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From the cow’s teat to the shelf in just a few days

by Amy Kingsley

The Bowman family has been in the dairy business for a very long time, six generations to be exact. That’s long enough for them to earn naming rights to a four-mile stretch of asphalt that straddles the border of Guilford and Randolph counties and terminates at the entrance to their rambling 350-acre property.

That entrance, which I anticipate will be marked with stately signage, is instead notable for something else ‘— the 30-odd Holsteins lounging contentedly in the front pasture. The herd, which has collectively settled on the green turf with forelegs tucked under chests, is part of an expansion plan for the family farm. Once these pregnant cows give birth to their calves, they’ll be ready for the milking machines, homegrown oats and other accoutrements of the productive dairy cow.

The Bowmans do things the old-fashioned way, with a heavy dose of elbow grease and an aversion to hormones and antibiotics. Brothers Chris and David Bowman alternate rising well before dawn for the 3:30 a.m. milking. The alarm rings an hour and a half earlier than that on the three days the creamery processes milk.

Bowman Dairy processes its milk in the Homeland Creamery that sits on a plot of land near the center of their compound. It’s an addition the brothers and their wives made about six years ago when they took over running the farm. Before that ‘— way before that ‘— family members would milk the cows by hand, load the milk onto a truck and haul it to the Guilford Dairy. Now, the Guilford Dairy is gone, along with about 95 percent of the 200 dairies that used to operate in the county, and the Bowmans are the only dairy farmers around that process their milk on site.

‘“This has been just another way to try to pay the bills,’” Terry Bowman, one of the wives, says as she shows me around the processing plant. ‘“We’re interested in supplying people with good, fresh dairy products.’”

Fresh is the key word. People who purchase milk and other products from the Bowmans, who distribute under the Homeland Creamery moniker, can be assured that the finished product got to store shelves within days of being squeezed from the teat. The same can’t be said of most large-scale processing plants, which first have to gather milk from many different dairies.

They process things a little differently around here, too. They’ve got two vat pasteurizers that can handle 700 gallons of milk ‘— heating them to 165 degrees for 30 minutes.

‘“Most bigger creameries heat the milk to 185 degrees or higher for 15 seconds,’” Terry Bowman says. ‘“The lower temperatures give the milk a creamier, more custardy flavor.’”

Once the milk is pasteurized it is sent to the homogenizer that distributes cream uniformly throughout the drink. Its last stop before bottling is a plate cooler, where icy water chills the milk down to a cool 38 degrees.

The creamery produces about 3,000 gallons of milk a week, and each batch is rigorously monitored to meet Department of Agriculture safety standards. In a small room next to the processing plant, charts recording the heat pasteurization in each vat hang sequentially on pegs. A small collection of testing equipment detects both bacteria and antibiotics.

‘“The milk inspector can come in here any time and ask to see these records,’” Bowman says. ‘“Milk is the most highly monitored of any agricultural product.’”

Of course, the Bowmans produce a pretty wholesome product and proudly post the label ‘“all-natural’” on their products. They grow a majority of the oats and grains fed to the cows right here on the farm.

In fact, the only difference between them and organic producers is their treatment of sick cows. Terry Bowman says that under organic regulations, dairy farmers with sick animals must simply hope they get better or get rid of them.

‘“But we get kind of attached to these animals, so we help our cows get better,’” she says.

Their solution is to treat sick animals with antibiotics, mark their legs with orange ink and throw out their milk until the antibiotic has passed out of their system.

The farmers’ attachment to the animals comes from the hand-raising that starts at birth. Outside the humble retail shop, a one-story brick annex affixed to the processing plant, a wobbly one-week old calf bleats for attention after a school group has finished a bottle-feeding demonstration.

They get a lot of school groups around these parts, and Terry was barely able to squeeze me into a schedule stretched by order-taking and tour-guiding. The reasons for the tour popularity are manifold. A bottle-feeding baby animal is a surefire crowd pleaser, as are the dozen flavors of hand-mixed ice cream. But one cannot discount the warmth of the environment, which is populated by family, friends and eager members of this rural community proud to peddle the local wares.

Tomorrow there’s a school group and a birthday party. Planners of big events, like the birthday party, can take advantage of Homeland Creamery’s unique event facility: an ancient shade tree in a fallow field.

The Bowman Dairy is a nice farm and a stalwart reminder of the area’s agricultural past. However, those who can’t make the drive out to this southeastern corner of Guilford County have plenty of options for sampling Homeland Creamery products. Natural foods stores like Deep Roots, Fresh Market and Earth Fare stock their milk, butter, buttermilk and ice cream.

A number of Greensboro and High Point restaurants also use dairy products from right around the bend. Coffee drinks from the Green Bean in Greensboro and the Bean in High Point feature Homeland milk, Alex Amoroso uses the milk for his famous cheesecakes and Liberty Oak always keeps a couple gallons on hand.

I decided to try a pint of blueberry ice cream I grabbed at Deep Roots on my way home from work. As I spoon the rich purple concoction into a bowl later that night I reflect. I wonder whether this treat came from one of the cows that watched my car with mild pity that afternoon as the clouds gathered overhead and I pulled into reverse to head back to the city.

To comment on this story, e-mail Amy Kingsley at amy@yesweekly.com

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