May 7, 2015
For Francesca and Marisa, it often starts with a taste, a nibble or a spoonful grabbed from a sampling table at a farmers market or food festival. The products we like come home for more tasting, to be sure we weren’t just caught up in a moment—and the really good products usually have a great story behind their development. There’s no question that ricotta and mozzarella are among 150ish’s favorite cheeses, so we were happy to sample what we found at the Fulper Family Farmstead table at the recent Philly Food and Farm Fest. Fulper’s not an Italian name, but we loved the super-fresh taste of their cheeses. And their story? Yes, it’s a great one.
Here’s the dish. When Mary Fulper moved to Lambertville, New Jersey, in 1909, she brought with her a young son, Norman, and a single dairy cow. Norman took over the farm in the 1920s. He expanded the dairy herd to 20 cows and added chickens, but the farm primarily grew vegetables, including tomatoes that he sold to the Campbell Soup Company in nearby Camden. Norman’s son Bob took over the operation of the farm in the 1950s. He hated chickens, so expanded the dairy side of the business, adding a state-of-the-art milking system to serve his 80 cows.
While Bob Fulper can still be found on the farm, operations have now passed to his sons, Robert II and Fred, and Robert II’s children, members of the Fulper family’s fifth generation.
It’s increasingly rare to find a dairy farm that’s family run, let alone one that’s been in one family for five generations. But while Fulper family is proud of their heritage, they run a business that is squarely focused on the future.
150ish spoke with Breanna Fulper, one of the fifth-generation Fulpers, who shares in the farm’s management. “Today we milk about 120 black-and-white Holsteins and farm about 1200 acres of land,” she told us. “We no longer grow any produce, only hay and straw and field crops like corn and soybeans. From that acreage, 350 to 400 acres is planted solely to feed the dairy cows; the rest of the hay and straw is sold to horse farms in the area. Our Holsteins produce about 8,000 gallons of milk a day.”
In the beginning, the Fulpers sold 100 percent of their milk to the co-op and 90 percent of their milk still goes there, some of it selling as Wegmans private label milk and the rest under the Reading Farms label to ShopRite stores in New Jersey. “Of course, we’d like that to change,” Breanna says, explaining that federally regulated milk prices allow for a minimal mark up on raw milk. As with many other small dairy farms, the Fulpers were looking for dairy products they could sell direct to consumers.
A little over two years ago, Breanna and her father launched their own dairy line, which includes fresh mozzarella, string mozzarella in two flavors (crushed red pepper and parsley and nigella seed), ricotta, and yogurt. Just this month they introduced an aged cheddar. “I may be biased,” Breanna laughs, “but it’s really phenomenal.”
When asked why they chose to launch their line with such distinctly Italian cheeses, Breanna explained, “Some of it was a little bit personal, those are the cheeses we like to eat. We like the creamy side of it—your yogurts, ricotta, and mozzarella, which is still a soft cheese. But we also felt that was a niche that really wasn’t covered in our area, and that’s still true today. In maybe a 75- to 100-mile radius there’s not another farm making what we make—especially the ricotta, that’s unique.”
Breanna has always been an entrepreneur when it comes to the family farm. Eight years ago, while still a student, she established the Farmstead Adventure Camp on the farm. That part of their business now includes the summer day camp, bi-weekly farm tours, birthday parties, and many other on-farm events.
Francesca and Marisa wish we could spend a week at the Fulper Adventure Camp, which just sounds like loads of fun. “The kids get to take care of their own calf for a week,” Breanna tells us. “They get to name their calf, feed it and wash it, clip their hair and shine them up for a show at the end of the week. And the most important part is they get to teach the calf to lead on a halter in just one week. It’s very rewarding for the kids to learn how to do that. The first day you see them struggling and by the end of the week they’re leading the calves around like they’ve been on a farm their whole life.”
While the camp is designed to be a mix of education—where their food comes from and what it means to take care of an animal—the rest is a fun, fresh-air experience, with hay rides, water games, egg tosses, relay races; there’s even a farm Olympics.
The Fulpers do not rest their reputation on the farm’s history—they have received national recognition for their environmental innovation as well. In 2011, they devoted an acre of land to the installation of solar panels that produce all the energy needed to run the farm. The farm also has 0% manure run-off: all liquid manure is collected in a lagoon that is then used to fertilize the fields. Solid manure is used for cow bedding (and no, it doesn’t smell).
“Everything we do is a recycling process or a way to be more efficient for the environment,” Breanna says. “As a farmer who’s been on the same land for more than a century, part of your job is to take care of that land for the next century. How you care for the land and how you care for the cows is critical for the success of the next generation.”
That next generation is already securing its place in the farm’s history. In addition to Breanna, her brother works full-time on the farm, her younger sister is at Penn State studying agri-business, and another sister has a business plan in place for a learning center on the farm.
Originally published by 150ish The Local Dish