The Hometown Creamery Revival

Final Report for LS97-083

Project Type: Research and Education
Funds awarded in 1997: $145,474.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2000
Matching Non-Federal Funds: $46,585.00
Region: Southern
State: Virginia
Principal Investigator:
Vicki Dunaway
Dairy Farm Cooperators
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Project Information


The Hometown Creamery Revival (HCR) was conceived of to support the revitalization of small-scale dairies and rural economies in the South through creation of unique, ecologically produced dairy products to be offered in local and regional outlets. The Southeast region of the United States continues to be the area losing the most dairies – down 42.3% since 1992 and down 6.9% from 1999, according to Hoard’s Dairyman (October 25, 2000).

The objectives of the Hometown Creamery Revival project are to: (1) conduct necessary processing and market research; (2) encourage cooperation and information exchange between formerly isolated dairy farmers and provide educational resources and opportunities for participating farmers; (3) emphasize soil and water quality improvement, humane animal treatment and food safety as essential elements of sustainable dairying; (4) design and oversee construction of low-cost facilities; (5) begin production, develop shared marketing tactics and begin trial marketing within the local region; (6) involve end-users by eliciting direct feedback from them; (7) document and disseminate all of the above.

The project has integrated elements of all of these objectives into our activities. It is particularly pleasing to see the increasing interaction between dairy farmers through attendance at pasture walks, workshops and conferences, as well as through e-mail discussion groups and print media. Hundreds of farmers and homestead cheesemakers have contacted the HCR office and individual participants, and many have become involved in regional activities for the first time as a result of the information they received. We’ve found that the market for many farmstead dairy products is ample, and are encouraged by consumer trends toward fresher and more unique foods.

Some outreach activities of the Hometown Creamery Revival project include: a continually updated Web site, cheesemaking classes and pasture walks, participation and co-sponsorship of e-mail discussion groups, lending materials from our library, writing columns and articles for existing publications, and publishing a quarterly newsletter for small-scale dairies. In 2000 The Small Dairy Resource Book was published by the Sustainable Agriculture Network (SAN) early in the year, and sold out of its first printing of 1000 copies by mid-year. Multiple copies of the Resource Book are often requested by farmers and universities for distribution at field days and workshops. Through all of these avenues, we have provided assistance and information to a number of individuals and groups interested in starting their own small dairy businesses. The project has established working relationships with other organizations, including the Western North Carolina Nature Center, the Carolina Farm Stewardship Association, the Pennsylvania Association for Sustainable Agriculture, the Chesapeake Alliance for Sustainable Agriculture, the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy, Southern Sustainable Agriculture Working Group (SSAWG), the Virginia Forage and Grasslands Council, the American Cheese Society, the Vermont Cheese Council, the Jacksonville Center (a local tourist center), New River Community Partners (a regional rural development group) and Slow Food (an international consumer group).

We have collected most of the information for a descriptive booklet on value-adding facilities; this will be combined with other information in a “Getting Started in Dairy Processing” manual, to be completed and published as the final work of the project in early 2001. This book has been delayed because (1) the information to be collected and distilled has proved to be much greater in volume and scope than expected; (2) several people who were supposed to be contributing to this work have not had any time to do so; and (3) CreamLine and cheesemaking workshops, as well as other commitments, have kept me really busy this year. However, I’ve set aside a period of time between December 2000 and February 2001 for getting this publication finished.

As the project has progressed and widened its influence, the challenges of small-scale value-adding for dairies have become clearer. The #1 issue for most small dairies is the “stainless steel wall:” the legal requirements for equipment and facilities that make entry into dairy processing so expensive and risky. While there are ways to reduce costs, it is very difficult to get started in cheesemaking for less than $40,000 in capital outlay and/or other assets (such as an existing building and a thriving herd of animals); bottling the milk of 100 cows on-farm can require a quarter million dollars or more. Once the initial investment is made, however, the challenges may become even more daunting: maintaining shelf space in crowded dairy cases, estimating and keeping pace with consumer demand, finding good employees, and keeping up with new regulations are just some of the daily trials small dairy processors face. On a broader scale, the entire U.S. artisanal cheese industry, still in its infancy, is threatened by the possibility that the FDA will make pasteurization mandatory, or will require such an extended aging period that many cheeses would be well past their prime if aged that long. Furthermore, an almost irrational expansion of huge dairies and cheese plants in the West threatens to further depress prices in markets already suffering from cheap food policies and overproduction.

On the bright side, growing numbers of consumers seem to be recognizing the value of keeping small-scale farmers on the farm. They encourage small farmers by spending their food dollars at proliferating farmers’ markets, CSA farms, and other direct marketing avenues. Farmers and their farms are realizing substantial benefit from new grazing practices that reduce costs and increase environmental stewardship. Increasingly, farmers are coming out of their former isolation to learn from others and share their experiences.

Project Objectives:
Project Objectives as Originally Stated

#1 To conduct necessary processing and market research.
#2 To encourage cooperation and information exchange between formerly isolated dairy farmers, and to provide educational resources and opportunities for participating farmers.
#3 To incorporate and emphasize soil and water quality improvement, humane animal treatment and food safety as essential elements of sustainable dairying.
#4 To design and oversee construction of low-cost facilities for the on-farm manufacture of dairy products, expandable and adaptable for various production capabilities; to investigate requirements for transport of small amounts of fluid milk to allow sharing of facilities.
#5 To begin production, develop shared marketing tactics and begin trial marketing within the local region.
#6 To involve end-users by eliciting direct feedback from them, at the same time informing end-users about the health, quality, social and economic advantages of purchasing locally produced products.
#7 To document and disseminate all of the above in various user-friendly forms by others.

