Out on Wadmalaw Island, Celeste Albers tends to her chickens and cows and plans for her future. Making money on a farm is no easy task.
A couple of years ago, her 2,000 chickens, which lay fresh Sea Island Eggs for restaurants all over town, were devastated by disease, infected by a toxin and mold from corn feed, and she and her husband George had to replace most of them. Before that, her worst season came when the fields flooded, and freshly planted seed washed away and rotted in a big pile at the back of the field.
These sorts of calamities come with the territory, but they cause major disruptions (and create debt) that can last for years. Being a farmer takes commitment, tenacity, and an insane amount of drive. Celeste admits she’s a little bit (maybe even a lot) insane. Quitting the farm is not something she’d ever do voluntarily. To keep moving forward, she comes up with new ideas all the time.
Her latest idea is to make fresh buttermilk. Her dairy farm on Wadmalaw already does a robust raw milk business, but not everybody’s into raw, which Albers appreciates. “I get it,” she laughs.
Albers’ cattle herd is growing, and she expects to have plenty of milk on hand come springtime. In addition to feeding it to a her new pigs, she thought it’d be a good time to expand their operation and start making buttermilk, which chefs currently bring in from North Carolina and Tennessee. Unfortunately, the regulations governing milk pasteurization have turned out to be cost prohibitive.
According to South Carolina’s Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC), once milk is pasteurized, there’s a different slew of regulations that have to be followed. Mainly, she has to upgrade her well to comply with the regulations.
Albers has already turned to Gov. Nikki Haley to see if she might help. Albers says if a shallow well is good enough for drinking on Wadmlaw, why isn’t it good enough for cleaning the pasteurization equipment?
At a recent Ashley Hall appearance by the governor, Albers used the open comment period to challenge Haley’s pro-business stance. If she’s a champion of growth, maybe she could do something for this struggling farmer? Haley’s people took her number, and so far Albers has gotten a couple of calls from a community liaison and from DHEC. She has guarded optimism and feels like maybe she’s just being placated. Who can blame her for being skeptical?
Perhaps what she needs is some support from the community, from the chefs and restaurateurs and local organizations who champion local foods and robust networks. Because, really, who wouldn’t love a steady source of fresh, local buttermilk?
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