By Mike Gioscia.
Raw milk from cows used to go by a different name… just, milk. Prior to the introduction of pasteurization (heating milk to kill bacteria, yeasts, and molds) in the early to mid-1900s, all cow’s milk was consumed raw, in its natural, unprocessed state. Advocates of raw milk consumption argue that it has superior health and nutritional benefits, and that pasteurization eliminates those advantages. Some government and health experts disagree and advise against consuming it. But with the continued popularity of organic, non-GMO, local, and farm-sourced foods, the consumption of raw milk continues to grow.
Third-generation farmers Sue and Sam Shields run Lolans Farm on Thompson Street in East Middleborough, on 99 tranquil acres cut in two by Route 105. And if you’ve driven by the farm since the spring of 2022, you may have noticed a “Raw Milk” sign. “This past April we were certified by the state of Massachusetts to sell raw milk, and our customers have kept us very busy since then,” Sue Shields says.
“In one hundred years we’ve come full circle here on the property,” adds Sam.
Sue’s grandparents, Fred and Hazel Blanchard purchased the dairy farm in 1946 (the Kinsman family previously owned it as Elmwood Farm), and it was Fred who named the farm “Lolans” after reading that the midlands of England were considered “lowlans.” Being from hilly Vermont, Fred decided he was also living in the lowlands in Middleboro and the name stuck.
Lolans has been part of various farm cooperatives since the family’s purchase. A “co-op” is a group of smaller farms all doing business together under one name, such as Cabot— who the Shields family worked with in the past. Members of the co-op share profits among themselves as opposed to an outside investor.
The co-op model worked fine for years, but as dairy farms became larger it was harder for smaller farms to make money. “Milking less than 1000 cows became ‘break even,’ and we’re a small operation. It was time for a change. And if there’s one thing we know, it’s cows,” Sam says.
While being on a busy road like Route 105 could be an annoyance for some, Sam saw it as an opportunity, and Lolans started selling produce and eggs from a roadside stand in 2007. “Well, it started as a table, then a tent, and finally the stand,” Sam says. “Every farm is different, but each has resources. You have to figure out what yours are,” Sam adds, and they soon started to take advantage of retail sales to supplement co-op profits. The growth was slow but steady.
In the end, the Shields family left the co-op. “The margin between income and expenses became so small that we were scrambling to do other things to fill the gap. This is not a reflection on the cooperative. The global oversupply of milk, plus federal pricing rules, informs the way milk moves in the marketplace,” Sue says.
“The decision was also due to ‘age and stage.’ We decided to get our raw milk certification because we still had cows and we weren’t ready to retire. Direct marketing gives us the opportunity to use our knowledge and experience to create a quality product and an audience to share our experience with,” Sue adds.
With the popularity of their farm stand and the popularity of the local food movement, the Shieldses sold their remaining multi-aged cows in 2021 and started over with new same-aged Holsteins with the goal of selling raw milk. Lolans Farm now gives people in Southeastern Mass a new spot to purchase raw milk, and for many it’s a closer-to-home option.
“We see a lot of young families, some home schoolers, people who don’t digest processed foods well, local food movement supporters, and immigrants who want milk like they grew up with,” Sue says. “People who make their own cheeses are big supporters as well. Covid woke a lot of people up to the fragility of the chain of big agriculture, where all is well until one piece breaks down and stalls the whole thing,” Sue adds. “Local has become very important.”
A new shed for selling milk is on the way—the locally sourced tongue-and-groove boards are being made—so for now the family sells their raw milk year-round right from their porch, not far from their farmstand that operates from mid-July to Halloween. It’s easy to pull right up to the front porch, grab your milk, put your money in the jar ($4 for half a gallon, $8 for a gallon), and head back to the road. “The milk has a sell-by date within 5 days, but we’ve been so busy, I’m sure the milk you pick up was bottled within the last 24 hours,” Sam says. That milk will last at least two weeks, on average, in the fridge.
Lolans is one of only a few dairy farms left in Plymouth County and the only farm that sells its milk in raw form. The Shieldses currently milk 15 Holstein cows twice a day at 6 am and 5 pm. “Cows like to be bored,” Sam adds with a chuckle. “A low stress environment is as critical as the feed,” which is a high-forage diet with minimal grain, for balance.
“As for the milk, we are committed to producing a safe, high-quality product from healthy, contented cows. We are also committed to caring for the land so we can continue to grow high-quality forages and pasture,” Sue says.
Consumption of any raw food such as sushi or oysters or raw milk has some risks, but most who consume the milk are more interested in the vast benefits of the raw form versus the pasteurized alternative. Some of these benefits are said to include a reduction of allergies, improved skin health, and prevention of nutrient deficiencies, all with no added sugars or synthetic ingredients.
“The East Middleborough community is a great place to live. Our farm community encompasses that, and everyone who comes here. People want to be connected to the land and to the farmers who produce their food. I’m striving to help people feel connected. Sam and I live in abundance. We are very grateful that we have the resources to farm here and that we can share our bounty with others,” Sue says. Lolans Farm also sells USDA Certified ground beef, farm-fresh eggs, and fresh vegetable and herbs, as well as aged manure for your garden.
Set your GPS for Lolans Farm in Middleborough, enjoy an amazingly beautiful ride, and pick up some fresh milk. Chances are you’ll see Sue and Sam working when you pull up to the porch. “The only thing between our cows and our customers are Sue and I,” Sam says.
121 Thompson Street (Rt 105)
Middleborough, MA 02346