Introduction – Problem

Despite the continuing boom in most other segments of the U.S. economy, the majority of farmers have not shared in the prosperity of the last decade. Processors and distributors of agricultural goods take by far the largest part of the food dollar and the smallest part of the risk. Dairy farms, with their highly perishable product, have little choice but to accept the low prices paid by the milk cooperatives, which are decreasing in number and increasing in size due to mergers. The dairy processing industry fights all attempts by farmers to guarantee a fair farm price. Using their considerable power, the industry has worked obstinately to convince legislators that a quarter per gallon rise in the price of milk would do irreparable harm to consumers. Meanwhile, processors use packaging and flavoring gimmicks to increase the price of milk and other dairy products to previously unheard of levels (plain milk packaged in a pint “chub” retails for 89¢, or $7.12 a gallon!), generating considerable profit for the industry.

Dairy farmers are increasingly frustrated by these manipulations. Some have gone so far as to dump milk for a weekend in protest, but such short-term actions have little effect on the relentless march of the dairy industry toward consolidation and centralization. As this report is written, 15,000 cow dairies are starting up in California and Utah (a proposed 50,000 cow dairy complex was defeated by environmentalists), and an incredible increase in the number of processing plants is taking place. Dairy processors envision moving most of the milk production to the western U.S., where they can process and ultrapasteurize their products and ship them back east, while protein-rich whey goes to the Far East for infant formula and other uses. There are very few options for the little guy in this scenario.

The growth in superdairies has resulted in environmental, animal treatment, food safety and nutrition problems. Large numbers of cows in a small area generate huge amounts of waste, which pollutes the environment, smells terrible and must be disposed of. Confinement of dairy cows in barns and loafing yards in semi-desert surroundings gives the animals no opportunity to “do what cows do best,” i.e., graze on green grasses and forbs. The diet of confinement dairy cows consists mostly of dry hay and grain. Although a high-grain diet has been shown to increase milk production, it is not the natural diet of a ruminant, and there is new evidence that the nutritional quality of milk and rumen health of the animal suffer when grain is the cow’s main course. Confined animals suffer from numerous other health problems, ranging from hoof disease (from constantly walking in manure and on concrete) to subclinical mastitis and shortened animal life-spans. The incidence of mastitis in confined dairy cows is so high and so pervasive that milk quality standards have been repeatedly lowered to accommodate the huge increase in somatic cells (pus) in the milk. The militant animal rights group PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) has successfully used this fact and the model of the confinement dairy to turn many consumers away from consumption of dairy products.

As with other foods, the transport and handling of milk and milk products on a large scale present increased opportunities for introduction of pathogens into dairy foods, despite the industry being one of the most tightly regulated in the world. Like somatic cell counts, “acceptable” bacterial plate counts of milk produced in confinement dairies have risen over the years. Although in world trade arguments much finger-pointing is aimed at farmstead raw milk cheese, most of the cheese-related food poisoning outbreaks (and the most widespread) documented in the U.S., Canada and Europe since the late 1940s were caused by cheeses made with pasteurized milk. “The primary reasons for these cheese-related food-poisoning outbreaks were poor starter activity (due to phage, antibiotic residues in the milk, etc.), poor hygiene in the plant, gross environmental contamination and faulty pasteurization.” Although there is no guarantee that the milk from a small-scale grass-based dairy will be cleaner than that from a large confinement operation, there is at least anecdotal evidence that this is generally the case. A comparative study would be interesting.

Bovine dairy farmers aren’t the only ones looking for alternatives. In the past few decades there has been a quiet growth in goat and, to a lesser extent, sheep dairies in the United States, and a ready acceptance of their products by an increasingly sophisticated market. Many a goat cheese business started with surplus of milk from the homestead goats, made into cheese and sold to friends, then perhaps at a farmers’ market. Increasingly, though, farmers’ markets have been compelled to take steps to ensure food safety by requiring that all processors be inspected or at least have some oversight by the state. It is at this point that the farmstead goat or sheep cheesemaker runs into the “stainless steel wall.” The requirements for totally separate facilities for cheesemaking, an inspected milking parlor and laboratory testing add up to considerable sums of money; in most cases, the amount of milk produced on the farm would not make enough product to justify the outlay – a classic case of “get big or get out.” When a few farms of this nature do get big, they are generally able to command a significant portion of the limited niche market for these specialty products. The opportunities definitely are not without limits.

Nevertheless, a well-structured dairy value-adding business with a good product to sell is one bright spot in today’s dairy picture. A 30-goat dairy in North Carolina grossed $100,000 last year, and has begun to pay its owners a salary. A 100-cow dairy, also in North Carolina, now bottles and sells 100% of its milk after only 3 years in the bottling business, and they expect to pay back their half million dollar loan early. American artisanal cheeses are beginning to command respect worldwide, and consumers are looking for alternatives to bland, overprocessed food. Whether small-scale and on-farm processors will be sustainable in the face of increasing competition from each other, and from larger companies exploiting specialty markets, remains to be seen.


Materials and methods:

The Hometown Creamery Revival project began in a limited region of southwest Virginia, working with five small-scale farm families, ranging in size from 7 dairy goats to 50 Jersey cows. All five farms had a vision for beginning in on-farm processing during the three years of the project, as follows:

Feete farm – 50 Jersey cows, both partners full-time on farm, with two home-schooled teenagers. Milk sold to cooperative. Desired to recondition an existing building to make a cheese plant, and had already collected some equipment.

Groot farm – 30 dairy goats, both husband and wife working full-time jobs, desiring to build a goat cheese operation to supplement their pastured poultry business, so that one or both could farm full-time.

Lawson farm – seven dairy goats, already in cheese production on a very small scale, but needing to expand.

