Never has it been put more simply: selling directly to customers at farmers markets enables Tim Crowhill Sauder and his wife Frances to do what they do. And what they do, thinking globally and farming locally, epitomizes the ethos of the Kennett Square Farmers Market.
For the past seven years, Tim and Frances (and their two children) have been focusing their efforts on restoring the health of the land they own and steward—55 acres of pasture, woods, and creek in Quarryville. “We farm with a focus on overall ecology,” Tim says. “The land had been poorly taken care of since 1975. No one had stayed more than five or six years or paid attention to soil fertility. It takes a while to reverse that.”
Tim and Frances are both native to the Lancaster area. They went to high school together and even sang in the same choir, which Frances’ father directed. “But we never talked to each other,” Tim says. They both travelled the world after graduating and went “lots of places.” Years later, Tim was back in the area and saw Frances one Sunday evening in June at a concert at Long’s Park. He’d heard that her father had been diagnosed with brain cancer. “I thought, ‘There’s Frances Miller. She looks like she needs a friend.’” So he said hello. She recognized his name but not his face, since the hair that used to be on his head had migrated to the beard on his chin. She gave him a hug anyway.
As it turned out, they both needed a friend in the months that followed. Frances’ father died that August, and a few weeks after that Tim noticed a lump in his neck and was diagnosed with thyroid cancer. Nine months later, they were married and looking for a place where Tim could continue to heal and where they could put down roots and bring their dream of small-scale, sustainable farming to life. “I realized I’m not good for anything but milking cows,” says the humble man whose yoghurt has become the stuff of local legends. When they saw the farm for auction, Tim says, “It looked dumpy enough that it might be affordable.”
Tim had been milking for other farmers and knew that, with milk prices as low as they were, they’d need to figure out another way to pay for the farm with a value-added product. They also knew that grazing was the best way to take care of cows. “And it’s the only way it would work on this farm, with its rolling hills, anyway,” he says. He’d heard making yoghurt was easy, and he found a niche in the market. “No one was making yoghurt locally and packaging it in glass,” he says. So they spent several months playing around with different cultures and processes to develop and perfect their technique without sweeteners or thickeners. They gave lots of yoghurt away, along with surveys to gather opinions. When Tim made his first delivery to Lancaster Central Market, a friend of one of their taste testers was there waiting for him. She’d heard about the yoghurt and couldn’t wait to buy some. They knew they had something.
And they did. Rave reviews from customers and restauranteurs including Chef Scott Morozin of Verbena BYOB describe it as creamy, thick without being cloying, with a fresh, clean taste—or, simply, “absolutely the best yoghurt I’ve ever eaten.”
Depending on the time of year, it takes two to three jars of milk to make one jar of yoghurt. Both varieties of Fiddle Creek Dairy yoghurt, Swiss and Greek, are strictly small batch. “We incubate the milk in the pasteurizer 20 to 30 gallons at a time, stir it, and put it into jars,” Tim says. “Swiss yoghurt is a fancy way of saying it’s stirred already, so it doesn’t separate. It’s more tart than Greek yoghurt and can be poured and used, for example, in smoothies, on granola, or for making curries.” Greek yoghurt, which is nutrient-dense and creamy, is made by straining out the liquids (whey). This thick, mild-flavored yoghurt can be used in baking, substituted for sour cream, and is delicious with fruit, maple syrup, honey, or jam.
What makes Fiddle Creek Dairy yoghurt so delicious? Milk from nine happy, grass-fed Jerseys and small-batch care. Because Tim milks only once a day, the milk is extra rich and creamy. “Milk is only 80 percent water, and the rest is minerals, fat, and protein,” he says. “When you milk only once a day instead of twice, the total amount of liquid drops but the percentage of solids stays the same, so they’re a higher percentage of the total volume. Whole milk from the grocery store is between 3½ and 4½ percent protein, and ours is about 5½ percent.” He pauses. “Of course, it also depends on the time of year, the air temperature, and the grasses. Cows don’t like heat and don’t make as much milk when it’s cold.”
Like other farm products, yoghurt varies seasonally. “We make the best yoghurt in October and November,” Tim says, “when it’s cooler and the grasses are a little tougher so the cow’s gut has to work a little harder to digest.”
Frances is a violinist/fiddler and part-time music teacher, and the name Fiddle Creek also reflects the love Tim and Frances both have for music. There are always things that need to be done on the farm, but they intentionally take time each week to enjoy being on the land, taking walks, sitting by the creek. And in the summer months Frances and the children are in the creek every day.
This is Tim’s second season at the Kennett Square Farmers Market. “People here really care about food,” he says. “You have to be a little bit of a foodie to appreciate this, and Kennett Square is more ‘foodie’ than average.” Tim brings yoghurt, bottles of pasteurized milk, and Camembert cheese to market, along with some jams and sauces from the Livengood family, who own a local organic farm. He finds it helpful when people call or email him to order milk ahead of time so he knows how much to bring.
Fiddle Creek yoghurt has a long shelf life, so in theory the fact that Tim is only in Kennett Square once a month should work for customers. But because it’s so delicious, tales abound of those who have had to make their last serving last for days, even weeks, until they see Tim again. The moral of the story? Stock up this Friday, September 20th. If that still isn’t enough, go to FiddleCreekDairy.com for details about other markets. The self-serve Fiddle Creek farm stand, which will be open most days of the week, will open soon. Currently, customers can call to arrange a time to pick up products.