Cozy Vale Creamery in Tenino, Wash., provides raw milk and cream for locals and for stores from Federal Way south to Chehalis.
When owner Laurie Barta began, “The only raw milk dairy in the state was in Sequim. Then came the local-food movement. So I began in 2009,” she said. “In 2011, I broke up with my business partner, and I’ve been on my own ever since.”
The milking process takes more than 2 hours: 30 minutes to fetch “the girls” and set up, 45 minutes to milk them and another hour cleaning up.
It’s important, Barta says, to know your cows individually. As the cows came through for milking two or three at a time, she mentioned something about each one. So why isn’t Cozy Vale certified as organic?
“Because I hate paperwork,” Barta explained. “I could do it, but certification costs money. I’ve been running on a shoestring for a long time. I’ve been doing this 10 years.
“I’m dreaming of retirement. Until then, I rent part of my house and two RVs,” she continued. “Last year I started with Hip Campers. People want to camp out and see us farm. I pay my bills.”
What about older cows that are unprofitable?
“I place older cows where people may want to milk them but don’t need as much every day as we do. I don’t ‘hamburger’ them,” she explains.
Barta also gets help from volunteers.
“I couldn’t do it without them,” she says. “This is the best crew I’ve ever had. My son has helped since he was 12, but he’s away at college. He and his friends still come help cut the fields and do the haying and baling.”
Barta says a lot of people would like to do what she does, but admits it is physically demanding.
“I was an athlete, so I can handle it. But I lack great fence-building ability. Or if the tractor breaks, I have to pay to get it fixed. I’m lacking in maintenance skills,” she said. “But — I live in a beautiful place with a century-old orchard, and my house is built on the old homestead location.”