‘Tis the season for something special. Their story began with raw milk sales over 10 years ago, today it is becoming so much more.
By Sherry Bunting, Farmshine, December 16, 2022
KEMPTON, Pa. — ‘Tis the season for something special. It’s Christmastime, and diversified consumer-facing dairy farms are featuring special products, memories and events, complete with decorations, milk (or hot chocolate) and cookies, wagon rides, Christmas settings and on-site photographers for on-the-spot family Christmas portraits – you name it, and dairy farmers are doing it.
Recently Jason and Kacey Rice (and sons Emmit, 6, and Ellis, 4) had such a “Christmas on the farm” event at their BAD Farm near Kempton, Pennsylvania. Delicious dairy products, made with the milk from their 60 cows, were combined with holiday festivities, opportunities to see a working farm, visits with Santa, and, yes, portrait sessions with a holiday setting, a festively outfitted calf and a photographer.
Almost 100 people dodged the raindrops on the first Saturday in December to attend the event at the store the Rice’s built on the farm in 2020 as they began offering more products.
But their journey began with selling just raw milk and eggs more than a decade earlier.
In addition to the store, BAD Farm products are sold at pop-up farmers markets in Emmaus and Lehighton. Jason’s dad manages the meat sales. His mom is the point person for the farmers markets, staying in touch with Kacey, who runs the on-farm processing of the items they do on-site and ordering those products that are processed for them elsewhere — all using the milk from their own cows.
The farm’s name gets some attention, notes Jason during a Farmshine visit Monday (Dec. 12).
His parents, Beth and Dave Rice (the original B and D Farm) found themselves and others abbreviating the initials BAD. Jason’s middle name is Dave and his wife Kacey’s middle name is Beth – so they kept the acronym after transitioning the farm.
Today, BAD Farm milk and dairy labels state the motto: “Where we DON’T live up to our name.”
“It’s a conversation starter at the farmers’ markets,” says Jason. “People remember it.”
When he came home from SUNY Mohrsville in 2009, it was a rough time for dairy farms. He already had a vision for the farm to get closer to consumers, and his parents already had done the work for a raw milk permit.
For more than 10 years, they sold raw milk and eggs in a tiny outbuilding by the barn and did freezer beef as well. Today, the coolers in the new farm store hold fruited regular and Greek yogurts as well as aged cheeses and cheese curds in some popular flavors — all made with their farm’s milk by two different processors.
The beef in the freezer is from their own Holstein calves that are fed out at another location. The eggs are from their own chickens, cage-free but in a poultry building on the farm due to their location at the base of Hawk Mountain. The prepared meals are made for them by a commercial kitchen, featuring items like shepherd’s pie, meatloaf, quiche Lorraine – all dishes that use the dairy, eggs and beef produced at BAD Farm.
This year, they realized a dream making their own ice cream and chocolate milk.
In Pennsylvania, raw milk can be sold with a permit, but raw milk cream cannot. Jason’s ultimate dream of making their own chocolate milk and Kacey’s dream to make their own ice cream, from scratch, became reality when a Pa. Department of Agriculture innovation grant helped them invest in this processing infrastructure.
Previously, these products were made for them elsewhere. They have also started a line of coffee creamers, with peppermint in the cooler for the holidays, pumpkin spice in the fall, and traditional vanilla and salted caramel. They now do pasteurized creamline milk in addition to raw milk, and they offer yogurt sMOOthies, which are a big seller in fruit flavors, mocha, and a peppermint for the holidays.
For Jason, the chocolate milk is the big one. His enthusiasm about it is clear. It’s an area he has always believed the industry can do better.
“We wanted to make a really good chocolate milk — something people can be proud to put on their dinner table,” he says.
(Yes, they succeeded. BAD Farm’s chocolate milk is super GOOD. I brought some home, and found it has a really smooth and silky finish to go with that creamy texture. I also took along a Mocha Morning yogurt sMOOthie, which was quite a treat, finishing it before I was 5 miles down the road.)
