Once Upon a Cow micro-dairy opens on Polk Fresh Farm Tour June 24

Published 9:29 am Wednesday, June 21, 2017

You’ve heard of micro-breweries, but micro-dairies are a thing too.

Jason and Katie Craig were sitting at their kitchen table in Denver, Co. discussing where and how they wanted to raise their family.  “Let’s go home to North Carolina,” Jason said, “And let’s start a farm.”  Almost six years later that dream is becoming reality in Polk County.  The Craigs landed in Polk County because of the growing movement and support for local and small-scale farms. 

Sign up for our daily email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

From a little experience with small-scale dairy they knew they wanted to milk cows, but when they arrived they had very little farming experience and no land.  They found Restoration Farm, a small farm operated by Dawn Jordan, director of Polk’s Ag Economic Development office, and moved there in 2012. As the family learned the farming way of life at Restoration Farm, Jason also worked on other farms, took classes on organic agriculture, and read whatever he could.  The arrangement was great, but there was one problem: Restoration Farm didn’t have cows.

“We knew we needed to learn about cows, so I approached Hank at Achin’ Back Acres and asked if I could help on his grass-fed beef operation,” Jason remembers. “I worked in exchange for grass-fed beef, but one day, as I was cleaning a chicken coop, I asked Hank, ‘When are you going to teach me about cows?’” His answer was blunt, “Just get a cow. You’ll figure it out.”

So the Craigs bought two Jersey Cows. “Those cows had never been milked and we had never milked before,” Katie explains.  She said they were excited, but a little scared too. The night the first cow had her calf, Jason slept out in the pasture to keep an eye out. Then it was time to milk.  After some literal blood, sweat, and tears, they figured it out.  “It took both of us to make it work those first times” Jason laughs, “and Katie was in the mix of it with a baby on her back in a carrier!”  They’ve been milking now for about five years. 

The best part of the story is that the Craig’s were able to purchase Achin’ Back Acres this year, since Hank and Rosa retired from farming. The very place where they were challenged to “just get a cow” has become the home of Once Upon a Cow Micro Dairy. Jason says his favorite part of the new farm is the ‘cow-tunnel, a small tunnel that goes under Melvin Hill Rd so they can access their leased pasture across the street.

According to the Craigs the name conveys that their farm is part of a story with a lot of characters, twists, and turns – and they want you to join the plotline.  “So many people have helped us along the way,” Jason says, “we’re just excited to invite the community here to see the fruit of their investment in us, to see the story unfold, and to thank them.” 

Once Upon a Cow Micro Dairy will feature milk and yogurt products from grass-fed heritage breed cows that have rich and creamy milk. The processing facilities are not completed, so there will not be products for sale, but the Craigs will be selling “probiotic lemonade” that has the health benefits of things like yogurt. They will also be giving tours and demonstrations, including bottle-feeding a calf, showing how their small milking system works, and explaining their sustainable grazing practices. 

Jason and Katie will be throwing open their barn doors for the PolkFresh Farm Tour on Saturday, June 24. More information about the tour, tickets, and an interactive farm tour map are available on growrural.org or by calling the GRO offices at 828-436-0040.

Article submitted by Patrick McLendon