The 93-Year-Old Dairy Farm That Switched From Cows To Plants

New York City's last dairy farm began, as NPR tells it, when a man bought a herd of cows in Manhattan sometime during the early 1900s and walked them over the Williamsburg Bridge to the family farm in Elmhurst, Queens. Less than 20 years later, the man's grandsons, Max and Arthur Schwartz, began bottling the milk with labels that read "Elmhurst Dairy." By the turn of the century, Elmhurst provided more than 270 thousand manufacturing jobs, supplied the city's public schools with 110 million pints of milk each year, and supported a diverse web of distributors across the country's biggest dairy market — from New York's classic bodegas and delis to its many Starbucks cafés (via Atlas Obscura).

However, by 2016, the times were changing; nationwide, cows were producing more and more milk, but people were drinking less of it. The American diet was steadily becoming more inclined towards healthier choices, plant-based alternatives, and environmentally friendly foods (per Elmhurst). By then, the Elmhurst company had been passed down through multiple generations of the family, but it was no longer equitable. The decision of how to move forward was left with then 82-year-old Henry Schwartz, and according to The New York Times, his choice to shut down the Queens plant meant that for the first time since the 1600s, New York City's milk would be coming from outside of the city limits. But it was his next decision that was even more surprising.

Elmhurst Farms goes plant-based

According to NPR, Henry Schwartz lived and breathed cow's milk, keeping the business in the family for more than 90 years. He even has memories from when he was just 5 years old, when he watched his grandma demonstrate how to milk a cow at the 1939 New York World's Fair (via The New York Times). But, according to Elmhurst, although the decline in dairy consumption concerned him, even he was curious about the shift to more plant-based, eco-friendly foods. So in 2017, just a year after closing down the Elmhurst plant, the company reappeared. Only this time around, no cows would be needed — just plants.

Schwartz said, "Making plant milk might have seemed like a radical turn after a life in dairy — yet to me, it was perfectly logical, probably even necessary" (per Elmhurst). Coincidentally, he met with Dr. Cheryl Mitchell, a famous food scientist, who just so happened to be looking for a large-scale investor for her newest invention: a proprietary cold water system that liquefied nuts, oats, and rice and retained all of the natural proteins without the need for stabilizers or thickeners. The timing was perfect, and Elmhurst Milked was born.

Today, you can find their line of cashew, walnut, pistachio, almond, hazelnut, and oat milks and creamers in stores across the country — all labeled with the Elmhurst name and the year the family brand was created.