Leonard farm – existing Holstein dairy, milk purchased by cooperative; operated mostly by other members of the family; the Leonards wanted to add a cheese plant to the dairy to keep the dairy from going under because of low milk prices.

Puckett farm – milked small number of mostly Jersey cows, in makeshift milking parlor. The Pucketts believe there is a large market for fresh local butter, which would fit into their operation well, since they feed skimmed milk to the dairy calves they raise for the meat market. They live on the Blue Ridge Parkway, offering excellent marketing opportunities.

Other participants included the project coordinator and a group of consultants gathered for the purpose of assisting the original farms in their transition to value-adding. The consultants were private consultants, government officials and university personnel from Virginia Tech and North Carolina State University.

Approach to Objectives

#1 To conduct necessary processing and market research.

Though this is not replicated-trials type of research, we have gathered an enormous amount of information that is useful to small-scale dairy farmers and current and prospective value-adding operations. Throughout the project we have conducted this research in a variety of ways:

a. procurement of a library of pertinent books, videos, audio tapes and other materials;
b. attendance at conferences, meetings, seminars and workshops;
c. attendance at specialized short courses;
d. visits to existing facilities;
e. consumer surveys;
f. actual trials of various markets and marketing techniques by individual participants;
g. through assistance from consultants in the areas of processing, decision-making, business planning and marketing.

All of the original participants in the project took advantage of at least a couple of these opportunities.

#2 To encourage cooperation and information exchange between formerly isolated dairy farmers, and to provide educational resources and opportunities for participating farmers.

This objective was accomplished using group meetings, e-mail correspondence, a web site, group visits to facilities and other means. In addition, several members of the HCR project were instrumental in organizing and maintaining the viability of local grazing groups in their respective areas, which are still meeting on a regular basis. Educational resources and opportunities are outlined under Objective #1.

In part because several of the original participants were unable to continue with their plans for on-farm processing, and in part because there was a strongly demonstrated need, the Hometown Creamery Revival project has extended its encouragement of cooperation and exchange to many other farmers and interested people, both in the local area and elsewhere by making these resources and opportunities available to others.

Of note, although the Leonards were unable to get their own cheesemaking operation started, Dixie Leonard now works for the Feetes at Meadow Creek Dairy.

#3 To incorporate and emphasize soil and water quality improvement, humane animal treatment and food safety as essential elements of sustainable dairying.

Initially, Dr. Steve Washburn of North Carolina State University was instrumental in organizing and leading pasture walks among the member of the HCR project. Particular attention was paid to the situation on the Puckett farm, where inadequate facilities made it extremely difficult for the families to water their animals, and the water was becoming polluted as animals wallowed in the mud near a spring to get a drink. The Pucketts have a limited land base, and had to feed their animals a great deal of stored feed because they ran out of pasture early in the year. Representatives of the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) were brought in to help the family deal with their water situation, and the grazing group offered suggestions on increasing their pasture effectiveness through intensive management. A pasture walk at the Leonard farm resulted in similar suggestions to improve water and pasture resources. Later, working with the NRCS and the Virginia Forage and Grasslands Council (VFGC), HCR participants helped to establish several local graziers’ groups in southwest Virginia, one of which remains the most active group in the state, according to Mike Altizer, the state grazing group coordinator.

In the food safety arena, Dr. Susan Duncan and Dr. Susan Sumner of the Food Science and Technology Department of Virginia Tech developed and presented an excellent two-day program on dairy processing at the University. Twenty dairy processors, mostly beginners from Virginia and North Carolina, attended this program. In addition, most of the other courses attended by and presented by the HCR participants contained a food safety component.

#4 To design and oversee construction of low-cost facilities for the on-farm manufacture of dairy products, expandable and adaptable for various production capabilities; to investigate requirements for transport of small amounts of fluid milk to allow sharing of facilities.

Both the Feete family and the Lawson family built facilities for cheesemaking during the course of this project. Neither chose to use the services of HCR-sponsored consultants for this objective, but instead used their own plans and labor. Project participants Jeff Walker and Harry Groot provided descriptions and drawings of the Lawson and Feete facilities, respectively; these will be incorporated as part of the final project publication, Getting Started in Dairy Processing.

There was little need for investigation of transport of fluid milk during the course of this project. The Feetes did not require additional milk and were unwilling to share their facility with another cheesemaker. The Lawsons did purchase small amounts of milk from a distant goat dairy, but simply used a 15-gallon insulated container on the few occasions when they bought milk. They did not feel there was a need to investigate other possibilities.

Outside the scope of this project, the author is in the process of starting a small cheese plant, and will require milk to be transported short distances. I have done some investigation on my own of the possibilities for transport, and will include the findings in the final publication, but have not used HCR funds for this purpose.

#5 To begin production, develop shared marketing tactics and begin trial marketing within the local region.

The Feetes began cheese production in early 1998 under the name Meadow Creek Dairy. They marketed their cheese in a variety of ways, primarily through gourmet and health food stores, farmers’ markets and local wineries. They developed a web page and do mail-order marketing, and in the past year they have opened an on-farm store. Meadow Creek Dairy offers a variety of flavored Jack cheeses, feta and a bleu cheese. A couple of these cheeses are featured on the menu of Chateau Morrisette Winery on the Blue Ridge Parkway.

Sharon and Terry Lawson more than doubled their capacity when they moved to a new farm and built a new cheese plant by remodeling an existing dairy building. Their cheese marketing was quite successful, though the production remained relatively small. Sharon sold cheese through health food stores and at a farmers’ market, and several other people (including the author) sold her cheese at other farmers’ markets. This was the only real example of cooperative marketing in the project. Distance and other factors, including the marked difference in types and quantities of cheeses, prevented cooperative marketing between project members.

