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Vodka replaces milk as cash crop on family's dairy farm

Tim Lake - MIDDLEBURGH, N.Y. (NEWS10) - A six-generation Capital Region family has turned to a new venture for its formerly thriving dairy farm.

In Schoharie County, one family has changed course for the future of their farm and future generations. The milk is long gone and has been replaced by one of the biggest selling beverages today: vodka.

It's called 1857 Potato Vodka.

The story begins in the historic Schoharie Valley near Middleburgh, N.Y. It's an ideal location for a small family dairy and produce farm to make its way into the future with a vodka distillery.

"We've been farming this land since 1857," Elias Barber said. "I'm the sixth generation; part of the sixth generation here on the farm."

Barber, with a new botany degree from Cornell University, is the potato farmer. Like his grandfather, his roots are in the rich, brown soil with a secret potato variety.

"My grandfather started growing potatoes in the 1940s as a high school 4-H project in small plots," Barber explained. "And no, I don't think he would have seen this coming."

Roger Barber produced milk and became New York State Agriculture Commissioner. When small dairies fell on tough economic times, the Barbers turned to produce.

Work roles on the farm were well established, until Barber returned home from college in 2013. What was he to do?

"When my mom's sister, Dorcas Roehrs - my Aunt Dorcas - she caught wind of this idea actually over dinner with my brother and said 'We're going to do it. We're going to make this happen,'" he recalled.

So behind grandfather's old, red dairy barn, the Barbers built a modern vodka distillery.

"I knew nothing about alcohol, but I knew how to conduct research," Barber said. "This place is basically a big lab."

NEWS10 ABC anchor Tim Lake went to the farm to watch the process. The old milking barn is empty, and the distillery is now producing in its place.

It grinds potatoes, ferments mash, and grows cultures with the help of distiller Emily Driscoll. It all takes place among stainless steel vats and tanks; heaters and cookers with steaming pressure gauges; carts; pipes and tubes; paddles and ladles.

Another ingredient that makes the vodka so good is water that comes out of a spring on the hillside right above the farm.

"We hope to think that our forefathers on the farm would be proud and excited about what we're doing," Barber said.

Tim was given a taste of the final product. His final verdict? It's some of the best vodka he's ever tasted.

With potatoes grown and harvested on the farm, mashed, distilled and bottled in a new state-of-the-art distillery by a 25-year-old, sixth generation farmer, 1857 could help keep the farm in the family until 2057 and many more generations.


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