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Naked Cow Dairy: O‘ahu's Only Dairy

Bringing fresh and natural island milk back to the table

By Martha Cheng

Sisters Monique van der Stroom and Sabrina St. Martin thought about naming their all-female (both of the human and bovine kind) dairy the Diva Dairy. Except, well, none of them are really divas.

Picture 9They show us the farm in worn T-shirts and thick rubber boots, van der Stroom stepping away from repairs on processing equipment, and St. Martin from churning butter. Throughout our farm tour, their cell phones ring non-stop--a call about a broken water pump, about a grant, details for van der Stroom’s trip to bring back processing equipment from California. The dairy business in Hawai‘i is no place for divas. An endangered industry, once large enough to supply all the islands' demands, has now dwindled down to three dairies: two on the Big Island and Naked Cow Dairy in Wai‘anae.
Currently, Naked Cow Dairy has a relatively small herd, so they won't be replacing Meadow Gold's mainland imported milk anytime soon. Rather, they're targeting the market that doesn't want to buy mainland milk that's been sitting for seven days on a barge and ultra-pasteurized. And they're going with a different model. Van der Stroom, manager of Pacific Dairy for 12 years, says that after all the dairies on Oahu closed down, that she would go on her own. But she would do it differently. Instead of shipping milk to Meadow Gold for processing and marketing, which dairies had done previously, Naked Cow Dairy would do their own processing so that they could command their own price for their cream top, non-homogenized fresh milk.Pict0759
They're also offering value-added products like cheese and fresh-churned butter. This is St. Martin's realm. “I was a chef for most of my life,” says St. Martin. “I was cooking in New Orleans when I lost everything in the hurricane, so I came here. I couldn't think of a better place to come.” She spends her time experimenting with cultured butter (churned with cream that’s been fermented, resulting in a flavorful butter reminiscent of parmesan cheese), flavored butters like mac nut honey, toasted coconut, and cheeses like feta and gouda.  
While the Naked Cow Dairy promotes sustainability through such details as re-usable glass bottles, van der Stroom also has broader goals that include eventually moving the dairy to pasture lands. Currently, with the number of cows she has, she can get a lot of feed locally. But as she grows, she’ll have to start shipping in feed. The rising cost of feed and shipping are some of the reasons that island dairies have folded, and van der Stroom hopes that by raising the cows on pasture, essentially growing her own feed, she won’t have to rely so heavily on imports.  
Pict0551Van der Stroom hopes she can move her farm to pasture in two years, but so far, everything on the dairy has been slow going. Naked Cow Dairy was slated to start selling milk by last June, but the sisters have been bogged down in the details. “The industry is different in Hawaii,” says van der Stroom. “It’s a lot harder. We have to ship everything in. And we don’t have all the businesses that support dairies, like you have in the mainland. Over there, you might have a thousand dairies in one area. On every corner, there’s a repair store for dairy barns. They’re like the 7-11 of dairy barns [open] 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. And over here we have to wait a week for parts. You have to teach yourself how to fix things because you can’t wait for a repairman to come down from the mainland.”

But for all the time van der Stroom spends on the farm, taking care of the cows, fixing equipment, painting the barn, installing a commercial kitchen, she spends as much time downtown at the State Capitol, a role she finds as important to the success of her dairy as taking care of her cows. As a lone dairy farmer, she’s trying to make sure dairy has its voice in policies relating to Hawai‘i agriculture. It’s important, but she finds the role bizarre. “We’re not designed to go to the capitol and testify in front of people,” she says, as if she were describing a Holstein cow, bred for milk production. “For the individual farmers to get off the farm and get out of the corral and take his boots off and go downtown to the Capitol, that is so weird. That is so strange. What’s that about?”

The ladies of Naked Cow Dairy (l-r): Sabrina, Cassandra, Monique

In the meantime, while the sisters wait for grants and loans to come in to set up processing and pasteurizing equipment so they can start distributing their much-anticipated milk, they can be found at almost every farmers' market on O‘ahu, selling their rich, fresh butter and offering samples of cool, tangy cream cheese. If at times they sound weary from building a dairy on O‘ahu, one only need bring the conversation back to their butters, to the creaminess of fresh milk, to future experiments like ice cream, gouda and cheddar. Hearing their evident pleasure in all things dairy, you get an inkling of why they started this whole business in the first place, given all the obstacles. It's a pleasure that's easy to understand in just one taste at their farmers' market stand.

