Rawson Brook Farm
If you have BerkShares in your pocket and you feel like taking an autumn drive on the back roads of Berkshire County, this is a good time to visit Rawson Brook Farm. Even though most of Susan Sellew’s sales of Monterey Chevre are to local grocery stores and restaurants, selling her cheese straight off the farm remains an essential part of her business. She says, “You’re going to ingest this food, so you have a right to ask me any question about how I make it.
If you do ask her how she makes it she will list the following ingredients: “everything is very clean, our milk is very fresh, our animals are nice and shiny and healthy, and we love them.” But if you ask her how she and Rawson Brook Farm have “made it,” it’s a longer story, one that takes its shape from Sellew’s practicality and her addiction to “the glories of self employment.”
You might think that a cheese maker’s passion would be for cheese, but Sellew admits that hers is for her goats. “They are so appealing to me. They’re like a practical dog with much more personality—mischievous and kind of naughty.”
Sellew says she started making chevre because she was “out to make something that would justify having goats.” As for flavor, she says, “I was just trying to make a product that I thought was delicious, and that our friends, too, thought was delicious.” After a few lessons with Martine Gadbois in Montreal, and many batches of chevre in her farmhouse kitchen, she had a product that would do what she wanted it to do: “sell itself, and keep customers coming back for more.”
But even with a killer product in hand, Sellew and her partner could not afford to make the improvements that would allow them to get their dairy license, produce for the Berkshire market, and make Monterey Chevre a viable business. A normal bank loan was not an option—in the early 1980s interest rates were sky-high and a small goat dairy was considered beyond risky. As Sellew puts it, “people thought we were nuts.”
Then, Self-Help Association for a Regional Economy, nicknamed S.H.A.R.E., came along. It turns out that not everybody thought Sellew was crazy; in fact quite a few Berkshire citizens were willing to put up their own money to collateralize a $3,000 loan to Rawson Brook Farm. Not only did the S.H.A.R.E. loan allow Sellew to produce at a commercially viable scale, but as Sellew points out, it also gave her a built-in client base. The people who were part of the S.H.A.R.E. program felt a sense of ownership of the product, and became at the same time investors, customers, and marketers for Monterey Chevre. “We had all these folks who were rooting for us. It really meant a lot. I think of it and I still kind of get choked up.”
In 1983 the community chose to put their money where their mouth was to support the local production of goat cheese by a passionate and hardworking entrepreneur. Thank goodness they did because now, 30 years later, Monterey Chevre has become a Berkshire icon.
You can join the farm’s 30th anniversary celebration this Sunday, October 13th, from 1 to 4 pm, at 185 New Marlborough Road in Monterey
Rawson Brook Farm
185 New Marlborough Road, Monterey, MA