In our series, “A Sense Of Place”, we will introduce you to some of the regional farmers, growers and producers who supply us with the ingredients we use to make our chocolate, confections and pastries. Sourcing is at the heart of everything we do here at French Broad Chocolates and we share these stories in celebration of the many fine folks who make up our foodshed. We do this in keeping with our tradition of transparency and passion for sustainability, and in the hopes that these stories help you to form a deeper connection with your food (and also because we’re major foodies and absolutely love geeking out over all of our food crushes!).
We source whole, non-homogenized, low temperature pasteurized, 75% grassfed milk from Farm to Home Milk. We’re grateful to be able to offer you Farm to Home Milk: Wholesome Country Creamery and Farm to Home Milk both have practices that align with our values and appeal to us deeply, and we recognize and appreciate the care taken in their work.
Jonathon Flaum’s grandfather was a storyteller, and Jonathon grew up listening to stories set in Brooklyn in a time before phones and cars and refrigerators. “For some reason they stuck in my mind,” Jonathon says, “I really liked these stories.” After a time working as a playwright and speech-writer, “it came out of the blue, from a memory somewhere, that I was going to be a milkman. I wanted to live inside my grandfather’s stories.”
Jonathon reintroduced milk delivery to Asheville, North Carolina, in 2012 with his business Farm to Home Milk. “The vision for me was really simple,” he says. “We pick up milk and we deliver it is the short of it.” He originally planned on doing solely home delivery, dropping off a bottle at a time, on ice, on customers’ stoops. “That was golden,” he says. Four-and-a-half years later, Jonathon still has the kind of business he wanted but is the milkman for the independent restaurant community. He now delivers together with Brendan Bellamy, who came to Farm to Home seeking something simpler than the corporate grocery store environment where he was working previously.
John Hostetler comes from a family of dairy farmers, and has worked with cows from the age of five. He has run his own dairy since 1979, and he and his partner, Mary, relocated from Pennsylvania to Hamptonville, North Carolina, in 2005. They started selling their milk in the farmers’ co-operative model, sending it away in a tanker truck weekly to join other farmers’ milk for processing and bottling. Wholesome Country Creamery is an entirely family-run farm, and they follow impeccable standards through every step of production. The Hostetler’s 65 cows have either a diet of heirloom, GMO-free grass only or of seventy-five percent grass with a twenty-five percent supplement of corn and soy that’s been roasted to ease digestion and to add a nutty flavor to the milk. Eight of the Hostetler children work: Rhoda, Ruth, Esther and Wilma milk the cows, pasteurize the milk, bottle it and label while Daniel, Marcus, Paul and Alvin care for the fields, roast the corn and soybeans and make sure all the forages are just right. The high integrity of the Hostetler’s farming practices makes for a very expensive process and product, and it wasn’t fairly reflected when their milk was combined with milk produced by different methods. They needed to bottle to make a profit.
Jamie Ager of Hickory Nut Gap realized that Farm to Home Milk might be the solution: if Jonathon distributed the dairy, Wholesome Country Creamery could stop relying on the tanker. Jamie connected the two, and Jonathon remembers that he “kind of had to pass a test” before being invited to work as a partner. Both Jonathon and the Hostetlers operate under a sense of idealism that informs their shared standards, goals and reasoning for their businesses. It’s important to both that their businesses stay the right size and maintain complete integrity. Now, in addition to production, the Hostetler family pasteurizes, bottles - one bottle at a time with a foot pedal bottler - and labels their dairy. They practice low temperature vat pasteurization, which means slowly heating 45 gallons at a time to 145 degrees, then holding it at that temperature for a half hour to keep the flavor and the probiotics but kill potential Salmonella. So, the dairy that Farm to Home Milk leaves the farm with is non-homogenized, the fat and the nutrients in it preserved in a way our bodies can digest and absorb. Wholesome Country Creamery dairy passes through only the hands of the Hostetler family and Brendan or Jonathon before being shelved at the store or delivered to the restaurant. It’s usually been out of the cow less than 48 hours before delivery.
Farm to Home Milk also works with Maple View Farm in Hillsborough, North Carolina and Jonathon works with both farms as he would with close friends or family, fostering a mutual respect and never negotiating prices. Jonathon has crafted his business to fit the image he started it with: it’s fair, no one’s making too much money, his work is physical and his mind is free. He says that delivering milk is a present moment job, and that he does it because he likes to physically do it. He gets satisfaction and joy from the physical work, and it frees his mind to do other things, like connect with the people he encounters along his route. He says he likes to connect with other people who are working for a living. I’m always happy to see Jonathon out on deliveries or when he brings milk to the Lounge. We wave, we know each other by name, sometimes there’s time for a brief conversation. From these interactions I take a renewed sense of community and joy in doing the job I am doing: I can imagine what his grandfather’s stories were like.
Farm to Home Milk delivers to most of Asheville’s independent restaurants and coffee shops as well as to groceries. They serve 50 wholesale accounts - including New Belgium’s chocolate milk order for their employees - and Jonathon explains that it’s like having 50 relationships. Chefs and restaurant owners who understand the importance of integrous dairy (including from an animal welfare perspective) support Farm to Home Milk. Wholesale clients use the dairy to fill a spectrum of needs, and Jonathon knows . We’re proud to be able to offer a wholesome, delicious option that is produced locally and sustainably.
Jonathon is happy to be a milkman though it’s not always easy. “The thing about milk,” he says, “is that it doesn’t stop.” Things come up on the farm, trucks have issues and break down, shops run through more milk than they had expected to need. Jonathon was working 80 hours a week for some time, having thrown himself into it. He works about 40, now, together with Brendan. They deliver about 1400 gallons of milk each week on a route that runs between Hamptonville and Hillsborough through Charlotte, Greensboro, Winston Salem, Hickory, Morganton and Asheville. On Tuesdays, they make 35 deliveries between 5:30 am and 4 pm. Mondays they pick up dairy from Maple View Farm, Wednesdays and Fridays they pick up from Wholesome Country Creamery. The work and the week has a rhythm that Jonathon enjoys, and he says the key to enjoying the sometimes challenging work is maintaining the right attitude, one of patience and persistence. It’s clear from the outside that he and Brendan have it.
We use Farm to Home Milk to make hot chocolate, espresso drinks, pastry cream, vanilla cake, ice cream and milkshakes. Elliott Bass makes our ice cream, which uses about 30 of the 40-45 gallons of milk ordered for the Pastry Kitchen. The restaurant business is unpredictable, and ice cream sales are especially dependent on forecasting factors like weather that are often outside of our control. “Farm to Home makes sure we have everything we need. If we need it, and they have it, they bring it to us. Jonathon is my milk hero,” Elliott says. “Their milk is always of good quality, and they’re one of the most consistent [local vendors] which keeps our products at a high level of consistency, too, and quality.” We’re proud to be able to offer a wholesome, delicious option that is produced locally and sustainably.
Words by Hanna Zalesky, Photos by Katrina Ohstrom