LEE -- After a 40-year absence, the Leahey Farm is getting back into the dairy business.
Armed with a $50,000 loan from a newly created regional agricultural fund, Phil and Jen Leahey plan to erect a small, state-of-the-art dairy processing plant, to churn out fresh pasteurized bottled milk and frozen yogurt.
The fifth-generation Leaheys expect the facility to be operational in April; daily milking 10 heritage breed bovines -- Jersey and Shorthorned to start -- at the 124-year-old family farm.
The dairy products will supplement the pasture-raised meats from Devon cattle and Tamworth hogs that the farm sells directly to Berkshire markets.
"There's never been a better time to do this given the demand for locally produced food," Jen Leahey said.
"We've seen our business grow each year," Phil Leahey noted.
Seven years ago, the 40-something married couple with two young children took over the day-to-day chores of running the Leahey Farm. Established in 1889, the farm for decades milked 30 to 40 cows daily, until it dropped dairy in 1972 for financial reasons. The family has continued to raise livestock and some crops on 60 acres of their 300-acre parcel near October Mountain State Forest.
Phil and Jen Leahey say reintroducing dairy to the farm was prompted, in part, by the Lakeville, Conn.-based Salisbury Bank and the Greater Berkshire Agricultural Fund. The two entities last year announced they had teamed up to establish a loan program to help farms and food processors grow their businesses in a four-county area. Eligible businesses in Berkshire County, Litchfield County in Conn_ecticut, and Columbia and Dutchess counties in New York can apply for up to $75,000.
The Leahey Farm is the first to benefit from the local farm financing effort, with five more loan applications under review, according to Benneth Phelps, loan and outreach coordinator for the Great Berkshire Agricultural Fund.
"We chose the Leaheys because they are very motivated and have an existing land base and existing customer base," she said.
"We look forward to financing more deserving businesses," added Geof Talcott, Salisbury Bank's chief lending officer, "and having a long relationship with the Greater Berkshire Agricultural Fund."
The return to dairy farming has thrilled the elder Leaheys, including Phil's father, Jim Leahey.
"Each year there is more interest in local foods as knowing where it's produced is important," he said.
The retired veterinarian, along with Phil's uncles Maurice, Joe and aunt Betty Leahey remain active in the family business.
While adding dairy is an effort to boost the farm's bottom line, Phil Leahey said the expansion is also about preserving a way of life.
"Growing up, I saw a lot of farmland get developed," he said. "It's real emotional for me that the land stay in farming."
As for adding jobs, the Leahey Farm will remain a family affair, forgoing outside employment, for now.
"The running joke is we're hiring ourselves," Phil Leahey said.
To reach Dick Lindsay:
or (413) 496-6233.