When you woke up this morning, you likely swung your feet across the bed and placed them on the floor. You probably stood up, rubbed the fatigue out of your eyes and made your way to the kitchen where you put on a pot of coffee and poured cereal and milk into a bowl for breakfast. Perhaps you were running late this morning and grabbed a container of yogurt out of your refrigerator to eat on the way to work. Or yet still, perhaps you forewent breakfast at your house altogether and picked up coffee with cream and a danish at Tim Hortons during your work-time commute. Whatever your day-to-day morning ritual is, chances are it involves dairy.
There is truly no two ways around it: unless you abstain for personal, religious, or medical reasons, chances are dairy plays a prominent role in your morning, and that's simply the beginning of the day. You will probably incorporate it again in your lunch and dinner and likely in between-meal snacks as well. Even if you do not make a cognitive attempt to incorporate dairy into your meals, chances are dairy will find its way into your meals anyway, due to the popularity and portability of foods such as pizza and cheeseburgers.
Additionally, just as seafood has an elevated level of importance in Boston or Seattle, and corn and grains in the Great Plains, dairy is an essential part of our diet as well as the economy here in Chautauqua County and the state. The majority of farms in the county are either entirely dedicated to the cultivation of dairy, or produce dairy in some facet.
The Gustafson family of Frewsburg were awarded a new sign to celebrate the 10-year anniversary of their Dairy of Distinction award in 2001.
And just as it is with any market where many producers contribute individually towards making one product, the quality of dairy produced in Chautauqua County can fluctuate from farm to farm.
In order to properly recognize the farms which dedicate themselves to producing the highest quality of dairy, the Northeast Dairy Farm Beautification Program has been awarding the Dairy of Distinction award for close to 30 years.
According to the Northeast Dairy Farm Beautification Program website, Dairy of Distinction recognizes the hard work and dedication of dairy owners and operators who have attractive, well-kept farms and promote a positive dairy image.
Currently, there are 30 farms in Chautauqua County alone who have earned and maintained the Dairy of Distinction award. Those farms and farmers (if applicable) are: Allen Anderson, Kennedy; Herbert Nobles, South Dayton; Robert, Carolyn and Philip Beckerink, Clymer; Cabhi Farm, Clymer; Balcom-Flats Farm, Doug and Linda Ivett, South Dayton; Willink Farms, LLC, Norvel and Judy Willink and family, Clymer; Leo and Craig McCray, Clymer; Howard, Lucy, Kris and Becky Ivett and family, South Dayton; J-High Acres, Frewsburg; Oak View Dairy, Bruce and Charlene Kidder and Shawn and Tara Cotter, Jamestown; Mark Persons, Sherman; Dennis and Lona Carlberg, Frewsburg; William Kane, Frewsburg; Minor Brothers Farm, Dan and Allen Minor, Frewsburg; A. Martin Eckman, Jr., Frewsburg; Gustafson Farms, Frewsburg; Todd Smith, Panama; John and Laura Knight, Jamestown; Tim and Mary Rhinehart and family, Kennedy; Bill and Ann Weicht, Clymer; Achilles Farm, South Dayton; Dennis and Lorrie Emke Farm, Cherry Creek; Terry and Janet Rearick, Sinclairville; C and W Farm LLC, Darren Carlstrom, Sinclairville; Wheelhorse Farm, Diana and Don Saxton, Ripley; MereFam Farm, Mike and Judy Meredith and family, Sherman; Mansfield Dairy Farm, Cherry Creek; Ormond Farm, Tom, Joyce, Lonny and Robin Ormond and family, Kennedy; Dunnewold Farms, Clymer; Holthouse Dairy, Panama.
The qualifications a farm must meet in order to obtain the Dairy of Distinction award could be considered rigorous at the very least. Farms are graded on a 100-point scale, where 90 points is the lowest point total allowed to qualify for the award. To give some perspective, 65 points out of 100 is the success/failure rate for most standardized tests, with 85 points out of 100 being considered mastery.
Farms are graded by three judges on a number of aspects broken up into three different fields. Those aspects include: in the field of buildings, clean and attractively finished, 10 points; physical condition, 10 points; and uniform appearance, five points. In the field of grounds and surroundings, landscaping, 10 points; roads and lanes, five points; fences, five points; and ditches, five points. In the field of farm operations, animals, five points; barnyard, 10 points; cleanliness of roads, five points; manure handling, five points; machinery, five points; pollution, 10 points; feed areas, five points; and unnecessary items, five points.
Though the award is difficult to attain, some scrupulous farmers in the area believe it is their duty to maintain their farms at such a high quality rather than simply something that is done to attain distinction.
"If you think about it, it's really what every farmer should do," said Mary Rhinehart. Rhinehart's farm was awarded the Dairy of Distinction award in 2002 and will be honored for 10 years of recognition on Friday. "If you maintain a nice appearance on your farm and give the public reason to trust in your work effort and your product ... it gives the farm, as well as the business, a good reputation. It's one of those things where a single farm, one by one, piece by piece, can improve the business by simply doing their very best on their own farm."
Rhinehart indicated that "going above and beyond" only feels like extra work when one isn't used to doing it. Once above and beyond becomes habit, it simply becomes part of a day's work.
"We do our very best to keep yards mowed and trimmed, keep everything picked up and in order and most importantly run our farm as if we were the only ones who ate what we produce," said Rhinehart.
The Dairy of Distinction award is interesting in that farms are judged from the road rather than by judges who go on-site. In theory, the inside of barns and silos could be poorly maintained and the farm could still be awarded at least 90 points by how the facilities look from the road. However, Lisa Kempisty of the Chautauqua County branch of Cornell Cooperative Extension explained why that simply does not happen.
"If there are several roads that boarder the perimeter of a farm, we will walk up and down every road and do our best to see as much of the farm as we can," said Kempisty. "However, farms are private property, so we don't go onto them. The way we see it, the purpose of the distinction is so the farm can gain notoriety from the public and to show the public their product can be trusted. Since the public can't wander onto the farm whenever they want, we don't either. Farmers, by nature, are very hard-working and very earnest people. If the farmers have put forth enough hard work to score 90 out of 100 points on the Dairy of Distinction scorecard, I believe it's worth giving them the benefit of the doubt that they are hardworking and thorough in every aspect of farming."
Additionally, because many farmers are often very active in their communities and are usually friends with other farmers in the area, it is unlikely that the outward appearance of their farm would not also be reflected in the areas of the farm out of view from the public eye.
The distinction itself is there to help promote prominent dairy farms in and around the community where the farm is. Though Dairy of Distinction is a statewide initiative, it is there to make the decisions of those purchasing dairy at a local level easier.
"There are currently over 600 Dairy of Distinction Farms in New York state," said Nancy Putman, New York state secretary for the Northeast Dairy Farm Beautification Program. "The organization operates on the state level through a board of directors, who oversee, give guidance and support to local committees in the 10 state districts. The local committees are responsible for local publicity of the Dairy of Distinction program as well as judging the farms in their district and awarding the signs. Farms that qualify as Dairy of Distinction are awarded a Dairy of Distinction sign that they are to display by the roadside. New signs are awarded at 10 years, 15 years, 20 years and 25 years. We are looking forward to the program's 30-year milestone in 2014."
So when driving through the countryside and a farm comes into view, check to see if it has a Dairy of Distinction sign placed along the roadside. If it does, know it is a farm that produces dairy of the utmost quality.