Comments from Readers

  1. 2475fae782588bc4ed6f79949b6304de
    Dania Katz on 10/14/2009 at 9:59pm

    Mahalo. This is a very important issue for people who wish to keep all things local. I buy they products and have it shipped to Maui. Are they selling in on Maui anywhere yet?

  2. D41d8cd98f00b204e9800998ecf8427e
    Martha on 10/18/2009 at 3:50am

    Their products aren't on Maui yet. From Sabrina: "where there is a will there will be a way. We would love to not sure how at this time?"

  3. 57e51562104bbb71dce743e43f04aa0a
    Ben on 10/23/2009 at 2:36pm

    Maui has a lot more pasture land possible than Oahu - it should have its OWN small dairy rather than shipping milk from Oahu via fossil fuels. IMHO.

  4. Fd1fea84fc9ae4fe1049985976779845
    Mona on 10/24/2009 at 10:04am

    Thanks for the article. Just visited their stall at this morning's KCC Farmers' Market, I love their butter but today bought some jars of their delicious lomi mango jam!

  5. C087dac32a43c4d9d2200ffc509413fa
    Kaimana Pine on 11/3/2009 at 1:01am

    Awesome, Wai'anae represent! Keep up the work you folks. Much aloha.

  6. 3f7d6b32bc7d7cf50172d6b3f22e4a3b
    Aline on 11/11/2009 at 7:15pm

    I love Naked Cow Dairy. I've been waiting for them to start selling milk since last year! I know once they get the word out, tons of people will be buying milk from them! Just get the word out!

  7. D6b57dde1d2a79aa82f1ded0884e0da4
    Tamara on 2/17/2010 at 7:55pm

    So who came up with the name "Naked Cow Dairy"? great name! Keep up the good work!

  8. D41d8cd98f00b204e9800998ecf8427e
    Anastasia on 3/18/2010 at 7:18am

    I can't wait to try some of your local milk!! I was so thrilled when I heard about you guys, I told my husband, and we're telling all our friends!! I hope that one day Hawaii will stop importing the milk and just drink local, like it used to! I'm sure it's going to taste worlds better!!

  9. 20c2203e923d8ab9e0e8f3f75a31d975
    darlyne on 5/7/2010 at 8:36pm

    I am also excited... I am not in support of ultra pasteurized or homogenized milk. At least now we can get local minimally pasteurized grass fed milk on Oahu! That would be wonderful!

  10. D0075d70c9b277f02c1cf42655724093
    A G on 6/5/2010 at 2:48pm

    What breed of cows do you have??? I am looking to buy a Jersey cow do you sell jerseys or know of anyone that does???

  11. 972a5841fe8fedac0663526136af2966
    valerie on 6/11/2010 at 5:10am

    hang in there, youve been in worse situations---give them arizona hell-love ya

  12. E058ab77e2bfc49701abb23952578386
    Chef James on 7/30/2010 at 4:51pm

    Are you on Maui yet? I'd love to get something I can use in our restaurants or sell at our retail store.

  13. 81923c50cae23f656fd6242b80b2f8c7
    SheryllAnn Guillermo on 9/1/2010 at 2:56pm

    wow, aunty monique. GOOD JOB ! dont make this company shut down.

  14. D41d8cd98f00b204e9800998ecf8427e
    Faubs on 12/4/2010 at 8:48pm

    Wow. I love natural Dairy. I used to live in CA. There I could get fresh raw milk in some grocery stores. Best to Naked Dairy in Hawai'i.

  15. 4d8e0386fcb9c83a6b9d0cd921686fe1
    Kevin Ahern on 2/5/2011 at 11:26am

    Loved your Hawaiian Sea salt butter. Looking forward to being able to get the closest you're able to get to raw milk. Best wishes on your long road. if a member of public can be any help, please contact me. Do you ever do tours of your dairy or too busy with other things yet.

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