#6 To involve end-users by eliciting direct feedback from them, at the same time informing end-users about the health, quality, social and economic advantages of purchasing locally produced products.

A survey of members of a local CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) farm was developed to obtain feedback from them about the types of dairy products they might be interested in buying locally. Although this was not intended to be a random or representative sample of the local markets, the information retrieved was interesting and helpful. The CSA members were also treated to a cheese tasting at a CSA picnic, which enabled the producers to get direct feedback about their products.

In addition, when selling their products at farmers’ markets, festivals and other direct outlets, the producers receive feedback and are able to talk to their customers about their products and their production methods. Meadow Creek Dairy has developed an excellent brochure and web site describing their sustainable agriculture philosophy.

Both the Feetes and the Lawsons have submitted cheese to the American Cheese Society Festival of Cheeses, which is a competition held at the ACS conference each year. Judges complete worksheets that give feedback on the technical and aesthetic qualities of cheeses submitted.

#7. To document and disseminate all of the above in various user-friendly forms by others.

The activities and research of the Hometown Creamery Revival project have been documented and shared with others in numerous forms:

a. through project group meetings and discussions;
b. through one-on-one mentoring;
c. through speaking engagements at conferences and seminars;
d. through radio interviews;
e. through various publications, including a quarterly newsletter (CreamLine), an annotated bibliography (The Small Dairy Resource Book), and a regularly maintained web site at;
f. through e-mail discussion groups;
g. through extensive networking locally, regionally, nationally and internationally;
h. through HCR-sponsored workshops;
i. through articles written for various magazines and newsletters, and recently through a regular column in The Stockman Grass Farmer.
Research results and discussion:

#1. To conduct necessary processing and market research.

Library – our shared library has provided a wealth of information for the original project participants, as well as for those who attended the cheesemaking workshops we sponsored. Materials on grazing and animal care have also been made available to a local pasture group, which has about 150 members on the mailing list. We have made several hundred loans of books and tapes, and have had very good luck getting the materials back so that they can be loaned again. This will be an ongoing process, even after the project is over, although in the future it will be necessary to require borrowers to pay for mailing costs.

We also purchased multiple copies of several of the more expensive cheesemaking reference books, for personal use by the original project participants.

Conferences, seminars, workshops, cheesemaking schools, consultants – all of the farmer participants took advantage of at least a few of the available opportunities, and most were very positive in their evaluations. University cheesemaking schools were particularly well-received; three project cheesemakers attended these and felt that the experiences helped them to refine their skills significantly. Others attended privately sponsored cheesemaking classes or workshops, with varying levels of satisfaction, though most were positive in their response.

A Holistic Management workshop presented by the HCR near the beginning of the project left participants feeling positive at the end of the workshop, but evaluations later indicated that as many as half of the participants didn’t really see its application to their own situations or to the project as a whole. The other half were very enthusiastic about the workshop and felt it gave them useful tools for decision-making and management on their own farms.

The dairy processing workshop offered by the Virginia Tech Food Science and Technology Department was quite well received by most attendees, who ranged widely in their experience level. In particular, the beginners described the workshop as a good introduction. A few people felt the workshop was too focused on goats; there may have been some misunderstanding that most participants would be potential goat cheesemakers.

Leonard Bergey of Bergey’s Dairy was particularly helpful as a consultant on equipment during the initial stages of the project. A stainless steel fabricator did some work for us to determine the practicality of manufacturing small-scale equipment. He found that, because of the strict requirements for the type of steel and the way it must be formed, as well as the need to have the equipment 3-A certified, there would be little financial advantage to custom fabrication over purchasing available equipment. Later we learned from Steve Tate of Goat Lady Dairy in North Carolina that custom fabrication of a pasteurizer can result in savings of several thousand dollars, and may enable the processor to purchase a pasteurizer in a size not available commercially. Unfortunately, we’ve been unable to confirm that a similar custom pasteurizer would be allowed in Virginia or other states.

We also held several meetings with dairy inspectors, and David Shanks of the New River Valley Small Business Development Center offered a one-day seminar on business plans and marketing. These were all very helpful in answering specific questions that producers had.

On-site visits – It was agreed that visiting operating plants was one of the most valuable of all ways to explore processing options. There is absolutely no substitute for seeing equipment installed and working, and asking direct questions of the owners and operators. The HCR arranged several group visits for this purpose; some participants instead used their funds to make private arrangements for visiting cheesemakers long distances away. We found it difficult to arrange group trips at times because of the many commitments farmers have. In the winter, when farming activities slowed down, the weather was often uncooperative.

Market trials – The two processors who were making and selling cheese each do their own marketing, and both are successful in their own arenas. As mentioned above, the two farms have quite different operations: one is a larger cow dairy, making several hundred pounds of cheese per week; the other is a small goat dairy, generally making less than fifty pounds of cheese per week.

Both processors sell at farmers’ markets, which offer an excellent way to introduce a new product to the public. Cheese sampling allows the producer to receive direct feedback and to interact with customers, developing a loyal clientele. Customers seem to enjoy the breadth added to the farmers’ market by cheese producers, and market managers are pleased to have cheesemakers featured. Selling at a farmers’ market allows the processor complete control over the product until it goes into the customers’ hands, an advantage over wholesale outlets when dealing with a perishable product. And, of course, the farmers’ market brings retail prices to the producer. The major disadvantage of selling at farmers’ markets is the commitment to be at the market each week (or several times a week), and of having to load and unload the product. Depending on the size and quality of the market, sales may or may not be enough to compensate for this commitment. From HCR participants’ experience and that of many other on-farm processors, however, we have found that farmers’ markets are considered one of the most valuable market outlets for the small-scale producer. In fact, a cheesemaker from the Minnesota Farmstead Cheese project, who tried large-scale wholesale production and other marketing possibilities with the project, returned to seven farmers’ markets as the primary outlets for her considerable cheese production (about 1500 pounds per week). Even when dairies become large, their presence at farmers’ markets keeps the dairy name in front of customers; Straus Family Creamery, which delivers milk to stores and homes in seven western states, also has a spot at the San Francisco farmers’ market.

