This article was written by Jo Sleigh in the June 2012 issue of Country Life in BC Vol. 98 No. 6
Heritage farm evolves to keep up with the Future
Hard work and long days are a part of regular life for Glenn and Marianne Smith and their sons, Gregg and Brad (the fifth generation) of Milner Valley Cheese.
A 50 acre heritage farm located on Smith Crescent in Langley with a recently evolved dairy goat and milking operation, a cheese making plant and cheese shop augmented by sales of meat kids and lambs, they are very proud of the fact everything sold on the farm has been reared and produced there.
A tour of the farm by over 30 Lower Mainland Sheep Producers Association members in early May showed the well set up, very clean and recently constructed barn with the 55 goats they had milked that evening eating from simple buy efficiently designed feeders. Over the previous three days, they had averaged 3.3 litres per head, per day.
Their main breed is Saanen, known as the Holstein of the goat world because of its high production. They also have a few Alpines and Nubians, which have a higher protein and fat content, although producing a lesser volume of milk than the Saanens.
Goats were the obvious choice for them.
“We had already had goats for a long time,” Glenn told the group. Goats milk for about ten months a year versus a sheep for five to six months. We milk the goats on a seasonal basis and dry them all up between December and March when kidding (and thus milking) begins again.”
Close by was the milking parlour with easy access to the milk tank and isolated cheese making and cheese storage rooms.
A few steps away from that was the cheese shop where Marianne offered us samples of their unique and delicious cheeses: different varieties of Chèvre, Colby, Milner Jack, Feta, Caerphilly and an aged goat cheese and cheese curds.
“Absolute cleanliness is required for cheese making,” Glenn stressed. “The area has to be kept under very sanitary conditions. In addition to personal cleanliness, special footwear, hair nets and processing clothes have to be put on, and a walk taken through two foot baths before entering the cheese making plants and storage rooms.”
150 years of evolution
This is a farm which has evolved considerably over the last 150 years as economic conditions, technology and trends dictate, yet its operators have always maintained a common thread with the past.
Originally, it was part of the Fort Langley Hudson’s Bay Company which administered these lands to support their workers. It was bought by Glenn’s great grandfather during the 1880’s.
As was the custom at that time, it was run as a mixed farm until the 1950’s with dairy cows and chickens as the main livestock, and potatoes and nuts as their main crops.
As the economic and labour advantages of focussing on one product became the norm, Glenn’s father specialized in dairy cows and it was run as a dairy with Holsteins – first by him and then by Glenn and his brother, Kevin.
By the early 1990’s, the need for further change was becoming evident and in 1993 they sold their dairy herd. Kevin continues to run a dairy herd in Salmon Arm.
Glenn explained that 50 acres was a bit small to maintain the needed increase in dairy cattle to run the farm economically and their facilities needed replacement or upgrading to meet modern standards – a major investment.
Glenn and Marianne had full time jobs off the farm, They already has a few goats
“In my spare time, I experimented in the kitchen with making cheese for a while,” said Marianne, Her interest in this increased over time.
They continued to research ways of running the farm “in a way that would be in keeping with its heritage, their experience and abilities, and that was doable,” Glenn reiterated.
He already had considerable experience with milking and managing dairy cows and all the associated skills that go along with that. He also visited existing dairy goat and dairy sheep operations.
Marianne’s interest in making cheese was increasing, too. One day, while waiting in a grocery line up, she picked up a magazine that featured a story about a burgeoning number of US farmstead cheese operations that were making and selling cheese, stimulating her interest even more, so they explored that aspect further as well.
Marianne attended artisan courses in cheese making at the University of Guelph, at Washington State University and another one in Idaho, as well as a course at BCIT.
By 2007 serious planning was underway, and in the fall of 2010 they had their dairy goats, milking parlour and cheese plant operating and the retail shop open Tuesday to Saturday.
The family have their hearts in what they are doing and are committed to making it work. At present, they all have full time occupations in addiction to feeding, milking, cleaning and kidding out the goats. Glenn works at Hi-Pro Feeds in Chilliwack, a company involved with feed formulation and nutrition.
Marianne works the full time equivalent in making cheese and selling it in the shop. Glenn’s mother, Sylvia, helps her a lot. Gregg currently works full time at Ground Effects Wholesale Nursery. Brad is a full time college student.
Their farm is listed as one of the attractions on the self guided Langley Circle Farm Tour. For details see www.circlefarmtour.com.