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Old Silvana Creamery keeps it the old-fashioned way

Jun 4th, 2014 | Category: Community, Farms

by Jessamyn Tuttle

Jim Sinnema’s family has been in the dairy business longer than he’s been alive. “My dad started the dairy back in 1963,” he said. The family ran a dairy in Duvall when he was born in 1970, then in 1977 moved to a new farm in Silvana in the Stillaguamish river valley.

Jim Sinnema at his farm in Arlington. PHOTO BY JESSAMYN TUTTLE

Jim Sinnema at his farm in Arlington. PHOTO BY JESSAMYN TUTTLE

His father built a brand new, state of the art milking parlor, designed for 300 cows, and the dairy did well for many years, but in the 90s the price of milk began to fluctuate. The dairy began to flounder, but the family had hopes of saving it.

“It’s a typical farmer’s attitude,” he said. “You think things will get better. Get a loan, get more cows, hope the price of milk goes up again.”

Then their herd suffered a serious setback cutting down their milk production. Finally, when they ran out of feed in the winter of 1997-8, they sold the cows and closed the dairy.

Years later, Sinnema and his wife were homeschooling their four children and wanted to give them more activities. “I got some beef cows,” he said. “I thought, ‘Oh, that’ll keep ‘em busy.’” But beef cows proved to be too easy, so he decided to look into getting a family milk cow. “I thought, well, we’ll get one cow,” he said. “My parents thought I was crazy.”

Sinnema had grown up with Holstein milk, but a friend suggested he look into Guernseys, which produce a very flavorful, high-fat milk. The family milked the cow by hand for the first two or three months, and then bought a small milking machine. One thing led to another and before too long they had 6-10 cows producing enough milk to sell under the name Old Silvana Creamery.

What makes Old Silvana a little different than most dairies is that they sell their milk raw, unpasteurized and unhomogenized.

“I grew up drinking it, I wanted to give other people the opportunity,” he said.

When he started the raw milk dairy, he decided to do it the old fashioned way. Rather than use the system of steel pipes in the existing facility, which are hard to keep perfectly clean, they use buckets to carry the milk to the tank. “It’s more labor intensive, but I think it’s better,” Sinnema said.

In addition to keeping the equipment spotless, milk is sent to a lab for quality tests weekly to make sure it’s clean and safe.

The cows are milked twice a day, producing four gallons per cow per day.

“We’re selling all the milk we’re producing,” said Sinnema. “If we have surplus we sell the cream, but that doesn’t happen too often.” Old Silvana milk is available at a self-serve stand at the farm seven days a week, and in stores from Blaine to Kirkland.

“We get two to three times more for our milk than most,” said Sinnema. “From the outside it looks like a lot of money, but there are a lot of costs.”

They need to distribute their milk over a five-county area to be able to have a wide enough market.

The dairy is not certified organic, said Sinnema, “but we try to feed as if we are.” They use certified organic alfalfa, their haylage is grown without pesticides, and they supplement with a mixture of barley and oats from Conway Feed. Sinnema had been hesitant to add molasses to his grain blend, since most molasses is made from genetically modified sugar beets, but the molasses that Conway Feed uses is made from non-GMO sugar cane.

Eventually he wants to get to milking about 30 cows, which means a herd of about 37 total. “You need 20-30 cows to make a living.” He’s also considered adding another small dairy just for cream production, but he wouldn’t want to get bigger than that. “I want to keep it a family farm, I want to keep it simple.”

Old Silvana Creamery is located at 1325 Pioneer Highway in Arlington and can be reached at (425) 268-7961.

Published in the June 2014 issue of Grow Northwest

One Comment to “Old Silvana Creamery keeps it the old-fashioned way”

  1. mark l says:

    Great going Jim,

    Glad t see you guys are doing so well farming direct for the end user. So cool to see how Silvana and Arlington ag scene is changing.

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