Locally-based health food stores and wineries are quite open to showcasing good local cheeses, and these products acquire loyal followers. Sharon Lawson experienced some problems with a local health food store that had problems keeping the cooler cold enough; because most of her cheeses are high-moisture, fresh cheeses, they tend to spoil quickly at improper temperatures. Several local wineries have featured Meadow Creek Dairy’s cheeses – one has the cheese both in a display case in the lobby and in several dishes on the restaurant menu; another offered the cheeses paired with wine in a special tasting.

On-farm sales are important for many producers who live in areas where people are willing to drive to the farm. Sharon Lawson does sell some cheese directly at the farm, but doesn’t focus on that avenue because of the restrictions it puts on her and because of her remote location. Meadow Creek Dairy, as mentioned before, has opened an on-farm store, perhaps in hopes of attracting customers from the Blue Ridge Parkway, as well as local ones. Sweet Home Farm in Alabama sells exclusively from a shop on their farm, attracting snowbirds and other tourists along the Gulf Coast, as well as chefs who make the drive to buy their cheese. In North Carolina, Maple View Dairy sells their bottled milk and butter from a cooler outside their plant; and Goat Lady Dairy keeps frozen goat cheese in a freezer near the door of their cheese plant for customers who happen by. The latter sales are both operated on the honor system so that personnel can pay attention to their processing duties.

#2 To encourage cooperation and information exchange between formerly isolated dairy farmers, and to provide educational resources and opportunities for participating farmers.

This objective has been well met. Educational resources and opportunities utilized are outlined under #1. There have been many avenues through which we have encouraged cooperation and information exchange:

Meetings and pasture walks – Early in the course of the project the HCR participants held regular meetings on different farms and other places, and pasture walks on the farms of the original participants only. There was some frustration expressed by one of the farmers that the meetings were too big, involved too many people, and (she felt) were wasteful of resources and somewhat unproductive. We had a few meetings that involved a smaller group, but then ran into major problems with weather. After the winter was over, the farmer participants became so involved in their own operations that they were unable or unwilling to attend meetings, so attempts to hold meetings were abandoned. We continued to communicate through e-mail, and there was a great deal of interaction between some individuals. Over time it became clear that three of the farms would be unable to meet their goals to build processing plants over the course of the project, and the two remaining farms had such different operations that it wasn’t felt particularly useful to bring them together.

The pasture walks were more successful. As mentioned above, the Pucketts’ farm was the focus of a couple of pasture walks, with suggestions and assistance offered to the family by participants and the NRCS. David and Tina Puckett were extremely appreciative of the help they received on improving their water system and pasture management, as well as visits to look at processing operations:

“Being part of the Creamery Project for us has been wonderful. The people we have met and the knowledge we have obtained has been terrific. The trip that we took to Hillsboro was inspirational, in that it showed us practical equipment that could be used for our own needs. Also, our cows and our billfold continue to benefit from rotational grazing. We continue to try and learn more.”

As mentioned previously, several members of the group were instrumental in starting local grazing groups that meet on a regular basis. Rick and Helen Feete have demonstrated leadership in a group in Carroll and Grayson Counties (VA), and occasionally writes for the publication of the Virginia Forage and Grasslands Council, The Grassroots Connection. Since they live in between, the Pucketts have attended Carroll-Grayson’s pasture walks, and also occasionally come to those of the New River Graziers, the group I’ve been involved in. These groups hold genial and generally well-attended pasture walks and meetings, where most of the attendees are conventional farmers looking for inspiration.

On-Line – We have been heavily involved in e-mail discussion groups, particularly one called “Artisan Cheesemakers” on Onelist. This group offers a wealth of information and networking opportunities and a number of attendees for HCR-sponsored cheesemaking workshops have come from this group. In addition, this year I was asked to co-moderate, with Andy Lee, a new discussion group on Onelist called “dairycreamery,” which has several hundred members, many of them farmers interested in on-farm processing. Although less active than the cheesemakers’ list, the dairycreamery list is a good place to ask questions about grass farming and processing. In fact, Jo Robinson, author of Why Grassfed is Best, has participated on the list, encouraging farmers to provide dairy products from grassfed animals. Other HCR participants belong to other listservs, notably Graze-L and some of the larger ones that have too many posts for me to keep up with. In general, e-mail discussion groups, as long as they don’t get too political, seem to be an extraordinary, convenient resource for farmers.

Workshops and conference talks – as will be more extensively outlined in later sections, the HCR sponsored a number of workshops to share information with other interested people and help to establish networks. These have ranged from a small 3-hour local workshop held at Sharon Lawson’s cheese plant to a widely advertised three-day advanced cheesemakers’ workshop at Goat Lady Dairy in North Carolina. We have also spoken at farm conferences and other meetings.

One-on-one mentoring – Helen Feete felt more comfortable with showing individuals some of her cheesemaking techniques and the plant itself. She and Rick have shared their experience with quite a few visitors who have contacted them on their own. Sharon Lawson has also taught a number of individuals the art of cheesemaking.

#3 To incorporate and emphasize soil and water quality improvement, humane animal treatment and food safety as essential elements of sustainable dairying.

This objective ties in with #2. The changes made on the Puckett farm are among the most outstanding accomplishments within the original HCR group, but the Leonards and the Groots have also implemented management intensive grazing and getting water to animals on pasture, rather than allowing them to foul streams and springs. In addition, The Small Dairy Resource Book included pasture management as a major component, with reviews of materials that emphasize grazing as opposed to confinement management. More than 1000 copies of this book have been distributed to date. The Resource Book also contains a chapter on food safety resources.

