HVADC Client: Ronnybrook Farm Dairy
Dec 8, 2023
Modernizing an iconic bottling operation
Ronnybrook Farm Dairy in Pine Plains, New York has become renowned for two things; first of course - the amazingly high quality milk and line of dairy products, and second - their iconic glass bottles. The multigenerational family farm’s bold decision to start glass bottling their milk in the 1990’s, for distribution regionally (and especially in New York City) was risky, but turned their operation into the exemplar it is today.
After 30 years of glass bottling however, it became clear that it was time to modernize some of the farm’s packaging equipment and facility. Recently, owner Rick Osofsky, (who joined his late brother Ronald at the farm shortly after he had founded the dairy operation in the 1980s) turned to HVADC to help find grants that could assist in the cost of the needed improvements. Through the Incubator Without Walls program (IWW) Osofsky and daughter Kate, worked with Business Technical Assistance provider Brian Zweig to find and access what they needed.
With Zweig’s aid, Ronnybrook applied for, and was awarded, an Existing Dairy Processor Expansion (EDPE) Grant through the Northeast Dairy Innovation Center (NE-DBIC). The grant perfectly fit the farm’s packaging equipment need and Ronnybrook perfectly fit the grant’s intent. Despite being one of the nation’s most celebrated dairy brands, it’s no secret that the economics and politics surrounding the industry have been extremely challenging for the business for decades.
The EDPE grant was specifically designed to help farms like Ronnybrook adapt to changing markets. This particular, one-time, infusion of funding was a direct result of the Northeast Dairy Taskforce. The group was convened by the Vermont Agency of Agriculture, Food and Markets at the request of U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Secretary Tom Vilsack in response to Danone/Horizon cutting milk contracts with regional dairy farmers. After deliberating, the taskforce recommended investing “catalytic levels of funding into existing successful track-record processors positioned to scale production quickly.”
The USDA subsequently awarded the NE-DBIC $20 million to address the “stability and viability” of northeast regional dairy. The EDPE grant funds specified equipment to help processors increase the use of regionally sourced milk and expand regional dairy processing capacity. Ronnybrook was awarded nearly $150,000 with just a 37% matching requirement.
Ronnybrook will use the funds to improve their bottling machinery, but the grant will also help improve packaging operations for their other products such as yogurt and eggnog, automate box building (currently done by hand), and help with their project to double the size and capacity of their milk holding silo.
Osofsky is as impassioned about the future of all American family-owned dairy farms as he is about his own. An attorney as well as a farmer, Osofsky said, that the government needs to promote more programs that help the dairy industry and fight back against the misinformation he sees being spread about milk consumption, which continues to decline nationally.
“I am passionate about it,” Osofsky said. “With the failing of family-owned dairy farms you don’t just lose the farm, you lose the towns and the communities. The industry is just so over regulated. Milk is a fundamentally important nutrient. We’ve been drinking it for 10,000 years and now all of a sudden it’s bad for you?”
Ronnybrook is a pillar of the family-farming legacy in the Hudson Valley and the HVADC community. Involved early on, the dairy was a founding member of HVADC’s Hudson Valley Bounty at launch and has been accessing the assistance provided through the IWW program since 2010. The first instance was for the creation of an expansion plan, and later in 2017 for legal assistance when working with the Columbia Land Conservancy and Scenic Hudson to put over 200 acres of the dairy under farmland conservation protection.
“Ronnybrook has been a great friend, ally, and inspiration to HVADC since our beginning,” said HVADC Executive Director Todd Erling. “Their example as an innovative business leader and an outspoken moral authority in the industry is something the Hudson Valley can be proud of. The EDPE grant is perfectly suited to help the farm reach it’s goals, continue to grow and remain the beacon of excellence we know it as today.”
To learn more about the type of Business Technical Assistance that HVADC can provide farms and food producers, visit https://www.hvadc.org/business-technical-assistance.