By Kerrie Vila
A pair of turkeys greeted guests at the opening of Mecox Bay Dairy’s farm store on July 16. The picturesque Bridgehampton farmhouse and arcadian smell of cows transported the visitors back in time.
The Ludlow family has owned and operated the farm since 1875. Two brothers Henry and Gurden Ludlow bought the 20 acre farm with money they made working on whaling ships.
The land has only been a full-scale dairy since the early 2000s. At first it was a family farm. Then the second generation of Ludlows started a dairy and potato business. Then, in the early 1940s Gurden Ludlow’s grandson an was increasing demand for potatoes and sold the family’s herd.
However, his great grandson Art always fondly remembered raising cows. So Art and his wife revived the dairy and in 2003 the family started making cheese. Fourteen years later he and his son Peter run the dairy that is home to more than two dozen cows.
Peter Ludlow, a fifth generation farmer, only has a few memories of the potato farm. “I don’t really remember a lot of that. I mean it was a lot of dirt and dust and potatoes.”
The transition from potato farm to dairy is seen as a positive in the Ludlow family. Rather than growing a commodity and shipping products to a large impersonal business, Ludlow appreciates the benefits of working with a local community.
“We are now able to have, you know, personal interactions with most of our customers in the local area. So people understand and see what we are doing and can choose to support it and that’s a lot different dealing with an angry broker who is wanting to knock a few more cents off potatoes.”
Previously the farm sold its produce through farmers markets. It is a great way to build a relationship with the community, but Ludlow said having a permanent location was always a goal of theirs.
Opening a store on a working farm has its challenges. “The farm yard was, is, a working farm that’s always dirty and muddy and there’s all kinds of machinery and stuff happening.” It was not until this past February they began to renovate the barn.
One main reason they decided to open the store is to sell their products during the winter. After farmers market season ends some customers do not know where to find Mecox Bay Dairy cheese and meat. As Ludlow said, “what’s the point of having good stuff for sale if people can’t find out where to get it?”
Opening the farm store was a major accomplishment, but Ludlow still has goals for the future.
One objective is to increase cheese production. At the moment, the farm produces six types of cheese, about 15 to 20,000 pounds a year. His target: 30,000 pounds.
But they are not pushing the herd too hard to reach that number. Ludlow does not want to sacrifice quality for quantity. “We are not maximizing the production. But we do have to age it at least 60 days and our oldest cheese we age for two years. So we have to think about demand far in advance.”
Ludlow is also working on making the farm self-sufficient by producing most of the animal’s feed on the farm. Being self-sufficient is helpful for the environment because it cuts down emissions burned through transportation. It also benefits the farm, “our second highest cost besides labor is feeding the animals and we grow it a lot cheaper than we can buy it.”
For now Ludlow is focusing on making sure the farm runs smoothly, overseeing the store and attending farms markets. He said he enjoys providing products that the local community appreciates. “[We are] making a viable farm business to prevent the cow pastures from during into developments. There is a lot of tradition and a lot of history here and we want to preserve it.”
The Mecox Bay Dairy Farm Store is located at 855 Mecox Road in Bridgehampton and is now open daily from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.. It offers a full range of their artisan cheeses as well as their grass-fed meats. For more information, visit mecoxbaydairy.com.