GRANVILLE, NY – Jody Somers, originally from Connecticut, traveled to Italy, via Texas A&M, to learn how to make cheese.
He came home with a Tuscan woman and now they run Dancing Ewe Farm, a diverse farm set on 55 acres of rolling hills in upstate New York just steps from the Vermont state border. .
The main attraction is the farm’s 100 head of Freisan Lacune dairy sheep, which hundreds of visitors saw during the 26th Annual Washington County Fiber Tour on April 28-29. But the farm also offers a wide variety of wool products; imported Italian wines, meats and olive oil; and sheep’s cheese.
âEverything helps the other,â Somers said. “I wouldn’t say one thing is more important than the other.”
Somers grew up on a farm in Colchester, Connecticut. He studied animal science at the University of Connecticut and received a veterinary degree from Texas A&M, specializing in large animals.
At first, Somers and his wife, Luisa, looked at a property in Vermont, which they quickly discovered was too expensive for their budget. Her mother suggested they try upstate New York.
Granville was exactly the kind of place they were looking for, with considerably lower property values.
He started out by buying cow’s milk to make cheese, but Sandy Buxton, a Washington County Extension agent, told Somers he could never compete with more well-known cheddar producers such as Cabot and Grafton Village Cheese. Co.
âSandy said to me, ‘You know sheep and train Border Collies. Why not milk the sheep? It will be much more marketable, âSomers said.
He listened and he’s glad he did.
Dancing Ewe Farm has carved out a niche for itself with a popular Tuscan-style Pecorino, the name given to all Italian cheeses made from sheep’s milk. It is mainly sold in farmers’ markets across the region.
You can also enjoy it at the farm, which has a large farm-to-table banquet hall.
Raw sheep fleece is stored in large quantities and transported to Prince Edward Island every two years for delivery to a factory specializing in the manufacture of high quality wool blankets. It takes about 2,000 pounds to produce 150 blankets.
In addition to dairy sheep, the Somers also own a few Shetlands and Romney, which are raised purely for their wool.
The Self-Guided Fiber Tour took people to visit nine different farms and a fiber processing plant in the area.
âThis time of year is so exciting for all the farms involved,â said Judy Leon, owner of Alpacas of Haven Hill in Greenwich and chair of the touring committee. âI love interacting with the public and seeing families returning to our farm year after year to learn about what’s new and how our herd is growing. They are fascinated by baby animals, farm equipment and buildings, and the beauty of the Washington County countryside.
The host farms breed everything from Angora rabbits and Kashmir goats to alpacas and several breeds of sheep. Demonstrations included shearing sheep, herding sheepdogs, felting, dyeing and spinning.
Visitors enjoyed seeing Dancing Ewe Farm’s many newborn lambs, most of which are sold to a farm in the Hudson Valley that raises them for meat production.
Dancing Ewe Farm has a true international flair maintaining ties to Luisa Somers’ Tuscan roots. His family still operates an olive grove with 350 trees.
The growth of the farm, in all its directions, is the result of slow and steady progress.
âThere’s a lot here, but we didn’t start with everything,â said Jody Somers.
Paul Post is a freelance writer from eastern New York City. He can be contacted at [email protected]