About two miles south of the village of Millbrook, N.Y., is a patch of rolling farmland that looks at lot like much of rest of the landscape in this bucolic corner of the Hudson Valley. But there's a notable difference that takes a keen eye to notice. It's not the land but rather what's grazing on it: miniature cows.

Dawn Coralei and her three teenage children raise the diminutive Hereford cattle, which were cultivated from preserved bloodlines, on 200 leased acres, where the animals spend lazy days gnawing grass and doing whatever else cows do. Their smaller size makes them easier to handle and requires less space and food, Coralei says. Plus, she says, "they're so adorable."

In some ways it's a misnomer to call Coralei's herd of cows "miniature" because they're the same size cows used to be before modern cattle feeding and harvesting techniques were developed around the middle of last century. Greater use of grain for feed and other changes resulted in cows that are roughly twice the size they once were.

A Four-Legged Pet Project

Feeding on grass rather than grain provides health benefits for both animal and consumer, Coralei says, and helps to meet organically grown standards. But the cows' smaller size also means consumers get more realistically sized cuts of meat. "They're more of an appropriate size -- more of what you should be consuming versus a dinner-plate sized (portion)," she says.

Employed by the nonprofit Dyson Foundation as a project manager, raising cows isn't Coralei's full-time job. It's kind of a pet project, if you will, that she undertook three years ago. But it's been so successful, she says, that she can't meet demand for either breeding stock or beef to sell to consumers looking for an alternative to meat sold at traditional supermarkets.

Coralei has tapped into the growing "locavore" movement, joined by a growing number of Americans who are coming back to the land to raise their own food, whether that's cows, goats, chicken, or fruits and vegetables. Those that don't grow their own are increasingly interested in buying locally produced foods and goods in part as a way to connect with their communities.

Farms Close to Home

By their actions, these new-age pioneers are helping to preserve farms and open space that might otherwise fall fallow or be developed for housing or strip malls. Consumer interest in locally grown food has raised the number of small farms in the region and caused sales of direct-to-consumer goods by farmers to jump during the last decade, says Sara Grady, a researcher at Glynwood, a nonprofit dedicated to saving farms in the Northeast.

The locavore, or local food, movement is being driven in part by recent food scares, such as the massive egg recalls last month at two large Iowa egg producers and tainted tomatoes two years ago, among others. But it isn't just safety that's fueling demand for locally produced food; consumers now demand higher quality food, says Janet Crawshaw, co-publisher of The Valley Table magazine, which covers farms, food and cuisine in the Hudson Valley.

"People have been looking for better food, and they're finding it closer to home," Crawshaw says.

An alternative to selling directly to consumers is, of course, selling to restaurants. That once was a hard sell for many farmers. But just as consumers have jumped on the locavore bandwagon so have a growing number of talented chefs.

"The market is really demanding better food and local food, and so farmers -- who 10 years ago were being turned away from the kitchen door of a lot of restaurants -- are now being wooed," Crawshaw says.

Infiltrating the CIA

Many local chefs in the Hudson Valley are graduates of the Culinary Institute of America, the main campus of which is in Hyde Park. The college began a local-food buying program about 20 years ago, says spokesman Stephan Hengst. The college's esteemed reputation has allowed it "to make a dramatic difference in buying habits, specifically of restaurant chefs, which of course then influences consumers (and) trickles down to supermarkets," he says.

CIA typically has a student body of about 1,500 students each year, where aspiring chefs are taught about the importance of finding local sources of food. But CIA, which also runs five restaurants, has a significant impact on area food producers, purchasing about $750,000 worth of products each year from 30 local farms.

Also driving direct sales of farm-to-consumer goods is a program sponsored by the county tourism agency, which brings New York City-area residents north via train for tours of local farms and wineries. Known as Farm Fresh, the initiative is geared to those who don't own cars. It has brought about 2,300 people to the area, about 70 miles north of Manhattan, during the last three summers, says Lydia Higginson, deputy director at Dutchess County Tourism.

"The biggest challenge for us is transportation. It's very expensive," Higginson says. A grant this year by the U.S. Department of Agriculture helped offset the cost, reducing out-of-pocket expenses to tourists for train fare and bus transportation to about $30 each.

