrafted product.

Regenerative Farming

“What we are doing here at Cherry Grove is actually more than sustainable or organic,” explains Tish Streeten, education, events, and community outreach director. “It’s what is known as regenerative farming. We are working to restore the ecosystem and create beneficial environmental outcomes for current and future generations. Our goal is to continually increase biodiversity, enrich the soil, and improve ecosystem function which then provides higher yield and greater health and resilience for the soil, the plants, the animals, the people, and the community.

“Everything on the farm is interconnected, inter-related, and works together,” she continues. “We practice rotational grazing, and we do not use any chemical fertilizers, herbicides, or pesticides. We do not use antibiotics, steroids, or growth hormones. This is much healthier for the animals, plants, and people.”

The 120 dairy cows that live at the farm are milked twice a day. They include pure Jersey, with some mixes of Milking Short Horn, Friesian, Holstein, Guernsey, and Normande.

“The cows’ milk reflects the changing grasses and pasture plants season by season,” notes Oliver Hamill, “and you can taste these seasonal shifts in the cheese varietals. We emphasize European-style cheesemaking, focusing on quality, not quantity,”

As part of the farm’s sustainable ecosystem, the farm also raises a mix of chickens, including some heritage breed, a small number of heritage breed pigs, and beef cattle. In addition to providing different colored eggs (favorites of the customers), the chickens furnish another important service, explains Streeten.

“The chickens range over the pastures when the cows have left, to eat any parasites which might adversely affect the cows when they come back to that pasture. Thus, everything and everyone works together to create good health.”

No Waste

Indeed, at Cherry Grove, everything is put to use, and nothing is wasted. As Streeten continues, “We are a dairy and cheesemaking farm. When you make cheese, the milk is separated into curds and whey. Cheese is made from the curds, and the whey is a by-product which is usually discarded. We feed our whey to our heritage breed pigs, which provides them with an excellent source of protein, active beneficial bacteria, and it gives the pork an extra delicious flavor.”

In addition, she continues, “Beef cattle are not our primary focus, but we do keep a small number of beef steer who graze with the dairy herd when they are young. Thus, although we raise cattle and pigs, and they do provide meat for our customers, their main purpose is to provide diversity and to create a healthy, interconnected farm with no waste.”

Honey is also available from the farm’s beehives, as well as from some other local beekeepers. This is an expanding part of the farm’s operation and increasingly popular with customers.

The cheesemaking process is a very precise endeavor, with milk flowing from the cows’ “parlor”/barn into the temperature-controlled creamery, overseen by head cheesemaker Paul Lawler. Award-winning cheeses from raw cows’ milk, including Havilah, Toma, Rarebird, Abruzze Jawn, as well as pasteurized Buttercup Brie, are produced, notes Streeten.

The Farm Store, administered by manager Maddy Weber, is open seven days in the summer from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. This is a very popular stop for customers. Among the items are the farm’s special cheeses, eggs, meats, and honey. In addition, jams, chutney, soups, chili, sauces, and stew, either made from Cherry Grove products or other local producers, and soft drinks, including a particularly delicious lemonade, are all available.

Fall Cow Parade

Cheesemaker and chef Christine Shaw also creates soup, sauces, and pesto from the farm produce and local ingredients, which are sold in the store and at farm markets.

Cherry Grove offers a variety of classes, workshops, and events for children and adults. Streeten organizes workshops and classes in cheesemaking, foraging, herbalism, and more, and events such as First Fridays With Flowers, farm tours, hay rides, birthday parties, the Fall Cow Parade, and farm-to-table dinners.

Bookkeeper and class and event coordinator Helen Cull teaches the cheesemaking class, and oversees much of the farm’s operation.

When people schedule a farm tour or guided pasture walk, they will see the cows up close, perhaps being milked (depending on the time), and if lucky, they may even see baby calves and piglets.

Two goats, Vincent van Goat and Mr. Tumnus, as well as Leda, the sheep, are also on hand to welcome farm visitors. Customers may interact and feed them, but they are only allowed to eat carrots and apples.

A Farm Film Festival may also be held this summer, adds Oliver Hamill. “Last summer, we set up a big screen and had outdoor movies, in conjunction with the Garden Theatre. This was very popular with people, and we hope to try it again.”

Special Place

Students from K-12, college, Boy and Girl Scouts, and 4-H groups, as well as corporate team-building groups, adult community groups, and individuals (adults and kids) all enjoy visiting the farm.

Cherry Grove Farm is unique, and learning about this special place is indeed a pleasure for all ages. It offers an opportunity to understand and experience a way of life that is making a significant difference to the land, to the animals, and ultimately to the people.

Cherry Grove customers include many longtime regulars from all over the Princeton area and beyond, who appreciate the farm and its dedicated staff.

As Streeten points out, “The people I work with at Cherry Grove are very special. We all really care for and believe in what we are doing. We all work well together, doing what we do best (be it cheesemaking, cow herding, sales, education, or events) playing our part in this interwoven farm ecosystem. The people and the community are as much a part of a healthy ecosystem as the soil, plants, and animals.

“I love getting people, especially children, excited about farming and caring for the land and animals. I love showing people how to make cheese, or how to use a certain weed to soothe a bug bite. The more people we can connect to nature and to our food and our food systems, the better our world will be.”

“We are looking forward to engaging even more with our community,” she continues. “It is surprising that many do not know that there is a 400-plus acre diversified dairy farm and farm store just four miles from Palmer Square. We’d love to be a resource for reconnecting our neighbors, from toddlers to elders, to the land and to a source of their food.

“I love being on this beautiful farm where the animals are so well-cared for. Who wouldn’t love coming to this idyllic spot every day?”

For more information, call (609) 219-0053 ( farm store). Website: cherrygrovefarm.com.