Farm and family roots run deep in Odessa
ODESSA–After a visit to Sunset View Creamery in Odessa, thoughts easily run to the flavors of their excellent, creamy cheeses, or about cows and dairies or farming in upstate New York. But the real story is about family.
Ron Hoffman’s family originally had a dairy farm in what’s now downtown Elmira – Hoffman Street is named after his family – but in 1905, feeling pushed on all sides by urban encroachment, his great grandparents bought a farm on County Road 14 in Odessa and walked here from Elmira with their cattle. Ron’s father farmed and put in the first milking parlor in Schuyler County. Then came Ron and Carmella. Representing the fifth generation, their son Jeremy and daughter-in-law Jess are taking the reins now, and there’s reason to expect grandchildren will be involved in the future.
“It’s nice to be able to continue the legacy,” Jeremy says.
It’s a good life but it’s never been an easy one. “You’ve got to be a cow person, a crop person, good with machinery, and then there’s office work,” Ron says. And in order to finance the privilege of rising each morning for the 4:30 milking, each adult family member has at least one off-farm job. Ron drives a school bus for the Odessa-Montour School District and serves on the Town Board in Catharine; Carmella also worked for the school district and then as town clerk.
In 2004, after taking several classes, she began using some of the farm’s rich Holstein milk to craft artisanal cheese, becoming the first cheese-making facility to open in Schuyler County.
Like everything else on the farm, this took a great deal of thought and planning. She and Ron had their farm inspected, bought equipment Ron refurbished and upgraded – and won their opportunity to work even harder. Celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary this year, they’d been wondering about the future of the farm for some years. Jeremy, transportation supervisor for the Odessa-Montour School District, spent several years farming with his father before recognizing he was more interested in machinery. A daughter spent five years milking with Ron before deciding on a different career path.
Then Jess came along and everything changed. Originally known to the Hoffmans as a financial consultant they trusted and liked, Ron and Carmella secretly wanted her to be part of their family. They invited her to a family party, hoping she’d meet their Jeremy – but by the time the party began, the two had already met and decided they liked each other.
Now in their third year of marriage, the pair complement each others’ farm skills similarly to Ron and Carmella. “Jess is making the whole thing happen,” Carmella says. With a love for cows, skill in handling them and a background in genetics, Jess tweaked the herd, adding Brown Swiss cows from proven bloodlines. She had both cheesemaking and ice-cream making experience from her undergraduate days at Cornell University, so she began making cheese at Sunset View after a brief apprenticeship with Carmella, who is gratefully retired. “She’s all about the cows – that’s exactly what we needed,” Carmella says.
Ron and Carmella still lend a hand when needed – they’ve spent too many busy years to entirely lose their momentum. On days they’re making cheese curds, Carmella sometimes starts the batch during morning milking. Ron still drives a school bus and helps run farm machinery. “I’m not going to sit on the porch and watch life go by,” he says – although Carmella points out he can stand on their home’s front porch and wave or call to nearly every member of their immediate family. Everyone lives close by.
Ron takes his phone and pages through a series of colorful, amazing photos of early morning farm sunrises – all taken by Jess and shared with fans on Instagram. Last year Jess found yet another way to share the farm with others, offering “cow cuddling” times three afternoons a week, an idea inspired in part by a young farm visitor who blossomed in bovine company, clearly appreciating the companionship of cows. The therapeutic time spent petting, hugging or simply hanging out with cows has become another reason for visitors to find their way to the farm. “They were booked all last summer,” Carmella says.
“It really is all about the cows for me,” Jess agrees. “And I like sharing my love of cows with other people.”
With the farm in good hands, Ron and Carmella have some retirement dreams on their bucket list. They’ve traveled to Europe a few times, but they want to see parts of the USA they’ve missed in previous travels, mostly the southwest. Carmella is currently sewing quilts for family members – 15 in progress so far, but she’s counting on making more as the family grows.
Find farm store hours and Jess’s farm blog at sunsetviewcreamery.com and follow Jess’s photographs on Instagram.