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May 6, 2014

National dairy group to honor area entrepreneur

By Mark Boshnack Staff WRiter
The Daily Star

---- — The achievements of a Jefferson dairy farmer will be recognized by a national organization at its upcoming annual meeting.

Shannon Mason, 38, took over her family’s Jersey farm in 2006. In late June, she will be recognized as a 2014 Young Jersey Breeder by the American Cattle Association for her efforts on the Danforth Jersey farm and Cowbella, the value-added producer of such products as butter and yogurt. She will be honored at the association’s annual meeting in Alexandria, Va.

“It’s a wonderful, wonderful honor,” Mason said Monday. “It’s a dream come true for me.”

It takes the help of her family to cover all the bases of running the operation, Mason said. That includes her uncle Russell Danforth, her parents, Dave and Gail Peake, and her husband, Hamilton Mason. She said she’s hopeful they will be with there when she accepts the award.

Cherie Bayer, director of development for the American Jersey Cattle Association, said Mason will receive an all-expenses-paid trip to the annual meeting, and be honored at the luncheon along with six others from around the nation.

The farm represents the longest-established Jersey operation in the country, Bayer said.

“It has one of the really outstanding herds,” Bayer said. The farm currently milks 41 cows. In addition, Mason established a farmstead creamery to utilize the milk for value-added products. The operation makes “a quality product that has won awards in various competitions,” Bayer said. The award is given to qualifying farmers under 40 as of Jan. 1 on the year of the presentation

Mason said her grandfather brought the first Jerseys to the farm in the 1920s. He started building the herd, and she and her uncle Russ worked to create something special.

Jerseys produce the highest butterfat content milk of any breed, she explained, and tend to be healthier and more efficient cows.

She decided to add the Cowbella brand in 2010. Right now, 15 percent of the milk the herd produces is used for the label’s products, and the rest is taken by a bottler.

When her husband, an area social studies teacher, starts more processing, the business has plans to use the milk for other products, including drinkable yogurt and bottling whole milk, she said. A full-time employee will be hired in the fall.

Shannon said she’s hopeful the new effort will take the rest of the production. Cowbella is available at 30 different locations in the area, including Price Chopper in Oneonta, Delhi, Sidney and Cooperstown, as well as Green Earth in Oneonta and Good Cheap Food in Delhi.

Most of the stores just carry yogurt, she said, because butter production is relatively limited, but that could change as more products come online.

The couple’s two children, Gus, 8, and Daisy, 4, live on the farm. It’s the seventh generation to grow up there, Shannon said, adding that she’s hopeful the business will make it sustainable for future generations.

“It will give them a few more options,” she said.