Sausage crackles on the stove, pancake batter bubbles in the skillet, and the Bryant family sits around a kitchen table spotted with syrup and strawberry jam. Their breakfast conversation depends on the weather and the seasons, the price of feed and the cost of milk, for the Bryants are farmers, rooted in Wayne County, Pennsylvania, for more than 125 years. Since Burton and Elizabeth Bryant first cultivated the glacial till of Highland Farm in the 1880s, five generations have been sustained by this land.
Essayist and farmer Wendell Berry believes that family farmers establish a connection to their land, a connection charged with the “profound and mysterious knowledge that is inherited, handed down in memories and names and gestures and feelings.” Like Berry, the Bryants share an intimate understanding of their farm. They have a place rich in history and full of promise to call home.
It is this sense of place that drew Emily Bryant and her husband, Jay Montgomery, back to Wayne County, with an idea to help the family farm prosper. While living in Bakersfield, California, the couple had developed an interest in using farm fresh milk to produce artisan cheeses. In California, Jay gained experience at an ice creammanufacturing company, and Emily, who had worked at the Penn State University Creamery as a food scienceundergraduate, took a cheese-making course at Cal-Poly University. They began to research cheese consumption in the United States, market opportunities near Wayne County, and the costs of production. Ultimately, Jay and Emily decided they could successfully fuse their creativity, their business savvy, and their desire to help the family farm; the foundation of Calkins Creamery was established.
According to the couple’s business plan, “Calkins Creamery will specialize in fine, artisan cheeses, using only the freshest milk possible from our very own herd of registered Holstein cattle.” Emily’s father, Bill, and her brothers, Zack and Mike, care for the herd. “Our cows are well cared for and comfortable,” Emily says. “Cow comfort reduces stress and results in an increase of milk production and butterfat.”
In addition to producing quality cheeses, Jay and Emily hope their consumers will come to know where food is raised and manufactured. “Today, many people take food sources for granted, and we want to show them where it all begins,” Emily explains.
Jay and Emily do not take these sources for granted. In fact, they participate in farm operations beyond the making of cheese. “The creamery complements the farm and vice versa,” Jay says. “All of the sustainable ag and land conservation projects initiated by Bill and Zack result in healthier feed, better livestock and spectacular cheesemilk. We're happy to help out in the barn when duty calls. We think it's important to participate in the whole process, from cow to consumer. That includes milking, summer haying, barn cleaning, feeding calves and a whole lot of other chores.”
For Emily, this full circle is perhaps the greatest reward of Calkins Creamery. She is with her family—husband, daughter, parents, siblings, and grandmother—and thankful each day for the joys that rural living, despite its challenges, provides. She remembers from her childhood the summer smell of drying hay and the relief of rain on a hot afternoon. She remembers picking strawberries with Grandma Bryant and searching the pasture for a cow that didn’t come to the barn for milking. She remembers evening chores and the blaze of sunset slanting through the windowpanes. These are memories she hopes her daughter, Elyse, will treasure as well. “I want Elyse to enjoy the same childhood I did. I want her to be surrounded by family and to be able to live the country life. Farming is tough but it is a great place to raise children. I also hope she will be my little cheese apprentice.”
Upper Delaware River