Creating Producer-controlled and Consumer-oriented Dairy Markets in Southern Wisconsin

Final Report for FNC99-278

Project Type: Farmer/Rancher
Funds awarded in 1999: $14,377.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2001
Region: North Central
State: Wisconsin
Project Coordinator:
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Project Information


My farm has 200 acres of rolling and steep land. 80 acres are in hay and rotational pasture crops. 15 acres are in steep rocky permanent pasture, but is part of our intensive rotational grazing system. The remaining acres are in managed woodland. Timber stand improvement (TSI) has been used for 45 years on 40 acres of this woodland. The remaining acres have been planted to suitable trees in the past 15 years. The tree planting was done under County and DNR management plans.

This is a family farm. I milk 35 cows. Became certified organic in May of 2001. I raise herd replacements, with an average of 25 young cattle on hand at all times. I employ some hourly help when necessary, but 90% of the work is done by me.

Before receiving this grant, I did carry out sustainable methods of farming that best fitted this farm – intensive rotational grazing, woodland management, organic models with no use of herbicides, pesticides or chemical fertilizers. Woodland management and some tree planting began 45 years ago. Rotational grazing began 35 years ago. Highly intensive rotational grazing began 3 years ago. Organic certification in May of this year.

To further develop a model for a direct marketing system that returns a fair price for the producer while supplying the consumer with a reasonably priced high quality food product. Since this is a diary area with the land best suited for dairy farming, we picked cheese as the first product to use in our model. Farmers that use highly sustainable farming practices, producing milk without the use of rBGH and other questionable practices fit into this model.

Our plans were aimed at encouraging small community dairy plants (cheese factories) that encourage the sustainable methods described above. Without these cheese factories and other small processing plants in our communities we would be unable to direct market many farm products.

Our goal is to improve quality of product in conjunction with furthering better sustainable farming practices has convinced a number of other farmers who have observed our methods. This has been an important selling point in our numerous presentations and interaction with consumer, environmental and church groups.

Our farmer neighbors take especial notice that those of us producing and marketing sustainably produced cheese and other products are realizing a higher net income while leading a more leisurely and enjoyable life style.

Numerous press entities and urban organizations regularly call upon us for our opinion on various current issues. To often interact with our many urban friends has amplified our “farmer message” many times over.

Our family farmer cheese now has a national reputation. While at first we gave out free samples at conferences and other events, these same entities now feature our cheese as one of the gourmet items at the main dinner.

Our intentions to hold farm tours has resulted in 5 tours that were highly rated by our urban friends. They were amazed at how well we treated our animals and how well we cared for the land.

Small groups of farmers in two other areas of Wisconsin who have interacted with us are now using our model. Farmers in Vermont, New York, Pennsylvania and Illinois are in the beginning stages of planning similar models. The new groups forming in Wisconsin continually keep in touch with us in how we can work together to improve our models rather than compete in a destructive manner.

Francis Goodman, Mark McDonald, Joel Greeno, Tony Simon are some of the farmers who spent long hours promoting and selling our cheese at field days, fairs, church events and press events.

Attorney Ruth Simpson, Cattle photographer – Mary Lippert Community Organizer – Frances Bartelt, all gave an enormous amount of their time and talent producing brochures, planning and exploring the technical legal aspects of marketing. They along with the farmers named, to 2000 and 2001 Farm Aid concerts to give samples of cheese and to sell cheese.

In June of 2000 the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture Trade and Consumer Protection (DATCP) challenged our cheese label as regards recombinant Bovine Growth Hormone (rBGH). Ruth S, Mary L, Frances B and the farmers fought back and requested FOIA search of DATCP files on the subject. DATCP quickly decided our label was mis-interpreted by them. We still did the FOIA search and they have not bothered us since. Though they had selectively cleansed their files, we still found enough evidence showing they were being advised by the large cheese/dairy industry to thwart our direct marketing process.

