The milk and cheesemaking operation has been shut down and the farm stand closed at the Grey Barn farm and dairy in Chilmark following a fire in the creamery late Friday. Farm owners Molly and Eric Glasgow said the active milking herd of 22 Dutch Belted Galloway cows will be sent off-Island while the creamery is rebuilt at the organic farm off South Road.
Another 15 cows that are not currently producing milk will remain on the farm.
“It’s pretty much a total loss,” Mr. Glasgow said, speaking about the creamery in an interview with the Gazette at the farm on Monday afternoon. “All of our equipment is compromised. Some may in fact be salvageable but we don’t know. We have no ability to wash bottles or make cheese; therefore we have nothing we can do with the milk.”
No people or animals were harmed in the fire, which was confined to the interior of the creamery. Chilmark fire officials believe the cause is electrical and are still investigating.
On Monday afternoon, while the rest of the Island celebrated the Memorial Day holiday on a sparkling day, the Glasgows were still surveying the damage at their newly-built creamery. Glass windows normally used as viewing stations for tours were dark with soot. Melted plastic hung from the walls and ceiling. Farm tours have also been suspended, Mr. Glasgow said.
“[The creamery] pretty much has to be gutted back to the frame,” he said. “We were able to milk the cows [this weekend] but we’re just using the milk to spray on the fields and feed the pigs.” Without the creamery no milk can be bottled and sold, and a fledgling cheesemaking operation has also been shut down.
Mr. Glasgow will visit three organic farms this week, two in Vermont and one in Maine, to determine where the herd will go.
“We’ll get them back as soon as we can, but realistically that’s several months away,” he said.
The Grey Barn is one of two certified organic farms on the Vineyard. The Glasgows bought the former Rainbow Farm property in 2009. The farm has been selling milk, eggs and meat from the stand for the past three years.
The fire took place late Friday; volunteer firefighters from Chilmark and West Tisbury responded to the call at 11 p.m.
Chilmark fire chief David Norton told the Gazette early Saturday he believed the fire was electrical in origin but the cause will be determined later by electrical and fire inspectors.
“There was considerable damage,” Mr. Norton said. Electrical power to the creamery has been shut off.
An Island fire inspector and wire inspector visited the farm over the weekend, Mr. Norton said Monday.
Initially after the fire the Glasgows said the farm stand would remain open, and they encouraged people to come and buy milk. But by Sunday that had changed and the Glasgows said the stand would be closed. A sign outside the farm entrance on South Road now says “Farm Closed Due to Fire.”
Mr. Glasgow said they decided to close the stand because there is not much to sell right now. The meat supply is low due to animal rotations; remaining meat and eggs will go to local restaurants and farm workers, many of whom are interns on a stipend. “We want to support them because they’re going through this with us,” Mrs. Glasgow said. “It’s been a shock to all of us.” Workers will be paid until the cows are sent off-Island, Mr. Glasgow said. “Then we will pare back our staffing levels,” he said.
The Glasgows were home at the time of the fire. A farm worker went out to the creamery to turn the cheese, named prufrock, that the dairy has been making over the winter months, Mrs. Glasgow said. The semisoft cheese takes 14 to 16 hours to make and needs to be turned regularly to drain the whey. It is then aged in a cheese cellar in a separate building. The farm worker turned the cheese at 8:45 p.m. and returned at 11 p.m. to find the creamery on fire. The worker called Mrs. Glasgow.
“I came running out and there was smoke billowing out the doors,” she said. The fire department arrived in minutes; she praised their work. “They were so amazing, it blew my mind,” Mrs. Glasgow said.
Volunteer firefighting crews from West Tisbury and Chilmark were on the scene for four hours.
The Glasgows said the creamery will be rebuilt, a process that will take several months to complete, so the farm will remain closed through the summer. At the moment they are focusing on making sure the animals are safe and healthy. Two new calves are expected this week. The farm will graze the 15 non-milking cows and still keep pigs and chickens.
The first batch of prufrock cheese will be sold off the farm at Island markets in about two weeks.
“It’ll be around for six to eight weeks then our stock will be gone and that will be it,” Mr. Glasgow said.