HOUGHTON - Tucked away on a pine-covered meadow just outside Houghton is Hidden Acres Farm where William and Anna Aho are providing locals with access to farm-fresh raw milk.
The couple started their small family business by purchasing a family milk cow, intending to enjoy the benefits of having fresh, raw milk for their family.
It didn't take long to realize that even one cow produced more milk than they could use. Thus grew the idea of offering raw milk dairy shares to others from their hormone-free, grass-fed Jersey cow herd.
"We started out selling shares to family members and it grew from there," William said. "People are becoming more interested in seeing where their food is coming from and they can come here and see exactly where that is - we are farming for our customers."
This is how the business works: The only way to legally receive "farm fresh," raw milk in Michigan is if you own your own cow, or part of a cow. Hidden Acres Farm is offering people the opportunity to purchase a "share" in a cow, becoming part owner of a cow.
Hidden Acres Farm boards the cows for share holders who pay a monthly boarding fee, covering the care and maintenance of the cow for the complete duration of their ownership in the herd. They then can receive milk from their own cow.
"Purchasing a share is an investment," William said. "When you purchase a share you own part of a cow. It's very similar to horse boarding or a CSA farm for vegetables except you are getting milk from your cow."
"We house, feed, milk and take care of the cow for them," he added. "We do it as naturally as possible - no hormones and no chemicals. They're grass fed with a little grain when the grass quality is low."
William, who was born and raised on a dairy farm in Minnesota, said they're in the process of growing their own feed so they can dictate exactly what goes into the herd.
A full-share buyer receives one gallon of milk per week from his or her cow and a half-share receives one-half gallon per week. Each gallon of raw milk produces three to four cups of cream. People can purchase as many shares as they like.
Buyers are then asked to select a day of the week, Monday through Saturday, to pick up their milk from the farm. Glass milk bottles are available at Hidden Acres Farm for purchase.
William said it's important buyers understand Hidden Acres Farm is not selling them milk directly, but rather is boarding their cow for them. The cost of a full share is a one time $100 fee. The boarding fee is $26 per month, which allows the share holder 1 gallon of milk per week. Shareholders are required to sign a herd share agreement which can be seen on Hidden Acres Farm Facebook page along with recipes and updates of the farm.
As far as the quality of the milk, Anna said Jersey cows are known for producing a richer, creamier product.
"It's higher in calcium and protein than any other breed of cow's milk," she said.
Besides for drinking, fresh milk is great for making butter, ice cream, yogurt, and cheese, among other things, William said.
"Sour cream is one of the easiest things to make," he said. "We take two cups of cream, three tablespoons of cultured buttermilk, shake it up in a jar and let it sit on the counter for 36 hours or longer depending on how thick you want the consistency. Yogurt is also another easy product to make, and is much cheaper than store-bought."
The beauty of raw milk, he said, is that it doesn't spoil like pasteurized milk.
While there are any number of reasons why people choose raw milk over pasteurized, it's the health benefits that appear to be the deciding factor. The pasteurization process, he said, destroys the good vitamins and bacteria that are in the milk.
"For people who are lactose intolerant, raw milk works well with their diet," he said. "I've got shareholders who are lactose intolerant and they have no problems with our milk."
It's been shown that raw milk has had positive effects for those suffering with asthma and allergies, ear infections and osteoporosis.
"There's a lot of information you can find about the benefits of raw milk," William said. "I read it was even used as a medicine at one time."
William said in the future they're looking to expand their operation by adding onto their barn and increasing their herd as the number of shareholders increase.
They also plan to set up drop stations in different areas of the Upper Peninsula to better serve shareholders who are farther away.
William maintains a clean operation so "people can show up in their church shoes if they want."
Cleanliness is a high priority for healthy milk.
Hidden Acres Farm is also raising Thanksgiving turkeys, meat chickens, pigs, and beef.
Although they are sold out for this year they are looking forward to taking orders for next year.
For more information about Hidden Acres Farm, call 218-252-6735, email email@example.com, or find them on Facebook at Hidden Acres Farm, where the herd share agreement is available to view and any updates on the farm are posted.
Editor's note: This feature is part of a paid advertising package purchased by Hidden Acres Farm of Houghton. Businesses interested in being featured on the Business page may call Yvonne Robillard at 483-2220.