Producers attending dairy processing classes and workshops always get a substantial dose of food safety information. Hygiene during milking, sanitation of milking parlors and processing rooms, control of unwanted organisms, proper storage of milk and products, proper cheesemaking techniques, packaging and storage of products at the retail level are some of the topics covered in these workshops. Many attendees have commented that they learned about hazards they were unaware of.

In addition, on the “Artisan Cheesemakers” e-mail discussion group, several of us have been working on formulating a model HACCP plan for the small-scale cheesemaker. Although HACCP (Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point) plans are not required for dairy processing yet, it is only a matter of time. We feel that, since there is considerable attention being paid to raw milk cheese and mandatory pasteurization, we need to begin to put practices in place that will minimize food safety hazards. Additionally, the most recent issue of CreamLine contains an introductory article on HACCP.

#4 To design and oversee construction of low-cost facilities for the on-farm manufacture of dairy products, expandable and adaptable for various production capabilities; to investigate requirements for transport of small amounts of fluid milk to allow sharing of facilities.

Although the HCR had plans to hire consultants for carrying out the first part of this objective, the two farms that went into production did not choose to use them. Both had independent plans for their facilities and went ahead with them. As mentioned in last year’s report, it is noteworthy that the two farms completing their cheese plants both had existing buildings that could be renovated, using mostly their own labor. The other three farms would have required new buildings to get started. Although intentions were good, money and time were the two greatest factors in preventing at least two of the farms from proceeding; the third experienced a lack of cooperation from partners not well invested in the idea of on-farm processing.

We did gather information on the two processing facilities, to be published in the Getting Started in Dairy Processing manual, and have corresponded with and visited other facilities to gain breadth. For example, we had no one in the project interested in bottling milk, although there is significant interest in that option from mid-size dairies. Accounts of visits to some of these plants have been published in CreamLine and elsewhere.

As noted in the previous section, fluid milk transport issues did not arise, partly because there was a general unwillingness to share facilities. This is understandable – there are contamination, scheduling and storage issues that would make it difficult for any small plant to open its doors to another cheesemaker. We are interested in the “cheese condominium” idea that is being tossed around in Wisconsin, in which cheesemakers own their own portion of a larger facility, sharing some of the costs of construction and maintenance. That will be reported on later in CreamLine.

#5. To begin production, develop shared marketing tactics and begin trial marketing within the local region.

It is disappointing that three of the five farms were unable to make the move into dairy processing during the course of this project. This percentage is perhaps representative, however, of the number of farms that look into the possibility and reject it. Although the Groots indicate that they would still like to build a cheesemaking facility on their farm within 3-4 years, they are so consumed by other obligations – including a new sustainable logging business Harry recently established – that it appears questionable whether they will actually be able to move forward on dairy processing. The Pucketts have made progress on their pasture and water system, but still require a new milking parlor before they can begin to think about processing. Additionally, their steer raising venture became highly successful last year, requiring more of their time and energy. My understanding is that the Leonards sold their portion of the family farm.

As a “hub” for information on dairy processing, the Hometown Creamery Revival receives large numbers of inquiries from people interested in making their dairy farms more profitable by value-adding. Many have no idea what it really takes to get into dairy processing and just drop the idea once they realize what the startup costs are. In some ways this screening benefits those who do make the investment. If going into cheesemaking were too easy, the market would certainly be flooded with goat cheese and probably a lot of inferior cheeses that could ruin the market for others.

In retrospect, it might have been better to locate some of the farmer participants after the beginning of the project, recruiting applicants and screening them carefully using business plans. We had so little time during the proposal planning period that this was impossible then. Nevertheless, events beyond our control came into play as well. One participant lost his job and had to jump right into starting his own business. Family issues prevented progress in other cases.

Still, the two farms that moved ahead with their cheesemaking plants have both been quite successful, albeit on different levels. Although they have chosen not to share marketing tactics, as idealized, both have begun to fill niche markets with their carefully crafted cheeses.

#6 To involve end-users by eliciting direct feedback from them, at the same time informing end-users about the health, quality, social and economic advantages of purchasing locally produced products.

Feedback from customers of farmstead processors, both those in the HCR project and beyond, has been very positive. Most farmstead scale products are easy to market if they bear features that distinguish them from what is found in the grocery dairy case. It is clear that growing numbers of consumers want to support small farms, and use their pocketbooks to say so. The word is spreading about sustainable agriculture and local and regional production: farmers’ markets are growing in popularity, chefs are committing themselves to purchasing local and seasonal food products, and consumers continue to support CSAs despite some inconvenience and sometimes higher costs.

Within the HCR project, we have found consumers, in general, to be receptive to and positive about small-scale dairy processing. Some of the things they have indicated they are looking for: different varieties of cheese, including European style cheeses; fresher milk; raw milk and raw milk products; goat milk products; creamline milk; Jersey milk; old-fashioned buttermilk, butter and cottage cheese; dairy products from grass-fed animals; dairy products from animals not treated with rbGH; homemade ice cream; milk in glass bottles; organic milk; milk from animals treated well. Interestingly, the dairy industry is not responding to most of these consumer desires; many they cannot provide because of the nature of mass production. Processors, instead, are focusing on various packaging options, flavorings, ultrapasteurization and advertising. Thus, there remain a number of niches for small dairies to fill.