Bob Wills – owner of Cedar Grove Cheese Factory has spent an enormous amount of time and energy on developing our marketing process. Miriam Brown – Executive Director of the Tri-State Churches Center for Land and People, has consistently promoted and included our cheese at the six or seven major events the Center sponsors each year. Miriam has also attended our planning meetings and spent many hours selling cheese with us. Kathy Ozer – Executive Director of the National Family Farm Coalition (NFFC) based in Washington, DC, promotes and orders our cheese for most major events sponsored by NFFC. Bishop Raymond Burke of the LaCrosse Diocese and President of the National Catholic Rural Life Conference (NCRLC) has also been an avid promoter of our farmers and our cheese production and direct marketing efforts. Dr. (Rev) Jerry Folk, Executive Director of the Wisconsin conference of Churches has also worked to promote our efforts. Eddie Carthan and Lyndel Travis of Holmes County, Mississippi could sell almost an endless amount of cheese in their African American communities. Cheese simply is not available for them. Eddie serves on the Executive Board of Family Farm Defenders.

We learned that most consumers have never tasted good cheese. Offering free cheese samples at events we found they could not resist a try. Once they tasted it they became our best advocates. Through our direct marketing process we found that we farmer producers could receive a fair price while consumers could buy our products at a very reasonable price.

Non-farm people from many walks of life were and are our best allies. Farmers have been so misinformed by industry, farm media, agriculture colleges and our Department of Agriculture, that they are the most difficult to reach. They have become convinced that destructive competition rather than constructive cooperation is the way to operate. This destructive competition model has so impoverished them that they are vastly over worked, too exhausted to take time to explore new and better ideas. We did finally reach some new farmers, but it was very difficult. Building strong trusting relationships was the surest means.

We also found that University of Wisconsin Agriculture entities were largely controlled by big dairy interest. The same was true with our Department of Agriculture and the farm press. If we had a cute little project that would only help a small number of people and would not be a threat to the big dairy interests, we would have their “blessing.” They realized that we had more than that in mind and did all they could to slow us or stop us. This is one of the most important reasons to have non-farm groups (environmental, consumer, church and others) with us.

Our most important message to anyone attempting to implement a project such as this is to learn first from our mistakes. No need for a new group to go through these false expectations which are very disheartening. It is all important to correctly identify ones allies and enemies well before hand.

- September of 1999, John Kinsman gave a presentation on our direct marketing project at a large meeting of the Wisconsin Council of Churches.
- October, 1999, conducted a Cedar Grove Cheese Factory farmers meeting at Legion hall in Plain. 32 farmers attended where we introduced our plans and asked for their input. Alicia Leinberger led a discussion on how they could become involved.
- November, 1999, 2nd Cedar Grove farmers meeting in Plain. Volunteers made plans to advertise and to staff information tables at local events.
- December 4, 1999, Alternative Christmas Fair in Madison, several FFD members staffed a booth at this fair, sold cheese, gave samples, gave presentations to an audience, answered questions and gave out literature.
- March, 2000, rented a booth at the Midwest Organic Conference in LaCrosse, WI a two day even with big crowds. Gave out cheese samples and sold blocks of cheese.
- April, 2000, Cedar Grove farmers meeting in Plain. A meeting was also held in February
- February 11, 12, and 13 attended National Family Farm Coalition Annual Meeting in Baltimore, MD. Gave a presentation, gave cheese samples and sold cheese.
- June 9, 2000, Wisconsin Department of Agriculture Trade and Consumer Protection Challenged our cheese label. We fought back and won.
- June 10, 2000, organized a tour consisting of several carloads of urban and rural people to tour several dairy farmer patrons of Cedar Grove Factory. Also toured the cheese factory and furnished cheese samples.
- July, 2000, Radio interview with Farm Aid concert at Manasses, VA. Three dairy farmer members of FFD handed out cheese samples to press and artists in the press tent. Several press people were fascinated with the taste of our cheese and kept returning for more samples. The three farmers participated in press interviews with different artists on farm policy and our direct marketing efforts.
- The year 2001 was much a repeat of the activities of 2000. More activity with urban, church and environmental groups. Shared four press conferences with urban/environmental groups. Participated in radio interviews at least twice monthly. Sold over 1500 grilled cheese sandwiches at a booth at Farm Aid concert in Indiana.


Participation Summary
Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.