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Thursday, June 23, 2011

Questions for Blue Ridge Dairy

UPDATE (1pm ET, FRIDAY JUNE 24th): I spoke with Ann at FRESHFARM and she told me the name of the farm. After doing some reading online, they appear to be a small, diversified farm raising dairy cows, chickens, and livestock. I emailed them to ask about tail docking, number of cattle on the farm and housing conditions. Will let you know what I hear back, but this is good news so far!

When I first started this humane food adventure, I was meticulous about asking all of the dairy and egg farmers at farmers markets a series of questions. In fact, it was roughly a year ago that I wrote about my first encounter with Blue Ridge Dairy, a cheese vendor whom I have grown to depend on for mozzarella cheese and honey yogurt at the Dupont Circle Farmers Market.

However, today I stumbled upon some unsettling information, or lack thereof. I was trying to tweet that we are serving their mozzarella at our rehearsal dinner. I went to their website, and noticed that it looked different than a year ago. So I checked it out, and read this under Our Process:

We produce fresh mozzarella the traditional Italian way. We start with the freshest jersey cows milk from a family farm in Carroll County, Maryland.

And that is it. No mention of the size of the farm, number of head of cattle, or the treatment of the cows. This is not what I remembered the vendor telling me at the farmers market a little over a year ago, so I called the farm.

The owner picked-up, and told me that the name of the farm was confidential. He did reassure me that it was owned by a nice family with four kids (heh... clearly he did not know that I could not be wooed by over-populution). When I pressed nicely for an answer to my questions, he became evasive and defensive.

So, I sent the following email to FRESHFARM Markets, the organization that manages Dupont Circle Farmers Market.

Hi Ann, Bernie and Laura:

I am writing due to a concern I have about Blue Ridge Dairy. The owner will not disclose the name of the farm he purchases his milk from for his dairy products. After reading the FreshFarm Markets rules and regulations (, it is clear that Blue Ridge Dairy is in violation of the Cheese and Butter Regulations (pasted below):

Cheese and Butter: FRESHFARM Markets accepts both farmstead (made from dairy from the producer’s own herd) and artisanal (made from dairy purchased by the producer from a local farm) cheese and butters. For artisanal cheese or butter, all milk purchased must be from regional farmers. The cheese/butter maker must provide contact information (owner, farm name, address, telephone number and directions) for the farms from which the cheese maker is buying the milk.

I am a vegetarian and try to only eat animal products that come from humane farms where I know exactly how the animals are treated. This is very important to me and the reason that I shop at the Dupont Circle Farmers Market.

One of the great things about the market is the transparency. Patrons are able to find out information about the farms or sources directly from the vendors. For example, Mel from Keswick is very open to questions and invites customers to come to the farm. Additionally,other vendors I have spoken to have not been defensive about questions concerning humane animal care, but are actually happy to see customers who share their values.

However, when I called and spoke to Mr. Stephan (the owner of Blue Ridge Dairy) he refused to tell me the name of the farm, which not only violates your rules and regulations, but is also not the standards we are used to at the Dupont Circle Farmers Market.

I would very much like to know the name of the farm so I can continue to fully source my food.

In advance thanks and I look forward to hearing from you,


Yes, I am concerned. But I also don't want to write-off a good vendor because he might have been having a bad day, or is not as excited about humane farm animal treatment as I am.

So I will be sure to keep you updated. I am certainly hoping that the only negative thing on this farm is the four kids, and not a farm full of cows whose tails are docked and packed into milking stalls standing in their own manure.


  1. Oh gosh, it must be so frustrating to be having this experience with a vendor you have trusted and supported for so long. I hope this is resolved quickly and happily!

    And LOL @ "hoping that the only negative thing on this farm is the four kids." I probably shouldn't mention that Eric is willing to have "infinite" children if necessary in order to end up with at least one male offspring. I think he's exaggerating, but I'm never really sure with that one.

  2. Why am I not surprised at that coming from Mr. Eric? :)

  3. I just had the SAME experience with Paul Stephan this morning at the Burke Farmers Market. I couldn't believe his response to my questions!

    We have an incredible basil plant growing on the back porch and the market tomatoes are amazing right now. I am a vegan but the other day my partner asked if I could pick her up some Mozzarella cheese for a sandwich. So this morning I visited Blue Ridge Dairy Company at the Burke Farmers Market. We have purchased from them in the past and were really excited to find a local dairy producer. However, my encounter with the owner, Paul Stephan, today was completely horrible and I will never purchase anything from them ever again.

    I walked up to the booth and asked them about their cheese making process. I wanted to know how the cows were treated to get the milk and make these products. Immediately he seemed completely annoyed at my interest/questions. He said, “We are actually only the creamery. We buy all our milk from a farm in Maryland.” So I asked if he knew their process and how they got the milk from their cows. With his tone starting to grow louder he says, “What do you mean process? That is a very vague question.” …. “Well, how does the farm get the milk from their cows, are they hooked to machines all day or….” He cut me off, almost yelling now, “NO cows anywhere are hooked up to machines all day!” …. “Sir, actually factory farm cows are hooked up to machines all day and forced to produce more milk than their bodies are supposed to on their own.” He responds, louder still, “That is just completely Untrue! You have no idea what you are talking about! You are an idiot!” I was completely taken back. I had never experienced this before – especially at a farmers market! I have talked to almost every farmer about their process and they have been happy to share. So I explained that I will not be purchasing anything from him to today or any products ever again and start to walk away. He yells after me “Good! Tell all your friends! You don’t know what you are talking about!!” I turn around and say “Your defensiveness of this conversation tells me that your company is run exactly like this.” He responds with “What this tells me is that you are a Moron.”
    I cannot even believe this happened. When I asked him his name, explaining that I was going to file a complaint with the owner he says “My name is none of your damn business and I am the owner.” The young boy – young meaning 12 or younger – ended up telling me his name and yes, in fact he is the owner.

    I will be filing a complaint with the Burke Market and the Maryland farm that they purchase from. This man gives a complete negative representation of his company, the Maryland farm, the farmers market and further solidifies my values to not support the dairy industry. If he was not purchasing from a factory farm then there should not have been any issue with simply explaining the process to me without yelling and calling names. He also is teaching that young boy that it is ok to verbally abuse people when you don’t agree with them. I am honestly still shocked.

    I will be filing a complaint with the Burke Market and I would love to also do so with the the Maryland Farm they purchase from. Could you share the name of the farm?

    I am sorry that you had this experience but am happy to find this post. Thank you so much for sharing!