New ownership reviving piece of town’s history
By Lillian Browne, 9/7/2016
Source: Catskill Mountain News (link)
To sustain a viable business, dairy farmers have recognized the need to diversify. Today’s farmers realize that the dairy market has changed and, in Delaware County, that is especially noticeable. At one time, Delaware County was known for its expanse of dairy farms and other forms of agriculture, but today the number of dairy farms has dwindled.
Some of those remaining have managed to craft a niche market by offering value-added products such as cheese, yogurt, butter, and other milk-based products.
Seeing a demand for those value added products and having the experience of operating a small organic dairy farm has inspired Delaware County natives John and Dan Finn, brothers, to overhaul and re-open a once flourishing creamery in one of the county’s smallest towns - Bovina.
The brothers are partners in Bovina Valley Farms, LLC which is an umbrella for Dan’s artisanal cheese-making business where he makes Alderney, a tomme style cheese.
Grew up in Bovina
The brothers grew up in Bovina in the 1970s and attended nearby Delaware Academy in Delhi as students. They don’t remember the former Bovina Creamery being open - it closed in 1973 - but they distinctly remember that dairy farming was the only industry in Bovina. In 1970, John said, there were approximately
27 dairy farms in Bovina. Today, there are only two.
John had already acquired the former Hilson’s General Store in 2015 when the creamery property came on the market. He purchased the creamery with a vision of restoring Bovina to the community he knew as a child.
The creamery is currently being retrofitted to process milk and to produce yogurt and cheese. That is being done with input and guidance from Shannon Mason, owner of Cowbella dairy products in Jefferson, another key figure in the operation.
Mason has outgrown her own processing facility and by joining forces with the Finns is responding to increase demand for locally produced dairy products. Mason, Finn explained, has a market connection, which will allow Bovina Creamery products to distributed regionally.
Early projections for a fall 2016 were optimistic and the creamery is now expected to open in spring 2017.
And that’s not all
The creamery is not the only business John Finn is bringing to Bovina. The former general store is being reshaped into a restaurant and inn with hopes of capturing the ever growing tourist market. “Bovina is such a quaint town, off the beaten path and with the proximity to New York City, I believe we can capitalize on it,” he said.
He said his plans will not hurt business at Brushland Eating House, which opened in the space formerly occupied Two Old Tarts, now located in Andes. “They are happy we are doing this. A rising tide lifts all boats,” he said of his perception that there is a large enough market for everyone to benefit from tourist dollars.
Dry Town Tavern, the name of the forthcoming restaurant, is expected to open late-spring 2018. The inn, which will be located in the same building, will open during the first fiscal quarter of 2017.
The final piece of Finn’s plan to help re-boot Bovina’s microag economy is to acquire the former dairy farm between the creamery and the former general store through a not-for-profit livestock foundation with the vision of preserving rural life in Delaware County through educational and outreach programs.
A search for an executive director for the foundation is currently underway and the farm property is expected to be acquired this fall.
Once all facets of the plan are in place, Finn says visitors will be able to stay at the inn, eat at the restaurant, and visit the creamery and farm as part of a true agritourism experience.
Work is ongoing. The falling down boiler room behind the creamery has been rehabbed, windows and roofs have been repaired and replaced, a new floor is being poured, the parking lot is being resurfaced and the general store is being raised for repair. Cheese aging rooms, or caves, are also being outfitted.
Finn said growing up in the area has given him an edge in marketing the traditions of the region. But, he said, he is not just investing in family; he is investing in Delaware County.
He has leveraged start-up business risks with dairy farmer work ethics, a current tourist market that make all-things- Catskills trendy and a desire to give a sleepy town an economic boost.
The only concern Finn has is whether he will be able to find enough employees for the triad. “I look at that as a good problem and a great opportunity for the area,” he said.