Our new partnership with the WNC Nature Center has given us opportunities to reach the public in a different way. The HCR sent several people from the Center for training in cheesemaking, and they have incorporated cheesemaking as one of the demonstrations that they do for visitors. Unfortunately we lost the services and enthusiasm of Chase Hubbard, our original contact there, when he found it necessary to seek higher-paying employment with a computer firm. Recently, however, I’ve learned that Chase has taken a job in the Farm Center at Warren Wilson College in North Carolina. Warren Wilson once had a dairy, and one employee of the WW farm told me that they were looking at reinstituting the dairy, so Chase’s experience and training may yet be employed! Chase did present an excellent beginning cheesemaking class at the Nature Center even after he left their employ. The new cheesemakers at the Center, Kristin Hillegas and Julia Patterson, offer demonstrations to the public as they pass through the Center’s barn. The Nature Center also has demonstrations on the preservation of rare farm breeds, which dovetails nicely with preservation of the art of cheesemaking.

#7 To document and disseminate all of the above in various user-friendly forms by others.

The results of this objective will be more appropriately discussed in the sections that follow.

Participation Summary

Educational & Outreach Activities

Participation Summary:

Education/outreach description:

Copies of publications are included in the appendix. Copies of the Getting Started in Dairy Processing book will be sent as soon as it is published.

CreamLine - six full issues and a sample issue

The Small Dairy Resource Book

Hometown Creamery Revival web site -

Articles from 2000
- regular articles from Stockman Grass Farmer
- article from The Grassroots Connection (Rick & Helen Feete)
- Roanoke Times article about Meadow Creek Dairy
- book review from Pasture Talk
- book review from New Connections
- book review from ALBC News
- The Jacksonville Center newsletter
- article from Rappahannock News on cheese recalls
- Roanoke Times article about raw milk cheese

Articles from previous years
- Guernsey article in ALBC News - 1999
- article from Grassroots Connection (Rick Feete) - 1999
- Roanoke Times article about Mountain Hobby Cheeses - 1999
- Farm Bureau article about Bergey’s Dairy - 1999
- food safety article in Growing for Market - 1999
- article on Maple View Dairy in Southern Sustainable Farming - 1999
- “Farmstead Cheese Operations in Virginia” (Va Dairyman) - 1999
- five articles from Virginia Biological Farmer - 1998
- article from The Virginia Dairyman - 1998
- three articles from Virginia Biological Farmer - 1997

Workshop and pasture walk materials
- handouts from Pulaski County 4-H group project (New River Graziers) - 2000
- handouts from Goat Lady Dairy workshop - 2000
- handouts from Julia Farmer workshop - 2000
- handout from Margaret Morris workshop at SSAWG - 2000
- grazing results from Graybeal farm pasture walk - 1998 (didn’t include before)

Workshop materials from previous years
- Selected Resources (list handed out to workshop participants) - 1999
- binder from Virginia Tech Dairy Processing Course - 1998
- materials from Mountain Hobby Cheeses workshop - 1997

Education and Outreach

The HCR sponsored the following workshops and other outreach events:

Holistic Management workshop with HM trainer Ed Martsolf
Mountain Hobby Cheeses local cheesemaking workshop
Vicki Dunaway spoke at Carolina Farm Stewardship Association (CFSA) conference

Dixie Leonard presented HCR poster display at SARE PDP
Business Planning seminar at New River Small Business Development Center
Dairy Processing Course at Virginia Tech Food Science & Technology
Cheese tasting at Seven Springs CSA
Tour of Our Lady of the Angels cheesemaking plant, Crozet VA
Dixie Leonard spoke at Carolina Farm Stewardship Association (CFSA) conference
HCR poster display at CFSA conference

Tour of buttermaking at Maple View Farm Milk Co.
Ice cream social at Jacksonville Center (we provided the ice cream)
HCR poster display at CFSA conference
Goat Lady Dairy half-day cheesemaking class in association with CFSA conference
Chase Hubbard’s beginning cheesemaking class at WNC Nature Center

Cheesemaking with Margaret Morris as pre-conference event, SSAWG conference
Leonard Bergey & Fleming Pfann spoke at SSAWG
Leonard Bergey spoke at Farm Bureau conference
Charley Dunaway taught buttermaking in a jar to children at SSAWG
Charley taught buttermaking at Virginia Association for Biological Farming conference
Julia Farmer’s cheesemaking class in Morgantown, WV
Vicki Dunaway spoke at Culpeper Extension In-Service meeting
Ice cream social at Jacksonville Center (we provided the ice cream)
Vicki Dunaway spoke at University of Maryland planning meeting on dairy processing
Goat Lady Dairy’s two-day Profitable Farmstead Cheesemaking workshop
Peter Dixon’s one-day Advanced Cheesemakers’ Workshop
Ongoing cheesemaking demonstrations at Western NC Nature Center

(Upcoming) Vicki Dunaway to speak at CASA conference
(Upcoming) Beginning cheesemaking class with Cynthia Sharpe

We distributed evaluation sheets for many of these activities and were very pleased with the overwhelmingly positive responses we received. Because the evaluations were in prose rather than multiple-choice form, it would be difficult to quantify the results. However, if anyone would care to look over the evaluations, I’d be happy to provide copies.

Project Outcomes

Project outcomes:
Impact of the Results and Potential Contribution

I believe it is safe to say that the Hometown Creamery Revival project has literally impacted thousands of farmers, homesteaders, cheesemakers and wannabes through its various programs, networking efforts and publications. From the feedback that we’ve received, that impact has been quite positive. Although we recognize that the project has been riding a wave that began to swell before its inception, our work has added significantly to, and helped to organize and make available, the body of knowledge sought by people interested in dairy processing on a micro-scale. Allow me to share a small sample of the feedback I’ve received about the Small Dairy Resource Book:

Just wanted to say Thanks for the copy of The Small Dairy Resource Book! It looks like a gold mine of useful information and I really like how it is put together! I also enjoyed my first issue of Creamline recently. Keep up the great work--we really appreciate it! Tera B.