As for the BAD Farm chocolate milk, it is a pasteurized non-homogenized creamline chocolate milk. It is 90% whole milk with 10% heavy cream added. They don’t standardize the whole milk, and their herd test is right around 4.0 butterfat.
“We found we could really pull back on the added sugar this way,” Jason reports.
With the processing infrastructure, Kacey was able to start making old-fashioned ice cream. “I always wanted to do ice cream from scratch, and the innovation grant helped with that,” she says.
Kacey works with seven ice cream flavors, rotating in some seasonal specials. Her philosophy is to focus on quality and marketing and “getting the products to the people,” rather than trying to make every flavor under the sun.
They shoot for memorable ice cream experiences. Their chocolate blast uses three kinds of chocolate for a signature blend. They work with orchards on custom flavors. They offer peaches and cream in the summer and apple pie ala mode in the fall. They rotate core flavors to keep it interesting.
Neither Jason, nor Kacey, studied dairy processing specifically in college, but they learned concepts that contributed to their vision. They read, and ask questions, talk to peers and seek advice from those who’ve done it. They are constantly learning and looking for trends and ways to extend what comes from their farm — milk, eggs and beef – and turn it into what consumers are looking for.
“We don’t have hired help except one high school employee to help milk,” says Kacey. “Instead, we pay people to process some of the products we offer that are made with our milk while we are focusing on building our connection to consumers.” And they are gradually doing more of their own processing also.
“To do this, you have to want to talk to people. You have to want to have those consumer conversations. Our store is right in the middle of everything on the farm. People can see the cows as they walk down to the calf barn. They can see the farm tractors coming and going through the seasons. They see it all,” says Jason, noting that they don’t do group tours, as such, but “we’re here, and we’re available. We could be in the middle of doing corn silage and someone stops and has a question. We need to stop what we’re doing and talk to them. It’s a priority. That’s the commitment we make.”
And that’s okay with Jason and Kacey because connecting with consumers has been part of their vision for the farm since the transition began.
With their on-farm self-serve store completed in April 2020, just as the Covid pandemic hit, the couple had to pivot quickly to meet customer demand for more staples and more products as consumers were faced with shortages in stores and became more tuned-into where their food comes from and were looking for things to do, places to go.
Being somewhat off the beaten trail, BAD Farm is a destination, not a quick stop on the way home from work, but the raw milk sales on the farm and the connections made at the farmers’ markets off the farm give the Rices core customer bases to build on.
The store is built on the other side of the barn toward the house. The dairy innovation grant helped the Rices add processing with three uniquely incorporated trailers.
Jason’s grandfather David Rice, an electrician and retired contractor, came back for a long visit from Nebraska where he had moved many years ago (helping Jason’s uncle, Dan Rice, when he was still a partner in Prairieland Dairy, before the processing part of that business was sold).
The Rices had purchased a ‘processing trailer’ and revamped it with some new equipment to do the pasteurized creamline milk, chocolate milk and ice cream. They purchased a frozen foods trailer and turned it into their refrigerated storage cooler and another trailer for their storage freezer. The infrastructure adaptations are smart and practical. The three trailers back up into the back of the store building, with a buffer area for storage in between — and each with its own sets of sealed entry doors.
While grandfather David helped with the electrical work and mapping out the flow in processing, storage and retail, grandmother Gloria painted country art for the vintage displays of old farm and dairy equipment interspersed between coolers — giving the space that country store feel.
Jason and Kacey have known each other since high school. He went to SUNY Mohrsville for animal science and ag business management. She went to Penn State for ag education. For the past 10 years, Kacey was an ag teacher, until August 2022. Now she is full time at the farm, where she enjoys the processing and marketing. They have two young boys, Emmit, 6, and Ellis, 4, keeping them busy as well.
As their dream progresses, the Rices are methodical, taking incremental steps with eyes on how they invest and where they put their focus to continue diversifying, while staying rooted in using the dairy, eggs and beef produced on BAD Farm, where they DON’T live up to their name. To be continued.