Food as sustenance. Food as passion. At Bobolink Dairy and Bakehouse, it is decidedly both. Partners in life and business, Nina and Jonathan White are the stewards of 186 acres of land in Milford, New Jersey on which cows graze outdoors. The couple offers hospitality and nourishment to loyal customers from all parts of the world. Educators as well as farmers, their shared mission is to make people aware of the importance of environmental sustainability. Social conscience runs through their veins, as Nina said that they both were early members of the Clearwater Foundation, an organization that educates, advocates, and entertains about nurturing nature, and taking responsibility for the waterways the sustain us.
We caught up with Nina recently to learn more about this haven for heavenly food.
How did you choose the name for the farm?
The bobolink is a bird that nests in pristine and natural grasslands. It used to be as common as the robin. By naming our business for this creature, we hope to increase public awareness about how important it is for agriculture to respect and nurture wildlife.
What are the tasty and healthy offerings at Bobolink?
100% grass fed raw cow’s milk cheeses, woodfired rustic breads, pasture raised meats, house made charcuterie, pastured eggs in season, as well as special seasonal items throughout the year. We also offer fresh dairy products from Amish colleagues Oasis at Bird in Hand . We do not sell raw milk, as raw milk sales are prohibited by NJ law.
The 100% grass fed cheeses have a wide range of beneficial microbes in a stable form. Throughout history, the abundance of spring and summer milk has been stabilized into cheese and saved for the winter months. The grains used in the bakery are selected for the genetics that seem to be more healthful and less irritating for people who want to stay away from gluten. We bake with old fashioned grains and heirloom wheat that are tastier. We choose the grains carefully according to their genetics and growing methods, so that our bread more closely resembles the bread of yesteryear, and people can enjoy the staff of life.
Was food a long-time passion?
Yes. I started to try to grow vegetables in our side yard at seven years old and started to cook and bake quite young. I was cooking for family of four at age 12. At that time, I made Bolognese sauce from scratch. I was living in the land of tv dinners in New Rochelle, NY. I was cooking from The James Beard Cook Book and Frances Moore Lappé’s Diet for A Small Planet in my teens. I was training as a dancer, so I needed to maximize nutrition while on a tight budget. I was in the French honor society in High School and did a lot of French cooking. I learned to make quiche.
My husband and I met in a Greenwich Village café where I worked. We made a home together, cooking and sharing and entertaining large crowds. Jonathan had done software consulting in England and went to Spain and France and ate cheese and got exposed to the real deal.
We both love food. He was able to cook five gallons of stew and five quiches and three cakes under my nose without my realizing he was cooking for my baby shower in our apartment. There was nothing unusual about him cooking that quantity of food. We moved out of Brooklyn to Putnam Valley, NY and I got a job as a ballet teacher.
What is it like to work with your life partner?
We have been lucky that we work well together. We divide and conquer. We were told by a wise Rabbi in our wedding counseling that we could both be right, but we would have to take turns having our way. We have been married 33 years. There are many “right” ways to do things. Jonathan oversees the cows, cheese and equipment. I supervise the bakery. We are very fortunate that we have a long-time capable staff that we trained. I am free to participate with the local green movement and develop recipes and work on the marketing, maintaining our website and Facebook page. I hire jazz groups for summer concerts who are local professional musicians. The Jazz at the Farm dates will be posted in late winter!
How do you care for the creatures who provide your sustenance?
We have bred them to produce less and be smarter. Our cows have short legs and are sturdy, they calve easily, give birth to small calves who eat grass right away. They are good mothers, the bulls feel safe with humans, and understand the routine. We stop milking cows in November, so they can use their food energy for keeping meat on their bones. The cows give birth in the spring, and they cycle begins again.
How did you go from being a vegetarian to raising animals for food?
Because I didn’t feel right about eating animals that had been confined. It was the 70’s. I was a hippie. That’s what hippies did. It was for ethical reasons.
I didn’t want to produce food by confining animals. The assumption is that food is raised in confinement. It doesn’t have to be that way. Ours are semi- wild cows. They live outside. When people visit, we want them to see cows outside eating grass with their babies suckling and to see what these animals really do.
Share the concept of enlightened self -interest that is part of your philosophy.
We really are committed to being as thoughtful as we can about every aspect of what we do. When we take on something new, we hold it up against a litmus test. Does it fit with the animals’ natural needs? Does it contribute to our overarching goal of regenerating the land, and producing the highest quality most nutritious and delicious food?
Let’s talk about what we do now that is of benefit for the next generation.
We do it by living as an example of how you can follow through on your principles in your daily life and work. In previous generations, farming, because it became so industrialized, became a negative thing for their children to do. Agriculture needs fresh minds that can work with nature and use technology thoughtfully, in order to achieve our long term regenerative goal. Frankly, if we keep trying to make food in this industrial model, we are going to run out of water. I get impatient. We have to continue to do what we are doing. We are trying to show by example how to use your gifts to create a vibrant, local food economy, either as growers or as eaters.
How about the activities and events you offer?
Our tours are posted on Wednesday. When the farm store is open, visitors can always taste products. We have a bread class once a month and Jonathan teaches charcuterie class and four- person cheese making class. We are available for corporate team building and school groups.
At Bobolink, they present, “A healthy and culinarily superior cheese and bread offering that you would find in Europe and Vermont. You don’t have to travel far to enjoy it. It’s well worth the trip to find us. It’s the real deal in terms of the natural setting,” in which to savor delicious treats.
Author: Edie Weinstein