By Morgan Hoeffel
“It’s definitely a time game,” Kelli Conlin says, sitting across from me. She is a woman with a kind face, working hands, and an indescribable amount of caring energy emitting from her heart. From our conversation, I gathered that Kelli was referring to the amount of time and care it takes to run a farm like Fluffy Bottom, one where treating animals with kindness and compassion and providing products that are fresh and delicious are top priorities. As someone who grew up around many farms and 4-H fairs — with cows, goats, and chickens — I couldn’t wait to hear her stories. Kelli is the owner and caretaker of Fluffy Bottom Farms; she and her team take a mindful approach to farming and treat their animals with dignity and respect, “as sentient beings in the world,” Kelli tells me. You can feel the connection she has with the farm just by the way she discusses it.
The 200-acre farm located in Chelsea, Michigan, has been owned by members of the Conlin family for many years. Kelli is now living in what used to be her grandmother’s house on the property, sharing the house with her partner, Angie Martell, a holistic-oriented attorney in town. The farm is cared for by Kelli, Angie, and about five others who share their philosophy. Though the vision for the creamery part of the farm started about five years ago, it is a recent addition to Fluffy Bottom’s enterprise.
Creamery products were not made available to the public until August 2015, yet Fluffy Bottom’s name is one that seems to be popping up more and more at local markets. Products from the creamery, which currently include plain and vanilla yogurts as well as aged and fresh cheeses, are sold locally at Argus Farm Stop, the People’s Food Co-op, and Arbor Farms. They offer a variety of cow and sheep’s milk cheeses, including Gouda, a manchego-style cheese called “Wonder Womanchego,” camembert, feta, and a fromage-blanc spread called “Fluffy Fromage.” They are also developing a line of smaller, 8-ounce yogurts (currently their yogurts are sold in 30-ounce containers). “It’s a challenge to compete with the big, national brands, but we believe that when people try Fluffy Bottom Farms yogurts and cheeses, they’ll never look back,” Kelli said.
Kelli believes that the quality and taste of Fluffy Bottom’s products comes from the farm’s commitment to “uplifting heritage cows” … “cows that our grandparents knew and loved as family cows.” In addition to about 60 Lacaune sheep (many of whom are expecting), the farm has six Jersey cows, a type of heritage breed. Jersey cows and other heritage breeds are smaller and more chestnut-colored than the bigger black-and-white cows most of us are used to seeing. Milk from Jerseys and other heritage breeds is much better tasting than that of the bigger cows (Holstein’s), which are bred for sheer volume production. “Most of us have never tasted milk from a heritage cow. It’s not easy to find…. In Michigan, Fluffy Bottom is the only creamery that is making yogurt from Jersey cows. The difference is remarkable,” Kelli said. The milk Jerseys produce is known for being rich and creamy, and it has a higher butterfat content. “This is why people who are ‘addicted’ to our Fluffy Bottoms yogurt realize that it’s the quality of the milk that really makes the difference.”
Kelli and her team also believe that how you raise the animals is of key importance in producing a healthy and delicious dairy product — and they don’t take any shortcuts when it comes to raising animals kindly and consciously. “We don’t see animals as ‘livestock’ but as real partners in what makes us unique and what makes our milk, yogurt, and cheese so special,” Kelli said. Fluffy Bottom wants to be different from what a lot of other farms are — corn, soybeans, etc. —and instead use their land for a “more natural purpose,” to nurture and provide a haven for the animals there. “It’s important to us that our animals are cared for in a mindful way,” Kelli said, and Fluffy Bottom goes above and beyond to do so, whether it’s performing Reiki on the animals or planting a patch of turnips to nourish the sheep in winter months when grass isn’t an option. “We want to raise animals that are really contented and happy.”
The cows and sheep at Fluffy Bottom enjoy a quality of life that, unfortunately, many other farm animals do not. Too often, when production and speed are top priority, animals are viewed more like machines rather than living beings. At Fluffy Bottom, animals are regarded “as sentient beings in the world.” Each animal even has her own unique name. “We have cows named Alice B. Toklas and Gertrude Stein, and Kwan Seum Bosal (the Buddhist bodhisattva of compassion). We have sheep named after a lot of influential women, including Harriet Tubman, Margaret Sanger, Haju Sunim, Madame Curie, Hillary Clinton, Rigoberta Menchu (a resistance leader in Guatemala), and Aung San Suu Kyi (the resistance leader in Myanmar).” Among that list is the namesake of an influential woman whose impact has been felt particularly close to home, and at Fluffy Bottom — Haju Sunim.
For several years, Kelli has been a student at Ann Arbor’s Zen Buddhist Temple, where Haju Sunim is resident priestess. [Haju was profiled in the January thru April 2015 issue of Crazy Wisdom Journal.] The ethos of Fluffy Bottom has been shaped in many ways by the Zen Buddhist Temple, and Haju has been a great inspiration to Kelli. Haju has encouraged her to cherish the land she owns and to go deeper into her stewardship of the land, rather than simply accept the role of dairy farmer at face value, and Kelli has taken this advice to heart.
The temple’s influence is present in many aspects of Fluffy Bottom Farms, even down to individual yogurt flavors. Recently, a morning at the temple sparked a new flavor idea for Kelli — “Buddhist Breakfast.” “One morning during a training there, the miso soup and the yogurt in my bowl swirled together so wonderfully that I just knew at that moment it was a flavor combination that I had to share with others,” she explained. Buddhist Breakfast, which will be flavored with miso and kale flecks, will be the first in a whole line of “temple-inspired” yogurts. It is scheduled to be released this spring, and part of the proceeds will be donated to the temple. Miso and kale may sound like an odd combination for yogurt, but Fluffy Bottom is excited to be developing more of these savory-type flavors. “We’re programmed to think of yogurts as sweet,” Kelli said, “and while some of the flavors we produce are lightly sweetened, we try to stay far away from the cloying sweetness that people recognize most of the yogurts on supermarket shelves for.”
Though a savory yogurt is something you might be hesitant to try, it’s hard to doubt Kelli and the Fluffy Bottom team when they call something delicious. Their commitment to quality across the board — the land, the animals, the people, the products — makes them one unique and remarkable farm, and unlike most farms I’ve ever seen. Whether savory or sweet, you will surely find a yogurt flavor that’s to your liking — and you can bet that whatever product you may be tasting is the result of much dedication, care, and time. Kelli Conlin and her staff are wonderfully dedicated individuals who are helping to revolutionize farming in Washtenaw County.
In addition to savory yogurts, Fluffy Bottom Farms will also be releasing familiar flavors, like Michigan Strawberry and Michigan Blueberry, as well as a sheep’s milk yogurt. They can be found at the Ann Arbor Farmers’ Market and the Chelsea Farmers’ Market starting this spring. Fluffy Bottom Farms is located at 10750 Jerusalem Road, Chelsea, MI 48118. Phone number: (734) 548-0234. You can reach Kelli Conlin at firstname.lastname@example.org or through the Facebook page for Fluffy Bottom Farms: www.facebook.com/yum.fluffybottomfarms/.