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The Menschy Milkmen of Ronnybrook Farm Dairy

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Brothers Rick and Ronny Osofsky at their family farm dairy.

Twenty years ago, the Osofsky Brothers went back to the future. They started bottling milk at the dairy farm that their parents started in 1941 on hundreds of rolling acres that straddle Pine Plains and Ancramdale (which makes them both Dutchess and Columbia County farmers.)  By 1991, a glass milk bottle had become a relic from another age (like the rotary phone or the typewriter), which is why they made such a splash when they started selling quarts of milk with cream on top at the Union Square Greenmarket. “People line up to purchase Ronnybrook Farm Dairy milk for $1.50 a quart, plus a $1 deposit,” reported the dumbstruck New York Times. Over the past two decades, Ronnybrook has become synonymous with high quality organic dairy products, expanding its line to include chocolate milk, Creamline™ yogurt, butter, crème fraiche, and premium ice cream (which is all sold at the Scoop Creamery in Pine Plains.) In a recent taste test of strawberry ice creams, The New York Times described Ronnybrook’s strawberry as “tart and tangy” with a “lively berry flavor on the palate.”

Rural Intelligence Food Ronny and Rick Osofsky seem more like Borscht Belt comics than dairy entrepreneurs. “Our roots are on the Lower East Side,” says Rick, a one-time lawyer, explaining that his relatives first moved from the city to the country in the 1890s as part of a philanthropic program to help Jewish farmers. “They started in Cornwall Bridge, Connecticut, but there wasn’t a school there so they moved to Amenia, which had seven hotels at one point—it was the precursor to the Catskills. The Irish and Jews who lived there got along very well. The McEnroes and the Murphys helped build the synagogue.”

The Osofsky Brothers like to kibbitz.  They could talk for hours about the archaic federal laws and regulations that make it difficult for small independent dairies like theirs to prosper. “Nobody really understands how the government sets milk prices,” says Ronny, who looks like he could play Tevye, the milkman in Fiddler on the Roof. The overlapping and competing state and federal regulations for food production and processing can be confouding.  “We can make cheese using cheesecloth but we can’t make Greek-style yogurt by straining it through cheesecloth.” says Rick who has the same warm smile as his brother. “It makes no sense, but the inspector said that if we tried to make yogurt that way he’d shut us down!”

Rural Intelligence FoodThe Osofskys take great pride in how they treat their 100 Holsteins and how they make yogurt and ice cream in small batches on the farm, which is why they are holding an open house on Sunday, August 8, from 10 a.m.  to 5 p.m. There will be hay rides, milking and cooking demonstrations, freshly made milkshakes, live music, and barn tours. It’s a chance for the family to show off its new 30 collector solar panel hot water system that is used for washing and the production of yogurt and dairy products and will save the farm 2,000 gallons of oil annually.  It’s a chance for the Osoksky brothers to take stock of their operation that has a payroll of 50—including Rick’s daughter Kate, son Peter, and Ronny’s son Daniel—and for their customers to understand how much care goes into producing a quart of milk or a pint of ice cream.

Rural Intelligence Food As big as the business has gotten, the brothers are still hands-on owners, and they drive down together to New York City at 2:30 a.m. every Wednesday to spend the day selling milk at the Union Square Greenmarket.  “We also drop off products for our store at Chelsea Market and for other Greenmarkets.”  They are proud that they have helped keep Pine Plains an agricultural community. “A lot of farmers sold out in the 1980s and most of the dairies disappeared,” says Rick, who explains that one reason Pine Plains did not become overly gentrified was because there were so many trailers in town “and the fancy New Yorkers went to Rhinebeck and Millbrook instead.”  They are frustrated by conservationists who want to buy up farm land and let it sit fallow. “If you really want to preserve these views,” he says, looking at a panoramic. bucolic landscape that has not changed much since his parents arrived here seventy years ago, “you’ve got to support your farmers.”

Ronnybrook Farm Dairy Open House
310 Propsect Hill Road, Ancramdale, NY; 518.398.6455
Sunday, August 8
10 a.m. - 5 p.m.

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Posted by Dan Shaw on 08/04/10 at 06:28 AM • Permalink