If You Bring Them, They Will Buy

Farm Fresh and other tourism agency sponsored programs have helped local farms and wineries sell more of their products. One organic farm, as an example, reported sales on average of $32 a person, while a winery said it sold an average of two bottles of wine per visitor, Higginson says. Such incremental sales are welcomed and helpful, especially given the nation's struggling economy.

Higginson says tourists' curiosity about local farms is sometimes driven by concern about the food safety. Consumers increasingly want to know where their food comes from, she says. "As people become more scared about the overall food source, they become more comfortable about finding out about (local foods)."

But there are also those visitors who simply want to experience a bit of rural life -- even if just for a day. For them, coming to a farm can be an eye-opening experience, Higginson says. "Some people," she says, "have never seen an ear of corn."

Increase your money and finance knowledge from home

Introduction to Preferred Shares

Learn the difference between preferred and common shares.

View Course »

Introduction to Retirement Funds

Target date funds help you maintain a long term portfolio.

View Course »

Add a Comment

*0 / 3000 Character Maximum

28 Comments

Filter by:
thegoodguy2151

I do my best to support all my local farmers. Try and find grass fed beef. Almost impossible these days. SOMETIMES Whole Foods has it. I hope the best for them because the big corporations like the scum bags at Monsanto are always pushing to pass laws that help them and eliminate their smaller competitors. It's too bad our Government is up for sale to the highest bidder rather than doing what they can to protect the people they swore to protect.

September 19 2010 at 1:01 PM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply
debra9084

How utterly sickening when the person in the article refers to the cows as "adorable' when they raise them to be slaughtered. I wonder if all those in Asia who slaughter dogs for food think the puppies are so cute and play with the dogs until they slaughter them! Disgusting!!!!!!!!!! Humans are the most evil species on this planet, and their history and practices scream the evil.

September 19 2010 at 12:35 PM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply
cbailey621

look up how the government is proposing to limit the amount of Methane by taxing each head of cattle. It is real, and will effect the home grown market.

September 19 2010 at 11:56 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
obarbin

For those who want to help keep family farms and Farmers' Markets going: call or write your representatives and tell them to OPPOSE Prop. S.510. This bill can be used by big "farma" (Con-Ag, Monsanto, etc.) to eliminate any and all competition.

September 19 2010 at 10:05 AM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply
dtwoleftfeet

take your greed induced attitude ....and shove it. Thank god that America produced so many GREED driven millionaires that they left their American society with the highest living standard in the world. Our 'poor' are the equivalent of the european middle class

September 19 2010 at 8:32 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
luvdecat7

So glad that people are using healthy alternatives to greed induced and grown cattle and milk products. How wonderful.

September 19 2010 at 4:01 AM Report abuse +3 rate up rate down Reply
Perry Allotta

The honest people opnion is always welcome

September 18 2010 at 9:40 PM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply
Paul FIQUET

Again the little farmers have been ran off the land by the Big Corporation farms and you can bet your boots that they are Republicans.we used to have a milk cow here for our own use ,,,,milk and butter...but we had to get rid of her on acount that if we had to leave the place for a day or two we could not find anybody to milk for us for a short time ??new generation thinks milk comes from a gallon bottle and eggs from a carton LOL

September 18 2010 at 8:53 PM Report abuse -6 rate up rate down Reply
4 replies to Paul FIQUET's comment
cqdeed

Fond memories of the 50's and 60's. Milking cows, slopping hogs, gathering eggs, digging potatoes, shucking corn, etc. We had a neighbor with one milk cow and I got 10 cents a day for milking her. Sold fresh milk (sometimes still warm) for 50 cents a gallon. Sold our market barrows for 17 cents a pound in 1961 that was the best price ever. Candling eggs was great cause it was done in the cold shed. Most of our hogs and beef were sold to the local slaughter house but the rest of our produce was sold from home. Small cattle would incur the same costs to raise as larger cattle except if you bought feed for them like they do at the feedlots. That may be a little less. Cattle are normally sold by the pound so they would bring in a lot less income per head. I can't see the appeal of small cattle unless you are just interested in looking a them. Folks whose produce is all or a major part of their income would seldom have a place for small cattle. I suspect it is a speciality market.

September 18 2010 at 7:53 PM Report abuse +8 rate up rate down Reply
danceshorses

I only have a couple of tomato plants but home grown are much more flavorful

September 18 2010 at 5:32 PM Report abuse +6 rate up rate down Reply