Grey Barn and Farm shuts down for the summer following fire

Members of the Grey Barn farm's herd of Belgian belted cows will be transported off-Island for the summer.
File photo by Ralph Stewart

Members of the Grey Barn farm's herd of Belgian belted cows will be transported off-Island for the summer.

A fire late Friday night at the Grey Barn and Farm off South Road in Chilmark heavily damaged the interior of the farm’s milk processing facility. Until the damage is repaired, farm owners Eric and Molly Glasgow said they will not be able to sell meat or milk to the public.

The Glasgows are also preparing to send their milk producing cows off-Island to a certified organic farm and lay off staff while they rebuild their milking operation.

“For those of you who don’t know or haven’t heard, we experienced a catastrophic fire on Friday night,” the owners wrote in a statement on the Grey Barn Farm Facebook page posted Sunday. “Our creamery has been almost completely destroyed. There will not be raw milk for the foreseeable future, and the farm stand is now closed.”

No people or animals were hurt in the fire that broke out just before 11 pm Friday night, according to the farm owners.

Chilmark fire chief David Norton said the fire appeared to be electrical in nature, but the cause has not been determined.

“The good part of the whole situation is, it basically snuffed itself out,” Chief Norton said. “But only after considerable smoke and soot damage.”

He said about 25 Chilmark and West Tisbury firefighters and emergency medical personnel spent about 2.5 hours at the fire scene, ventilating the building.

Chief Norton said farm workers were in the opposite end of the building processing cheese when the fire started.

Rebuilding

The Grey Barn recently received certification as an organic farm. The farm’s business focus is on sustainable agriculture, raising cows, pigs, and chickens, and includes a state-of-the-art cheese making operation. The farm’s products have been available at a farm stand and at local Island markets.

In the aftermath of the fire, Ms. Glasgow said appearances are deceiving.

“That’s what’s so weird: from the outside it looks like business as usual, but the inside is completely gone,” she told The Times in a telephone call Tuesday.

Ms. Glasgow said one of the farm interns was on his way to flip the farm’s signature Prufrock cheese for the sixth and last time of the day when he saw smoke billowing out of the creamery.

He called Ms. Glasgow who immediately dialed 911. “I called the fire department at about 10:45. They were here about 10:46,” she said. “It was incredible. It blew my mind. They were on it in no time, doing what they do.”

The Glasgows, who bought the former Rainbow Farm three years ago and embarked on an extensive building plan, must now regroup.

“Our plan this week is to make a plan, to try to put together a timeline,” Ms. Glasgow said. “Eric has gone off-Island to check with three organic farms that have offered to take our cows for the summer.”

The cows will loose their certified status if they are not kept in an organic environment, she said.

“We have no way to keep the milk sanitary right now,” she said. “The cows must be milked, but we can’t just pour the milk out on the ground.”

They plan to send about 25 cows off-Island, and keep 15 or so dry, non-milk producing, cows here.

The loss of farm productivity has meant a reduction in their work force. Three interns have been laid off and Ms. Glasgow said she hopes to keep the balance of her staff employed.

“Our employees are working their hardest to help us sort everything out as we go through this,” she said. Ms. Glasgow said that their loss is not completely insured.

“Thursday we had such a wonderful staff meeting. Everything was clicking along. The cows were all healthy. We were making such great cheese. There was such a good positive vibe,” Ms. Glasgow said.

“I wouldn’t say this isn’t positive…in a weird way. Everybody who works here has been so amazing and the community has been unbelievably amazing, the responses, the flowers and notes. It blew my mind.”

Ms. Glasgow said the hope is to be back up and running by late summer or early fall. Not having the cows around will give them more time to do the work they need to do, she said.

Working at keeping a positive attitude, Ms. Glasgow said, “I go from laughing to crying to laughing.”