Dan Horan, Founder, President and CEO of Five Acre Farms is on a mission: “Bringing the Farmers Market to the Supermarket.” Horan’s career includes Papaya King, the NYC-based restaurant/hot dog haven, Gourmet Garage, upscale independent supermarket and 22 years in organics. In 1990, he founded Waldingfield Farm, an organic vegetable farm in Washington, Connecticut, which continues to operate. He knows people want what tastes good. Marry good taste with locally production and you understand what is driving Horan’s latest initiative: Five Acre Farms, a local, fresh brand of supermarket-ready products grown and prepared within 275 miles of where they are sold.
Five Acre Farms provides access to quality foods, connecting the consumer to his food source while paying farmers fairly. Reducing miles from farm to table is central to Horan’s goal of conserving energy. In addition to preserving farmland and protecting groundwater, Five Acre Farms’ business model is designed to reward sustainable farming practices. Local means less shipping and fresher products, translating into better tasting and, in the case of Five Acre Farms (sold locally at Fairway Paramus and Stop & Shop throughout Bergen) wallet-friendly pricing.
Horan’s goal is to stabilize our region’s farms and orchards, which are losing ground to shrinking farmland, low payments to farmers and high costs. Horan wants to keep farmers farming and reward growers who are using smart, earth-friendly practices, which is essential in the Northeast where humidity is a constant threat to crops.
I tasted the Five Acre Farms Local Whole, Reduced Fat and Fat Free Milk along with my three kids. We agreed that Five Acre Farms line has a clean, fresh taste and plenty of lip-smacking richness. Five Acre Farms tastes like real milk, full of rich, creamy goodness, the kind you want to drink ice cold with a peanut butter and jelly sandwich on soft Pullman bread. We used it to make a batch of Sweet Cream Base Ice Cream as well, combining it with Five Acre Farms Heavy Cream (sublime; multiply the richness of the whole milk by 100) with a recipe from Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream & Dessert cookbook. I had used organic whole milk the weekend before and followed the same recipe, and the results were far better with Five Acre Farms in terms of creamy mouth-feel, rich aftertaste and smooth texture.
I spoke with Horan and asked him about the taste of Five Acre Farms Milk and why it had so much more milk-y flavor than other milks found at the supermarket (I buy organic whole milk as a rule). Horan explained that in milk production, a lot of high-quality milk gets blended with lower-quality milk. Some farms whose practices aren’t so great are therefore supported by farms with better practices. This blending tends to result in milk with less distinct flavor. (Stress levels of cows before and during milking can greatly influence their output and the milk’s quality.)
“We pay farmers fairly and don’t negotiate prices down,” Horan explained. “We want to work with farmers who are as transparent in their farming practices as we are in our business practices.” He believes in continuous improvement and that better farming practices turn into better milk. “One measure of milk quality is called somatic cell count, which indicates how stressed the cow was before and during milking time and how fast bacteria grows in it. Low cell count means the cow is relaxed. High somatic cell count means there was herd stress, cleanliness issues, all of which impact the cow’s milk quality and the quality of their life on that farm. We ask for and use only low somatic cell count, so we are limited largely to smaller herds and happier cows. Happy, relaxed cows who eat right have higher fat content and that means better tasting, cleaner milk.”
Packaging seems equally important to the folks at Five Acre Farms. Simply designed labels are easy to read, explaining who farmers are and where they are located. Each plastic jug is stamped with a Sell By date and the words Positively Local underneath. Milk is sold in half gallon and one gallon jugs. Dan and a colleague from his 10 person team write the content for tags not only to highlight the brand but to speak to the authenticity of the product.
“We want to reach a broad audience,” Horan said. “When we include the public in agriculture, everyone wins. People keep hearing about local food and how important it is from a taste, community and economic standpoint. Our products are reasonably priced, falling somewhere between mass conventional and organic. We believe that once people taste our milk, and we will be sampling at Fairways and Stop & Shop’s (sampling June 24 from 12-3PM at Fairway Paramus), the taste will impress them. The milk solids and proteins are higher in Five Acre Farms milk and that translates into richer, creamier tasting milk.”
Five Acre Farms also produces unfiltered apple juice, free of processing aides and non-preserved for a satisfying and nutritious (as compared with concentrate variety) product. I love their apple sauce, with its fine texture and intensely apple flavor. Buying a blend of apples from low-spray growers primarily in Upstate NY, Five Acre Farms puts up its applesauce in 16 ounce glass jars. Apples are the only ingredient in the sauce — no sugar, no ascorbic acid.
Consistency of the sauce and a secret blend of apples makes Five Acre Farms Apple Sauce a winner. A special strainer in the company’s processing plant yields a texture that lends itself to eating directly from the jar or serving alongside roasted or grilled meats like pork and chicken. Five Acre Farms Apple Sauce retails for $3.49.
Horan explained that even though farmers markets are exploding, people still only buy 1/10 of 1% of their household food at these venues; 84% of shopping done is done in supermarkets. “Good local food shouldn’t be just for rich people,” Horan said, “Good food should be available and affordable to as much of the population as possible.”
“If organic food was the same price as conventional, no one would buy conventional,” Horan continued. “Lots of good farmers who aren’t using organic techniques are still practicing sustainable farming, protecting our ground water, employing people and must be patronized. We’re actively pursuing New Jersey farmers, particularly for our apple juice and sauce production. New Jersey farmers focus primarily on veggies and the state is particularly good with tomatoes. Not so much dairy anymore; those farms are disappearing at an alarming rate. But New Jersey has lots of possibility, and we would love to work with New Jersey farmers. We already work with a New Jersey processor; our apple juice is processed in Irvington.”
Five Acre Farms Pricing: Suggested retail price for apple juice (1/2 gal.) is 4.99; apple sauce (16 oz.) is 3.49; gal. of milk 4.99; half gal. of milk 2.99. Find Five Acre Farms products at Fairway and Stop & Shop. For more information on Five Acre Farms, visit www.fiveacrefarms.com. Follow the company on Facebook and Twitter for details on upcoming store samplings in Bergen county.
Heidi Raker Goldstein is our Bergen county regional editor. A locavore, cooking enthusiast, publicist and mother of three junior gourmands, Heidi is equally comfy in greasy spoons and high-end restaurants. When not visiting local farmers markets and farm stands in Bergen and Rockland counties, this New England native, former Manhattanite and Bergen county resident is busy running her PR and green marketing agency, Raker Goldstein & Co., buying food, planning menus, cooking food, writing about food or simply eating. To reach Heidi, email her at email@example.com.