Shy Brothers profile; New pasture access rules

Artisan Profile: Shy Brothers Farm

Years ago, Southeastern Massachusetts counted numerous dairies that produced milk for the commodity market. Over the past several decades, steadily rising input costs coupled with unstable often very low, milk prices undermined dairies throughout the state and the region. However, the Southeastern area, comprised of Bristol, Norfolk and Plymouth counties, still have considerable potential for viable farms and world-class value-added products. One fundamental element is the outstanding soil, water, and climate characteristics, the same attributes that contributed to the region’s productivity from the 17th through 20th centuries.

The Shy Brothers Farm represents a new direction for dairies in the tri-county region. In 1947, John Santos, their grandfather, bought the 150-acre farm located on the main road that runs to Westport Point. His son, John Jr., took over the farm and then his four sons (two sets of 40-something fraternal twins) – Kevin, Arthur, Norman, and Karl – became the owners. During 2005 and 2006, the brothers faced a bleak prospect that their beloved family farm might not survive the steep downturn in milk prices. Longtime neighbors of the Santos Farm, Barbara Hanley and her husband Leo Brooks, recognized the importance of saving the land, while creating a new business direction for the brothers and possibly a model for the region.

After considerable research, discussion, and an investment by Barbara and Leo, the group decided to make cheese. Barbara, Leo, and Karl journeyed to France to study different cheese styles, where they focused on a small, round thimble-sized cheese, called boutons de culottes (trouser buttons), made in Mâconnaise region of southern Burgundy near Dijon. Made either from goat or cow’s milk, the morsels were eaten by pickers during the grape harvest.

Upon their return, they embarked on renovating an off-site building and then developed a recipe. With Karl as the cheesemaker, his brothers managing the farm, and Barbara providing the business acumen and marketing savvy, they launched Hannahbells in 2007 and named the cheese after the boys’ mother. Karl makes this lactic acid cheese from a small number of the 120 Holstein and Ayrshire herd. He produces one batch a week that translates into 10,000 – 13,000 little cheeses! He forms them by hand in plastic molds where it takes five days to develop their shape and another five days to ripen. The cheese house provides ideal temperatures and humidity needed for setting and ripening.

The creamery takes its name from the brothers’ quiet, reserved manner… that some call shy!  Hannahbells’ distinctive shape and unusual production methods set it apart from most artisan cheese made in the United States. In addition to a plain style, Karl makes the cheese in a variety of flavors: chipotle, lavender, red pepper, rosemary, and shallot. For the first time in many years, the family sees a more prosperous future. For Barbara Hanley and Leo Brooks, Shy Brother’s Hannahbells offer other tri-county dairies an example and incentive of a different way to conduct business and prosper.

Jeffrey Roberts is the author of The Atlas of American Artisan Cheese.

Shy Brothers Farm
• 2001 Main Road, Westport Point, MA 02791
• Cheesemaking established in 2007
• Visitors: No
• Telephone: 508/965-6560
• Internet sales, local farmers’ markets, and regional distribution.


Washington State University is offering what it says is the nation’s first online educational program in organic agriculture. WSU says its new certificate program will prepare students to run their own organic farm or work in any of a growing number of positions that require knowledge of the production, processing and marketing approaches unique to organic agriculture. Two years ago, WSU started the nation’s first degree-granting program in organic agriculture.

American Home Food Products, currently doing business as Artisanal Premium Cheese, says it is entering into a master distribution and marketing agreement with Harvest Song Ventures, a specialty food company. According to Artisanal, it will continue to service the existing Harvest Song customer base and expects to expand that base by marketing Harvest Song products to Artisanal’s customers ranging from premium restaurants and hotels to luxury goods retailers. The companies also plan to expand and create cross-selling opportunities for the two product lines which have natural pairing complements.

Stonyfield Farm CEO Gary Hirshberg will lead the next “Boot Camp for Community-minded Entrepreneurs”  April 6-7.   Hirshberg will hold his fifth annual Stonyfield Farm Entrepreneurship Institute at Southern New Hampshire University.

Lifeway Foods, a producer of kefir dairy products, has announced the distribution of its ProBugs organic kefir in the northern California region through warehouse club chain Costco. According to Lifeway Foods, ProBugs organic kefir, which is geared towards children, comes in a patented no-spill pouch and is now being sold in a 12-unit multi-pack consisting of Orange Creamy Crawler and Goo Berry Pie flavors. Shipments began in December.

The latest state considering restrictions on messages about rBST is Kansas. Recently those who oppose such restrictions argued against a new law scheduled to take effect in January 2010. In addition to banning “rBST-free” claims, the rule would require that labels declaring products to have been derived from cows not supplemented with the growth hormone to carry companion disclaimers saying “the FDA has determined that no significant difference has been shown between milk derived from rBST-supplemented and non-rBST-supplemented cows.”

This holiday season, Organic Valley Family of Farms held a national recipe contest titled “Celebrate Organic.” On behalf of each participant, the farmer-owned cooperative donated $1 to an environmental organization. Organic Valley has selected four non-profits-all focused on earth stewardship-as the contest benefactors: Bioneers, Ecotrust, Environmental Working Group, and Waterkeeper Alliance. As part of Celebrate Organic, Organic Valley will donate up to $5,000 to each organization.

New Belgium Brewing Co., Fort Collins, Colo., recently released its first ever sustainability report-a detailed 20-page document that will help the award-winning craft brewer achieve its sustainability goals.  These include a 50% reduction in carbon footprint, a 10% reduction in water usage and an increase in waste stream diversion rate from 68% to 80%. What makes these goals so remarkable, is that prior to developing the plan, the 20-year-old company had already taken significant steps toward reducing its impact, such as installing an energy efficient brew kettle system, procuring all of its electricity from wind power instead of coal-burning plants, recapturing and re-using heat, and generating electricity from waste material using aerobic and anaerobic digesters. Find out more

New Pasture Access Rules Discussed

USDA draft rules on organic milk that will require 120 days of pasture and 30% dry matter from grazing (in season) are being applauded by some, but are also being criticized. The new rules were open for public commentary until Dec. 23.

George Siemon, CEO of Organic Valley, says the new rules were due, but might be “too prescriptive.”

“It will be a burden for small and midsize dairy farms like Organic Valley’s to comply with all the detailed requirements,” he said.

The proposed changes came after watchdog groups Cornucopia and the Organic Consumers Association called attention to the practices of Horizon and Aurora Organic Dairy, which get some of their organic milk from feedlot cattle.

An Aurora spokeswoman said the new rules don’t take into account factors like bad weather, which could make it difficult to keep cows outside for so many days.

Horizon, on the other hand said it welcomes the new provisions.

Aurora Rates High on Animal Welfare

BOULDER, Colo.-Aurora Organic Dairy has received Animal Welfare Review Certification for each of its five organic dairies.

Boulder-based Aurora operates dairies in Colorado and Texas, including one in Platteville, Colo. where it also operates its processing plant. The dairy received certification from Validus Services LLC, an independent certification firm. The certification program includes a comprehensive assessment of animal care practices and recommendations for improvements.

Aurora received an audit rating of “excellent,” the highest available. According to a release from the company, the certification process takes into account practices including humane animal handling and management, herd health procedures and care, food and water quality standards, housing that promotes animal comfort and cleanliness, on-farm security procedures and proper management of special-needs animals.