PITTSFIELD — Doug and Heather Donahue started farming just over 20 years ago with 12 chickens, one pig and two young children.

After successful dairy farming in upstate New York and in New Hampshire, the Donahues now operate Balfour Farm, an organic dairy farm and creamery on Webb Road in Pittsfield where they make cheese and yogurt.

And it’s all done off the grid.

Balfour Farm was host Sunday for Open Creamery Day, sponsored statewide by the Maine Cheese Guild and its 150 artisan cheesemakers.

Doug said he wakes up early to milk the 14 Normande and Normande Cross cattle, while Heather cranks up the creamery to make cheese.

“I’ve taken some classes through the Maine Cheese Guild and some when we were in New York, but it’s been pretty much trial and error,” Heather said, attending to about eight visitors for Open Creamery Day. “Trial and error — trying to figure out what works and what doesn’t from farm to farm and what kind of markets we’re in.”

The Donahues, both 43, bought the farm on Webb Road in 2010. Working without electricity, the couple makes several kinds of certified organic yogurts, soft cheeses, hard and smoked cheeses, feta, Gouda, cheddar, aged raw milk cheeses, their own bevre cheese made with cow’s milk. They have store sales accounts in Portland, Freeport, Augusta, Brewer and Rockland and also sell their products at farmers markets in the Bangor area.

Earlier this year the couple added goats to the farm and are making a limited amount of goat cheeses. They also raise pigs for market, feeding them whey from cheese-making and chickens for eggs and meat, all the while living — for now — in a very small 300-square-foot house. They plan to build a new house soon and will sell the adjoining farmhouse, which was part of their original purchase.

Doug Donahue said the farm supports both of them with annual sales and savings by not having to pay for electricity.

“We’re completely off the grid,” he said. “We use solar, battery power and we also run a diesel generator on 100 acres with about 40 percent of it open grazing land.”

He said the name of the farm, Balfour, is a Gaelic word for pasture.

The Donahues said running a commercial operation off the grid comes with many challenges, largely because there are not many farms running without electricity these days, so there aren’t a lot of people to bounce questions and ideas off of.

“This has been our first year off the grid and it’s been very interesting,” Heather said with a laugh. “There are a lot of challenges. We have a couple of solar panels, and they serve to charge the battery bank on days when we don’t have the generator going and we’re processing in the cheese room all day.

“It’s worth being off the grid mostly because it’s so far for us to have put in power lines up here, it would have been prohibitively expensive to do it. We’re making our living off the grid. This is our sole source of income.”

Doug Harlow — 612-2367

[email protected]

Twitter:@Doug_Harlow


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