Seven Stars Farm
David Griffiths and his wife Edie have been operating a biodynamic dairy farm and producing yogurt from the milk for 20 years on the 350-acre Seven Stars Farm.
Pioneered by Austrian philosopher Rudoph Steiner early in the 20th century, "biodynamic agriculture is a system that looks at the farm as an organism," says Edie. Accordingly, the Griffiths try to keep inputs and outputs to a minimum.
In practice, this entails almost complete reliance on farm products to support the 70-cow herd. The cows feed on pasture from spring through fall, and the Griffiths also grow spelt, sorghum and hay to feed the cows through the winter, when fresh pasturage is unavailable.
The manure stays on the farm and is used to regenerate the soil. "It's not environmentally sound to spread manure directly in the fields because of the problem of runoff," said Edie, pointing to the line of trees bordering the fields, behind which ran French Creek. Instead the Griffiths dug a pond in the middle of one of their fields, and use it to collect runoff from manure piles while they compost. This water then irrigates the fields.
Other elements of biodynamic agriculture are more esoteric. Certain herbal preparations are sprayed directly into the compost and soil in order to help development. The Griffiths, who met in England while taking a course in biodynamic agriculture, also eschew the use of drugs to treat their cows and instead employ homeopathic medicine.
This places a ceiling on the size of their operation because it becomes impossible to rely on homeopathics with a herd much larger than 70 cows.
So the Griffiths have had to rely on additional milk from several other local biodynamic and organic farms to meet the surging demand for their yogurt.
Wood fencing surrounds a series of trailers attached to a small building, providing an illusion of permanence to the processing plant, which has grown in size along with the rise in demand.
After milk is pasteurized, yogurt bacteria are added to the milk and the containers go into the incubator, a warm room that allows the fermentation process to occur. Essentially, the yogurt enters the incubator as warm milk and solidifies through the fermentation process. At the end of the day, when the staff moves the yogurt from the incubator into the refrigerator, it's firm.
Because of the composition of their dairy herd, predominantly Jersey cows producing high-fat milk, the Griffiths can make yogurt without adding any additional stabilizers or thickeners that give it a funny aftertaste. Indeed, Seven Stars' whole milk yogurt (they produce a low-fat variety as well) has a cleaner, fresher taste than most supermarket varieties while still retaining the signature lactic tang. The only additional ingredients beyond milk and yogurt cultures are for the two flavored varieties: organic maple and organic vanilla.
Seven Stars Yogurt is available at Whole Foods markets throughout the Philadelphia area as well as at a number of independent natural food stores in the Philadelphia suburbs.
Not only are the Griffiths proud of their product, they're also proud of the small but noticeable impact it allows them to make. While dairy farming on a small scale is notoriously economically unviable, producing yogurt from the milk turns it into a higher-value commodity.
This allows the Griffiths to support 22 full- and part-time employees with a living wage. "I'm very happy about that," says Edie. "We actually provide a living for quite a few people."