Thursday, April 10, 2014

Cheese brings smiles for Evergreen Lane Farm & Creamery

by Zinta Aistars
Published in Southwest Michigan's Second Wave
April 10, 2014

Kids (newborn goats) at Evergreen Lane Creamery (Photo by Erik Holladay)

In the past decade goat cheese has been one of the fastest growing cheeses in the specialty food product market. Michigan has more 1,000 reported milk goat operations. Zinta Aistars talks with the cheese makers at Evergreen Lane Farm & Creamery in Fennville, Michigan, where milk from goats (and cows) comes about through a cooperative effort.

Photo by Erik Holladay
Cheese! You can’t say it without smiling. 

Especially if it is artisan goat and cow’s milk cheese made by the expert hands of Cathy Halinski at Evergreen Lane Farm & Creamery at 1824 66th Street, just south of Fennville and up the road from Saugatuck. It’s in an area some would call middle of nowhere, but Cathy and husband Tom Halinski call home.

The Halinskis found home in an old country house, shaded by century-old trees, with several outbuildings, sheds and barns, 40 acres of land that stretch a half-mile deep from the road, and eight acres of apple orchards. They moved there in 2000 with the thought of turning the place into an organic farm.

"Cathy found the place driving by," says Tom Halinski. "We moved to this area in 1996 from Chicago, to a place with a couple acres, but it was a gated community, and we weren’t allowed to have the ducks and horses we wanted."

Because the Halinskis kept a boat docked in Saugatuck, they looked for work there in their area of expertise: informational technology. 

"The jobs we found here were actually better paying than in Chicago," Tom Halinski says. But the couple found they wanted more than just the neat gardens allowed in a gated community, and the farm they came to call Evergreen Lane Farm and Creamery fit the bill. It even had a goat wandering the house. 

"Our dogs found her in the house when we went to look at it," he says. "She was starving."

They bought the house, they bought the farm, they bought the goat. Bailey became the matriarch of the goat herd the Halinskis would keep at Evergreen. 

"We started breeding the goats," says Cathy Halinski. "That’s how I got interested in cheese. We had all this goat’s milk."

Bailey lived to age 12, and died a couple years ago, but her legacy in cheese and kids lives on. Evergreen Lane Creamery opened its doors to the public in 2008. Today, the barn is filled with kids, newborn goats, while the does still lie in the hay, heavy with waiting. It’s spring, and the nights are long with does giving birth.

"That’s where our partnership, our business model, is unique," says Ron Klein, owner of 46-acre Windshadow Farm & Dairy in Bangor. Klein and his wife Suzanne handle the breeding of La Mancha, Nubian, and Saanen dairy goats, bringing the kids to Evergreen Farm when they are a day or two old. The partnership between the two farms is called Meadowland Divas, a cooperative division of labor and resources.

"The most important part of cheese-making is your milk source," Cathy Halinski nods at her partner, Ron Klein. 

"And the converse is true," says Klein. "You can have great milk and be feeding it to your pigs. We’re doing the animal husbandry, and that’s freed Cathy to do her cheese-making."

"It’s like a marriage!" Cathy grins, looking over at Klein. 

Klein and his wife, the real one, Sue, who keeps a day job as an attorney, get up every two hours or so during nights to care for the newborn kids. Even with the division of labor, the work is hard and at times seems never-ending. Once transported from Bangor to Fennville, the playful little goats are penned up and fed through an automated feeder.

"Great innovation," Klein says. "Before that, we had to ..."


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