By Cassie Miller
In the rolling hills of Tioga County, sisters Hayley and Stephanie Painter, of Painterland Farms, are determined to reduce dairy farming’s impact on the environment while also making it a viable and appealing business option for farmers.
“We’ve had a couple of big scares,” Hayley Painter said. “If you don’t have a milk market, and you can’t necessarily keep your dairy cows. We had 400 cows, and so, we did have a milk market, but it was in unstable times. So, we wanted to tackle the problem.”
The urge to sustain the family business and bring stability to the operation led the sisters to ask: “How do we keep it sustainable and stable for our family?”
That question led the sisters to launch an organic yogurt company in March 2022, marking the transition to the family’s fourth generation of farmers.
Hayley and Stephanie, now co-CEOs, introduced a new product, Painterland Sisters organic skyr, an Icelandic-style yogurt known for its thick and creamy texture, as a new way to build on the family’s existing organic dairy operation.
In its first year, the Painterland Sisters Farm generated $1.3 million in sales and is now sold in 45 states across approximately 1,500 locations.
The farm, which has been in the family since 1941, transitioned to a certified-organic operation in 2003. Two decades later, the farm is still using organic farming practices to maintain its herd of dairy cows.
“Our family switched [to] organic because we were looking for a niche and for more stability back even then,” Hayley said. “And so, they say you have to keep progressing because if you’re standing still you’re already behind.”
Hayley told the Capital-Star that the move to fully organic farming made sense for her family’s farm.
“It was an easy transition for us to do that organic avenue because a lot of their requirements we were already doing,” Hayley said. “And it’s surprising, I think, to a lot of farmers here in Pennsylvania because a lot of their practices are already majority organic.”
Farming with the Future in Mind
On their quest to provide sustainability for their farm and other local dairy farms, the Painter sisters discovered another passion — environmental stewardship.
In addition to being a USDA-certified organic farm, Painterland Farms uses regenerative practices, such all-natural fertilizers and open rotational pastures, to lessen its impact on the environment.
While definitions and examples of regenerative farming practices can vary, they are generally considered to be more environmentally sustainable, emphasizing the symbiotic relationship between livestock and the land.
“One of the hottest topics right now is regenerative farming on the store and consumer side,” Hayley said. “Yet, farming is starting to transition to that and connecting the farmer to what the consumer wants. We have that here in the industry already because we’re kind of old. We’re a brand and we’re a farmer.”
While the Painterland Sisters Farm are ahead of the curve in regenerative agriculture, the sisters are seeking to use their leadership in regenerative agriculture and environmental stewardship to help build stability for Pennsylvania Dairy farms.
The problem, Hayley said, lies with a “shortage” of local medium-to-large dairy processing plants to serve the more than 5,400 dairy farms across the commonwealth.
“We don’t have a lot of new medium-to-large scale processing plants to provide stability for all these farmers here and we need to get on that. We need to add more processing plants,” Hayley said.
Connecting with Consumers
At the top of the sisters’ priorities for the farm and the business is transparency, and showing consumers what goes into making a tub of Painterland Sisters’ Skyr. They’ve used social media to further engagement with customers, and it’s been successful so far:
The farm has more than 6,000 followers on Instagram, where users can learn about the Painter family and the farming practices they employ, or just check in on the ever-growing herd of dairy cows.
“They love seeing the picture and seeing the backstory and we want to keep providing that for them,” Hayley said. “It’s been a lot of positivity, and almost, a taste for more.”
The Painter sisters have also taken to hosting in-person events at the family farm, such as a recent yoga event, allowing consumers the unique opportunity to meet the farmers and learn about farming practices.
But, the sisters said, it’s a balancing act because they don’t want that community outreach to interfere with the farm’s regular operations.
“You can, you know, bring some of your calves down or you can have some pictures — there’s different ways that we’re planning on doing that,” Hayley said.
Still the sisters are determined to find a way to do both.
“Our dream would be to have a farm store and a central location to provide that experience for consumers,” Hayley said.
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