By Michelle DiMuzio, Communications Coordinator
This story is part four of our Slow and Sustainable series, which profiles food businesses that are leaning into the “clean” of Slow Food’s ethos of good, clean and fair food for all. They are all winners of the Snail of Approval, a national award given to businesses embracing the environment, community, employees and people-centered values.
Nina and Jonathan White, founders of Bobolink Dairy and Bakehouse, first met in Greenwich Village in 1982. “Our first conversation consisted of ‘You make your own yogurt? So do I.’ ‘You bake your own bread? Me too,’” Nina recalled. “In those days, that was something people just didn’t do, so we were already kindred spirits.”
Another commonality between the pair is their devotion to the environment. They started their environmental activism working to clean the Hudson River and Long Island Sound waterways. After visiting several farms and making their own food from scratch, they quickly realized their life passion was to create something important within the realm of food that would encompass their talents and interests. This is how Bobolink was born slowly over time.
Bobolink Dairy and Bakehouse is part of our Snail of Approval program, granted by Slow Food Northern New Jersey; the farm sits on 187 acres of land in Milford, New Jersey, and focuses on 100% grass-fed, farmstead cheese, produced on a small-scale regenerative farm. In 2002, when Nina and Jonathan started the project, most landowners were utilizing their properties for tract housing or subsidy farming, causing negative environmental effects and reducing community value. The fields the dairy and bakehouse currently operate on were originally used for conventional crop rotation; the land was barren, pale and parched and faced erosion as well as flooding issues after heavy rainfalls.
Within a year of replanting the pasture, the flooding and erosion issues alleviated, and Nina and Jonathan witnessed a rebirth of organic matter and microbial flora. Since then, Bobolink Dairy and Bakehouse has touted itself as an environmental project with a focus on making good food.
One of the integral components of operations at Bobolink are the cows. Nina and Jonathan were advised to feed their cows grain and house them. After conducting their own research, they discovered these methods and other conventional practices of agriculture were not aligned with their mission. “During World War II, we needed some efficiencies; but we came out of the war with products looking for a market that we never really needed to make our foods, such as fertilizers and pesticides,” Nina explained.
This historical research led to practices Nina and Jonathan implement today. “When cows are fed corn, soy, and other non-grass products, their stomach produces acid because the cows develop a stomach ache,” Nina shared. “This kills the beneficial bacteria and it leads to e-coli overgrowth of pre-dominance, which can include pathogenic strains of e-coli. Then, in creating a perfect environment for e coli to thrive, e coli cannot fully break down nutrients in the cow’s digestive system and it produces methane in the large intestine. This does not happen in a grass-fed environment. It’s not the cow, it’s the how.”
This symbiotic relationship between the cow and grass is a crucial part of the ethos of Bobolink Dairy and Bakehouse; the grass provides necessary sugars for microbes to flourish, and the output is rich fertilizer for the land. “Every decision made about animal management is also a decision about environmental positive impact,” Nina stated. “We are always thinking of ways to improve the environment for the wildlife, the flora and fauna, the microbial flora and fauna under the ground, and water conservation — all things that are integral parts in how we make decisions.”
There are challenges that exist in their regenerative structure. Staffing is often an issue, due to their location and the national staffing crisis. Turning a profit from a very unconventional system can also be a challenge in any climate, but even harder in the 2020s. Nevertheless, Nina is steadfast about their practices. “We are having deep and everlasting environmental impacts by stopping fossil fuel based agriculture,” Nina explained. “I’m an advocate of the whole spectrum of foods grown in harmony with nature.”
Beyond animal management, Nina and Jonathan also prioritize sourcing local ingredients for their bakehouse, supporting the small grain initiative in their region. Their shop emulates these practices; it features heritage grains, local sourdough starters, and bread baking classes. Their commitment to ethical animal welfare practices is also reflected through their meats being sold on a retail basis only, as a commitment to slow-grown livestock. Charcuterie plays a prominent role in their products, to ensure every possible morsel of the animal is utilized.
Inspired by this story and the regenerative practices of Bobolink Dairy and Bakehouse? Nina and Jonathan are looking for new owners to carry on their legacy of positive environmental impacts. Contact them here for more information.
To learn more about the Snail of Approval program, check out our interactive map.
Photos | Karen Belgrave and Nina White