FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE/ 08/29/10
WASHINGTON TWP. (Warren County) – Brian and Courtney Foley are a new breed of dairy farmer, staking their future on a new breed of bovine - at least to New Jersey.
The Foleys are raising water buffalo, whose high-butterfat milk is ideal for making a gourmet mozzarella cheese known in Italy as “mozzarella di bufala.” Although common in other parts of the world, water buffalo are a rarity in New Jersey.
“We knew we needed to differentiate ourselves with something that’s very recognizable and marketable,” explained Courtney about their decision to look beyond traditional dairy cows.
The Foleys have slowly built their water buffalo herd through purchase and breeding since acquiring their first cow in 2005. Two calves were born late July, bringing their herd to 16, and two more are expected in the fall.
With the steadily growing herd, pastures are getting crowded at the Foley’s seven-acre Meadow Breeze Farm. Luckily, the water buffalo will soon be moving to a roomier home: a 62-acre preserved farm that the Foleys bought from New Jersey Conservation Foundation earlier this summer. The property is about two miles from their current farm.
New Jersey Conservation Foundation acquired the former Sigler family farm off Cemetery Hill Road in 2008 to preserve it for agriculture. After permanently deed-restricting the property for farmland, the foundation put it on the market.
The Foleys turned out to be the perfect buyers.
They had been searching for a larger farm, but everything they looked at was out of their price range. Finally, they discovered that preserved farmland was more reasonably priced, since the development rights are permanently extinguished.
“It’s a beautiful piece of land, and we wouldn’t have been able to buy it if we were going up against a builder,” said Brian.
The Foleys purchased the farm in July for $378,000 and are currently repairing barns and fences, and replanting fields with a combination of warm and cool season grasses.
Always Wanted a Farm
Raising water buffalo in Warren County is a big leap for a couple who grew up in the Long Island suburbs and later lived in Queens. But what they lack in farming background they make up for in enthusiasm.
“Ever since I was a kid, I’ve loved animals and wanted a farm,” said Courtney.
She and Brian learned about water buffalo during two trips to Italy, where they visited farms and sampled cheeses. They were won over by the animals’ docile, friendly, intelligent personalities – and the delicious artisan mozzarella made from their rich milk. Another plus: water buffalo are hardy beasts that eat less than traditional dairy breeds and are resistant to most diseases.
The Foleys, who are in their thirties, said they’ve gotten a lot of farming tips and wisdom from the established dairy farmers near them. “The old farmers, they’ve all been very willing to help us,” said Brian. “Every one of them is fantastic.”
“All my (farmer) friends are in their seventies,” laughed Courtney. “They see us and think it’s kind of funny that we’re choosing farming at our age.”
One difficulty is the fact that water buffalo – which were domesticated in Asia thousands of years ago and are common in many parts of the world – are almost unheard of in America. There are only about 5,000 water buffalo in the entire United States, which makes it challenging for the Foleys to find animals to expand their herd.
They’re hoping more New Jersey dairy farmers will make the switch to water buffalo, allowing for a larger statewide breeding population.
Learning to Make Cheese
The Foleys learned the art of organic cheese-making by taking classes at the University of Pennsylvania and apprenticing with Jonathan White, owner of Bobolink Dairy in Hunterdon County, which produces organic cheeses. They’ve also been assisted by the Northeast Organic Farming Association’s New Jersey chapter.
They’ve perfected their buffalo mozzarella recipe through trial and error, although they’re not yet licensed to sell their cheeses. They’re hoping to have a commercial permit by next summer.
Meanwhile, family and friends are reaping the benefits.
“Our families on Long Island are astounded that we’re doing this,” said Courtney. “Then we bring cheese to their parties and they say, ‘That’s great.’ “
The Foleys are also convinced that their animals’ contentment is an important ingredient. “You know that commercial about how happy cows come from California?” asked Courtney. “Well, happy buffalo come from New Jersey.”
“They’re spoiled, no doubt,” commented Brian on his pampered buffaloes, some of whom follow him around the pastures like puppies.
New Jersey Conservation Foundation is a private nonprofit whose mission is to preserve land and natural resources throughout New Jersey for the benefit of all. Since 1960, New Jersey Conservation Foundation has protected more than 120,000 acres, or 187 square miles. For more information on programs and preserves, visit www.njconservation.orgor call 1-888-LAND-SAVE (1-888-526-3728).