Trinity Valley Dairy

Trinity Valley Dairy, “Next Level” Changes Supported by the VAPG

Sandra Yerges

When Branden and Rebekah Brown envisioned their future in the early 2010s, they could not think of a better place to raise their family than on Rebekah’s family farm. They both grew up immersed in agriculture, but their respective careers led them away from the practice of farming for some time. Returning to the New York-based farm around a decade ago with a desire to transform it into a dairy operation without any expertise in the practice, the pair began learning along with Rebekah’s parents, Ken and Sue Poole, to begin what is now known as Trinity Valley Dairy.

During this time, they recognized how laborious the manual process of milking was, especially while managing both the hundred cows they had and their family responsibilities. To make this process more efficient, they were fortunate to come across the type of milking equipment they needed from a fellow farm that was closing down in 2013. This addition allowed them to begin product creation efforts one short year later.

Although ice cream production was their initial plan for Trinity Valley Dairy, the idea was put on hold for the time being as the equipment was better suited for the production of cheese curds and fluid milk. With a six valve filler and 300 gallon pasteurizer, the farm started creating these two types of products that have remained their primary dairy offerings over the past ten years.

Even today, however, Branden noted that the past desire to produce ice cream is still on the forefront of their minds. “That’s always been the one item that we wanted to do from day one, and it just hasn’t quite gotten there yet,” he shared.

Nonetheless, their current milk and cheese curd products have made a considerable presence on the shelves of grocery stores in the central New York region. In each of the Wegmans and Price Chopper locations, Trinity Valley Dairy provides both rural and urban customers with their carefully crafted dairy products. With all of their retail outlet customer locations ranging from the New York City area to the quieter parts of the state, they are always open to additional business opportunities.

Over the years, this company has been committed to updating and upgrading their operations in many ways to produce these products. By increasing their pasteurizer size sixfold and constructing a robotic milking plant at their farm for 60 of their Jersey cattle, the farm has grown considerably since its origin.

Around the same time as the implementation of their new robotic milking system, Trinity Valley Dairy became a two-time recipient of the USDA Value-Added Producer Grant (VAPG). Both grant experiences correlated to the support of each of their products, with the first assisting their fluid milk operation and the second financing their cheese curd production. Throughout these funding opportunities, Branden appreciated the flexibility of the VAPG program.

“It’s an amazing grant, especially because you have to pre-select what you’re going to use the money for,” he expressed.

With the help of a grant writer in both application phases, some of the funding areas he chose to focus on were implementing a new food safety plan, paying their employees, offsetting milk and cheese curd production material costs, and revamping their product labels. After making these VAPG-supported changes, especially the label updates, there has been a notable increase in sales. As a “big supporter of the grant,” Branden expressed his gratitude for this assistance and the boost each experience provided.

“It was just a great way for us to have the extra money to do things that we know were important, just maybe didn’t have the resources at that time,” he explained. “Those grants have really set us apart from where we were and where we are today, giving us that extra money to take us to the next level.”

This newfound success is something that can be shared with the community that has supported their business throughout the years. One way the dairy has opened its doors to those locally is through on-site tours for school groups. The curious minds of a thousand students each year make their way onto the property to learn all about the process of creating Trinity Valley Dairy products.

While partaking in these tours, the students witness each stage of a dairy farmer’s job, from feeding the cows to dairy product creation. Being that the business now has robotic machinery, it is a great way to show off the milking process to these students. On top of these engaging and immersive lessons, the company has an on-site playground for the children to enjoy.

Before Trinity Valley Dairy’s recent decision to expand their milk operation, they also offered other on-site opportunities for the community, including a fall corn maze and retail shop. Although these offerings have been halted for the near future as this adjustment period is underway, they will be available again for guests at a new farm location they purchased near Interstate 81 within the next few years.

Having this new 60 acre property will not only attract new customers traveling through the area, but it will also provide the perfect amount of space to start producing the product they have dreamed about since the beginning: ice cream. With hopes to get their ice cream developed next year, they are closer to their earliest goal than ever before.

Even with two VAPG experiences under their belt, Trinity Valley Dairy’s journey with the grant is not over yet. Feeling “very blessed and fortunate” for these past funding opportunities, Branden stated that their plan is to apply for this grant for a third time to support their ice cream production, just as they did with their other dairy products.