Food & Drink
BY BETSY ANDREWS
AND JEANNE BARON
There’s a coveted cheese made in the Champlain Valley. It’s creamy, grassy, sweet and yielding. It wins awards; it sells out. And its cave-aged cousin is just as unique: nutty, rich and buttery. But unless you live within 25 miles of Orb Weaver Farm in New Haven, Vt., you won’t find it at even the best-provisioned grocer. Many farmers with a sellout product consider hiring help, expanding their herds and increasing production. But cheesemakers Marjorie Susman and Marian Pollack never cared to make more
cheese or more money.
Step into their barn and it’s as plain as
a newborn calf what they do care about.
Inside, 19 cows—some for beef, some
for milking—munch on a dark green,
organic medley of dried alfalfa, clover,
trefoil and timothy.
“We’re really picky about the hay.
That’s one of the things that makes the
cheese so good. Milk from our cows tastes
like ice cream,” says Susman.
Even the barn cats are fat at Orb
Weaver Farm. They mingle among the
herd of brown-eyed jerseys with impos-
sibly long lashes. The air smells of milk
and clover, and a radio spills soft jazz
through the building all night. In the
morning, the cows will return to the
pasture where, in warmer months, they
spend all of their time grazing.
“It’s quality, not quantity. We want to
make the best-tasting cheese and milk
that we can,” Susman explains. “We
always wanted to sell our stuff locally,
labor to produce
for our food,
our land and
keep it affordable for our neighbors,
and we didn’t want to work with a
When the two met in 1976, Pollack
already had careers behind her as a proba-
tion officer and a family therapist. Sus-
man left home at 16, traveled the world
and later went to agriculture school.
Together they were determined to work
In 1982, they turned a dilapidated
30-acre homestead in the valley between
the Adirondacks and Vermont’s Green
Mountains into Orb Weaver Farm, an
intimate Eden of animal husbandry and
artisanal cheese making.
“No one was talking about sustainability back then, but we had a vision of a
small, self-sustaining unit, and we needed
cows to complete the cycle. Otherwise,
you have to buy fertilizer for the garden,”
It started out as a venture in self-sufficiency, a romance with agriculture,
but day by day, year by year, Orb Weaver
Farm has pioneered the kind of sustainable practices that are transforming food
production in the Northeast. Susman and
Pollack are the early generation of farmers working to bring healthy, delicious
and eco-friendly food to communities
across the Northeast.
A Bit of Eco-History
You can trace the story of eco-friendly
farming in the region back to growers who
struggled for decades to hold on to their