In the valley town of Copake, shadowed by the mountains of Berkshire and Taconic, rests Walt's Dairy, LLC, a family owned farm under the care of Bill and Rosalie Kiernan. The New York town, just minutes from the Massachusetts and Connecticut borders, is known for its scenic valleys, lakes, and streams. Walt's Dairy is known for its milk.
The original Walt's Dairy Farm was located on a small 80 acre parcel in Shelton, CT, established in 1927 by Rosalie's grandfather. Even then, with only 12 milking cows, the farm's quality milk was highly sought after by the community, who purchased bottles from Walt as he travelled from door to door. In 1956, the family joined the Connecticut Milk Producers Association, which was to eventually become part of Agri-Mark.
"I began working in Shelton as a teenager, and was eager to have my own dairy farm," says Bill. "Rosalie and I married, and quickly purchased the property from Walt in 1972. For thirteen years we managed and grew the business, but with the area giving way to suburban sprawl, we decided to move to the Hudson Valley. In 1985, we packed up and left for New York, but we kept the name in honor of our roots."
With approximately 50 Holsteins, the Kiernans transplanted to New York, and once again set out to expand their operation. Today, Walt's Dairy encompasses 800 acres - 400 owned and 400 leased - and cares for a herd of 400 registered Holsteins. "The workload got a lot easier for us when our sons graduated from college and began working full time on the farm," continues Bill.
The Kiernans have four children: William, the oldest son, who now works for the Johns Hancock Agriculture Investment Group in Boston; Walter and David, their second and third sons, who graduated from SUNY Cobleskill with degrees in agricultural engineering and returned home to work on the farm; and Amy, their only daughter, who is a VP of Residential Lending for the Salisbury Bank and Trust Company in Connecticut. "We're very lucky to have so many family members living near us," remarks Bill. Walter, David, and Amy all live on the farm in separate houses with their families.
In addition to producing award winning milk for Agri-Mark, which they've done every single year since becoming a member of the cooperative, the Kiernan's have won a number of regionally milk quality awards, as well as the New England Green Pasture Award and the Connecticut Annual Albert R. Todd Conservation Award.
While Walt's Dairy has long been a member of Agri-Mark, it is not the only cooperative the Kiernans are involved with. Bill is also a founding member, and current Vice President, of Hudson Valley Fresh, a not-for-profit dairy cooperative dedicated to preserving the agricultural heritage of the Hudson River Valley and promoting it as one of the premier food regions of the United States. Their mission is to keep the stewards of the land, on the land.
As their website proclaims, all milk is not created equal. "People can taste the difference when they try our milk," says Bill. "On our farm, cleanliness is key. We milk 168 cows every day - producing about 24,000 pounds of milk each year - and we take the utmost care to ensure each and every pound is of only the highest quality. Give it a try - I think you'll agree."