Jeff and Jill Burkhart own and operate an 80-acre rotationally-grazed grass farm where they milk 80 Jersey cows in a Grade A dairy, and then bottle the milk in an on-site Grade A Creamery. The farm is divided into paddocks, with a break wire being moved twice daily not only to ensure the cows get fresh grass often, but to use the grass more efficiently. The pastures are alfalfa, orchard, and rye grasses. There are also 20 acres of corn rotated each year which the Burkhart’s chop for silage.
Picket Fence Creamery is a family operation, consisting of Jeff and Jill and their children, Jenna, 18 and James, 5. They employ Jeff’s brother and another employee to help with milking, and an employee to help run the on-site country store.
Sustainable practices were carried out prior to this grant. The Burkhart’s have been rotationally grazing for 16 years, and installed a filter strip near a creek that runs through the farm nine years ago. There are no chemicals or commercial fertilizer used on the farm (the corn is cultivated twice).
PROJECT DESCRIPTION AND RESULTS
Our project goal, as described in our grant application, was to examine two issues simultaneously with the “education” aspect connected with our unique dairy farm, creamery, and country store setup. They were: 1) creation of a website, and 2) hosting a field day open house.
The objective of this project was to not only educate consumers about Picket Fence Creamery and its products via a website, but also to help other farmers interested in value-added projects to gain background information for their own feasibility studies and business plans, and provide a way to communicate directly with us.
Secondly, a field day open house was planned for fall to coincide with our one-year anniversary of bottling milk (Oct. 2004). This day would consist of tours, sampling, and the chance to educate visitors that even today, despite commodity prices and so many other things out of a farmer’s control, the quality of rural life can be enhanced and sustained by making creative ideas become reality!
The website process started with purchasing a computer for the creamery building, getting internet telephone service and securing a web-site address, all with the help of professionals. Once the computer was installed and telephone service up and running, we were surprised to learn that another individual had already purchased “picketfencecreamery.com”. Our Company name is trademarked, but it still took us a few months to get this all straightened out. When we did, we chose picketfencecreamery.net as our address and our professional began building the pages of our website! It is still in its beginning stages, but we have information posted weekly and are adding more links. We’ve had hundreds of hits and many interesting e-mails from around the world.
PEOPLE: We sought information about website development from two of our neighbors who also have websites and unique farms: Praireland Herbs, and Northern Praire Chevre goat cheeses. Also, one of our customers has expertise in computers, software, and websites, so we hired him to get us up and running.
RESULTS: It is amazing how many people ask if we have a website. The results can be measured not only by the number of hits on our pages, but also in the people who seek out our milk, and wish to visit our farm because of the website. We’ve had 17 people on our farm who said they found us on the website. We’ve had many of our regular customers say they check our website for upcoming events. Eventually, we will have photos and information about our sustainable practices, and the dairy and creamery operations on the site. Our conventional method of education and communication was through advertising. Results were hard to measure. We were very happy with the results of building a website.
We learned that setting up a website is not extremely costly, it is a good communication vehicle, it is instant, and even though it is not rocket science, it is a good idea to ask a professional for advice and help. Computers and website development are not our strong points. So it was logical for us to seek help! Having a website makes our farm operation seem more complete, and up-to-date with what’s happening in our world as far as communication is concerned. Our only barrier was obtaining our own name for our website. It was overcome. An advantage of a website is increased traffic on our farm. A disadvantage is that the website needs to be constantly updated. That means training and time. I would recommend a website to any farmer or producer who wishes to communicate with his/her friends, neighbors, colleagues, educators, or anyone from around the world who is interested in learning.
OPEN HOUSE FIELD DAY
The Open House/Field Day process started with setting the dates (we coincided with our first anniversary of bottling milk), deciding the itinerary for each day, and organizing tours, food, and helpers. Next came writing, photocopying and mailing the flyer to neighbors, businesses, chambers of commerce, farm organizations, extension offices, Iowa State University, SARE office, and also planning advertising to run in local newspapers and radio. We decided to give free tours, have kids’ activities, and some open house specials to draw people in.
PEOPLE: The Burkharts planned the open house, produced the flyer, wrote and placed the advertising, and got the food samples ready.
RESULTS: We estimate there were over 900 people at our farm over the three day event. Our free tours were very popular, as well as the “Sample Sunday”. This event gave us a chance to explain our farm practices, how our milk is different than commodity milk, and also gave our visitors a chance to enjoy the sights, smells, and sounds of a dairy farm! The results exceeded our expectations.
Discussion: We learned that hosting a major event is a great educational tool. We had at least two dairy families present, and many others who visited later, interested in our practices and in the creamery. It has affected out farm operation in that we are now used to visitors, answering questions, and being comfortable in out role. An advantage of a field day is being able to communicate to hundreds of interested people. A disadvantage is that your work schedule has to be put on hold… and eventually made up!
The methods used for telling others about our project, our project events and project results, have been the field day flyer, a press release about the event, and the listing of our website on our store flyers, business cards, and weekly advertising.
We will continue to publicize our monthly events. For example, we have a Sample Sunday each month to showcase all of the delicious, local foods we sell in the store. On average, around 300 people attend these events. It gives all ages a chance to see the cows, calves, a couple of pigs, some goats, and to experience the farm for a few hours. Our next sample days are Sunday, January 15, and Sunday, February 12, 2006, from noon to 5 p.m. We advertise in the local media regularly.
We have spoken to dozens of other dairy families thinking about rotational grazing and bottling their own milk. We don’t sugar coat and are frank with them about the long hours, and the fact that they MUST HAVE AN INSPIRATION to do the project and may have to put everything they have (physically and financially) into it.
We are quite satisfied with the SARE producer grant program. Thank you for helping us develop a website and host a field day. We are very appreciative.