---- — Shop Talk is a weekly column featuring locally owned and operated businesses. This week, we talk to Jake and Karen Fairbairn of Lazy Crazy Acres Farmstead Creamery in Arkville.
How long have you lived in the area?
Karen Fairbairn: Jake's family (both maternal and paternal) have been farming this area for over 170 years.
Jake Fairbairn: Karen is a Florida transplant.
Tell me about your business:
Jake: We have a micro-creamery in our barn where we make ice cream and bottle cream line milk. We say that our ice creams are "cow to cone," because they really are. The milk is still warm when we add it to our pasteurizer and add all the ingredients to make the ice cream mix. We use all natural ingredients and no corn syrup. We source many of our ingredient flavors from local farms. We co-farm with our friends Chris and Judy DiBenedetto. We raise the heifer herd and they have the milkers. We share equipment, make hay together and work together to raise healthy, grazing bovines.
Describe a typical day in your business:
Karen: I'm not sure there is a typical day. We're getting milk into milk cans while the cows are being milked during the morning. Then we begin to pasteurize either ice cream mix or milk for bottling. That takes a few hours. In the meantime we're baking, toasting and cooking up the ingredients that will go into our flavors of the week. We're getting ready for farm markets, events and wholesale deliveries. We're moving heifers from pasture to pasture and we're making hay. Every day is different and our "schedule" is just an attempt at being organized. The day never turns out as planned.
How did you get started in this line of work?
Karen: Farming was in Jake's blood. I met him and fell in love with him and with farming. He went to the University of Wisconsin's School for Beginning Dairy Farmers even though he grew up on a dairy farm. He then interned on a couple of grazing farms and always had the intention of doing a value-added dairy product when he started the dairy back up on his grandfather's old farm. Unfortunately, the economic downturn and the worst milk prices in 70 years, during the winter of 2008-09 forced us to sell our dairy herd. This is why we're co-farming with the DiBenedettos now. It's a good deal for both families. We put their name on the bottled milk (Crystal Valley Farm) and our ice cream is labeled under our farm name of Lazy Crazy Acres.
Where do you see this business in five years?
Karen: We'd love for Lazy Crazy Acres to be a regionally known and respected brand. We're in the process of renovating another portion of our barn and hope to have an ice cream shop and workshop space in there. We'd like to eventually diversify with beef and chickens and on-farm dinners and brunches.
Describe a memorable moment in your workplace:
Jake: There are just so many from so many categories. The best and most recent cool moments have been the reactions to our milk and ice cream. Many times we'll have people stop and tell us that the milk tastes like milk used to taste, just like they remember it when they were kids. We love seeing the looks on people's faces when they taste our ice cream and know that everything in it is real. They tell us it reminds them of ice cream they had on the farm years ago.
What have you learned from your work?
Karen: Everything takes twice as long and twice the money than you had planned. Even with a good business plan there will be big obstacles ... including things like floods. We've learned that "mom-and-pop" stores are great to deal with and large corporations were definitely not made to deal with or listen to "the little guys". We've learned that there is a great core of people who love and appreciate small farms and small products and that there is also a long way to go in the "slow food" movement. Most of all, we've learned we love farming, we love the Catskills and we love dairy and working side by side.
What is the most challenging part of what you do?
Karen: Finding the time to get everything done. We could use a couple more people but we haven't gotten to a place where we can afford employees yet. We both hate paperwork. That's a big challenge.
The most enjoyable?
Jake: Being on the farm. Some days the best part is being with the heifers. Other days, when the weather is beautiful, it's being on the tractors. And other days it's creating a new flavor and watching people enjoy what we've made.
What are some advantages and drawbacks of doing business in this area?
Jake: The disadvantage is not being near a more populated area, as there are not enough local customers, and distribution is difficult. However, being in the Catskills is also an advantage as we enjoy the close-knit community. There is also a thriving second-home community, which really helps us out financially during the summertime.
What sets you apart from your competitors?
Karen: Most folks understand that there is "homemade" and then there is "made from scratch." A cake can be made from a box at home and it can taste great. You can also make a cake from an old recipe, sifting flour, adding and weighing every natural ingredient. We're doing the "from scratch." We crack and separate 200 eggs every week. We scrape every vanilla bean, cook down all the fruits, toast the nuts, make the brittles and the cookies and the cones.
What advice would you give to someone trying to enter your field of work?
If it's someone who has very little experience with farming, then I would say you absolutely must intern on a farm where they are doing something similar to what you want to do. You must have folks around you with experience and advice and a willingness to lend a hand. And you must have a good sense of humor!
Shop Talk interviews are conducted by Terry Hannum. For information, call The Daily Star at 432-1000, ext. 217, or email email@example.com.