“At Wholesome Dairy Farms in Earl Township, a few dozen grass-fed Ayrshire cows are the bosses, bringing to the fridge the richly-flavored supply of raw milk that sets this operation apart.
The dairy came to life in the first warm days of 2008 at the hands of Mark Lopez, who grew up in Lancaster County.
He’d spent five years as a traveling veterinarian in Texas, tending to dairy cows after receiving his degree from the University of Pennsylvania in 2003.
But knowing that he wanted to start a family back home in a more familiar place close to loved ones, Lopez contentedly accepted his uncle’s sudden offer to let him raise cows on his land back in Berks County.
Given that cows’ medical needs vary considerably from Texas to Pennsylvania, Lopez knew the only viable way to keep his ongoing affection for the dairy ladies while practicing the skills he knew well was to become a man of milk.
The Scottish breed he raises is known for its higher cheese yield, but also for milk with an impeccable taste.
While raw milk is somewhat controversial, the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture sets stringent standards on it, and farmers with the necessary licenses are required to undergo independent lab testing throughout the year.
Lopez doesn’t mind this, as the bacteria counts in his milk generally are less than that of pasteurized, homogenized milk that’s mass-produced.
Before and after milking, his cows’ teats are tidily cleaned and conditioned, something that isn’t mandated for traditional dairy farmers.
Since the dairy’s early days, people seeking responsibly made raw milk to put into their own refrigerators have driven surprising distances to Wholesome Dairy to pick up the dietary staple they know such care is put into before meeting the eventual jug.
“With pregnant mothers who drink our milk, their children’s first milk is our milk,” Lopez said proudly.
The children he’s seen raised on the milk are fussy about it, too, and won’t drink any other kind, he said he has noticed.
Initially, Lopez planned to focus mostly on his cherished raw milk, with some dabbling in cheese-making on the side.
But a challenging economy and a difficult market for milk prices, along with his uncle deciding to subdivide and sell the land, made it necessary to adapt the plan. Now, a dairy lineup well beyond merely milk is coming straight from the farm.
Lopez is under contract to purchase about 100 acres from his uncle in 2013 to keep the dairy going. His grandfather bought the land back in 1949.
Despite the financial hardships of being a farmer today, Lopez is doing everything in his power to let the farm stay in his family….”