Hi Vicki,
I received my Small Dairy Resource Book in the mail yesterday. It is great!
Took it to bed with me last night for a good read, wonderful information,
Thank you for such a great resource.
Pat M.

Vicki- I received my Small Dairy Resource Book yesterday. You did a really nice job with it! I was expecting a stapled set of pages printed in Courier type - just a bibliography. You did a very fancy job. The layout is very appealing and easy to use. I really appreciate the reviews of different info sources. I've read through some of it already. Too bad you had to read all those books! Ha.

I appreciate all your hard work, and look forward to using all your information someday. It's a valuable resource in itself. - Ralph C.

(Full names not given to protect the writers.)

This kind of feedback is very gratifying and lets me know that the Creamery project is doing its job. SAN’s expert assistance with publishing the book was also very helpful and greatly appreciated. I believe the Getting Started book will be similarly useful – people have told me they are waiting on the edges of their seats for that one.

The Small Dairy Resource Book has been purchased in bulk by the Wisconsin Farm Center, Leraysville Cheese Factory and several extension agencies for distribution at field days, as well as by many individuals. It has received favorable reviews in several publications, including Pasture Talk, New Connections (newsletter of the Regional Food and Farm Project in New York) and the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy News.

CreamLine, a quarterly newsletter, now has a circulation of about 200 subscribers. I have weaned CreamLine from the HCR project and it is now self-sufficient, at least as far as publishing and mailing costs; thus it will be able to continue for the foreseeable future. CreamLine is published to assist small-scale commercial dairy processors in startup and technical details of their operations. While early issues have focused on general overviews of production of different types of dairy products, I foresee the publication delving more deeply into problem-solving and evaluation of resources. I also hope the income from the newsletter will allow me to travel to more processing plants and dairy farms for information to use in future issues, since subscribers tell me they enjoy reading about other people who are “doing it.” The newsletter also has received positive reviews and subscribers seem enthusiastic about the information provided. There seems to be a high rate of renewal as well.

In addition to the publications, HCR has sponsored a number of cheesemaking workshops and has organized a couple of visits to processing plants. Nearly all of the workshops have been sold out, with participant limits of around 20 each. In all, over 100 people have participated in these activities. Evaluations collected after each workshop have nearly always been positive, with minor suggestions for improvements. Some have indicated that a workshop had enabled them to make important decisions regarding their dairy processing plans.

We would like to have been able to organize tours of on-farm milk bottling plants, and perhaps even a workshop on bottling, but most of the interest in bottling did not really come forth until late in the project. I believe that Steve Washburn of NC State is including this possibility in a grant proposal. A one-day bottling seminar would certainly be worthwhile; it is possible that I may be able to arrange one before the project is completely over. There are a few classes given at universities and one by a private dairy organization, but these are pretty costly. They might be recommended for someone who has already made the decision to go into bottling on a reasonably large scale, but would be less suitable for those who are just interested in the possibility. They are included on the HCR web site.

Speaking of the web site, the HCR web site is now receiving about 4000 hits per month, with many questions and requests for sample newsletters coming from that source. The site is part of a Cheesemakers’ Web Ring and is advertised in a number of publications and advertisements. The site provides information on events, including conferences and field days, as well as a fairly comprehensive list of processing courses available to aspiring dairy processors. In the near future I plan to put a sample issue on-line in PDF form, which will make it easier and more instantaneous for browsers and less costly for me.

Participation in e-mail discussion groups certainly impacts a wide range of people, even internationally. I have been able to use this avenue to pass along (and learn!) a great deal of information. A total of about 700 people are members of the three groups that I participate in regularly. Others in the HCR participate in other, even larger groups.

Participants in the HCR project have spoken at various conferences and meetings, including: Carolina Farm Stewardship Association (two years), the Virginia Forage and Grasslands Council, the Future Harvest conference of the Chesapeake Alliance for Sustainable Agriculture (upcoming), a Virginia extension program in Culpeper County, a meeting at University of Maryland where planning was being done for new dairy processing programs, SSAWG (Southern Sustainable Agriculture Working Group) conferences. Leonard Bergey has been a speaker at Virginia Farm Bureau conferences and the Virginia Direct Farm Marketing Association conferences, as well as others. Many people have been reached at these meetings, with much networking done.


A. Objectives

All of the original project objectives were met to some degree. See Section IV-C for details. We would like to have seen more of the original five farmers follow through with their plans to build on-farm processing plants, but the three who did not all met with extenuating circumstances that delayed or prevented their progress. The major obstacles preventing meeting of objectives were time and money. Apparently the farmers from those three farms overestimated their capacity to devote resources to meeting their goals and timelines. All made some progress, nevertheless. Of the two farm families who did begin processing, one found it too time-consuming to continue with the project and went inactive in order to focus on growing their business.

By mid-1999 it was apparent that none of the three remaining farms without facilities would complete their objectives by the end of the project, and so the focus of the project shifted completely to information gathering and dissemination. The original objectives did not really change, but less emphasis was placed on trying to get any more plants up and running.

B. Problems

(1) As mentioned above, the major problems we had were time and money. Getting into dairy processing involves a big financial commitment and requires that a farmer be able to devote a considerable amount of time to get it started.

(2) As in most groups, there were some personality conflicts that affected group dynamics. One participant in particular had continual complaints about nearly everything It was a very frustrating experience to try to find out just what she expected from the project. Perhaps much of this might have been avoided by creating contracts in the beginning that outlined just what was expected of each participant, and what the grant could and could not provide.

(3) We also had some problems with a woman in central Virginia who was resentful of the HCR project because she felt it was stepping on the toes of goat cheese producers who were operating within a loophole of Virginia law. Although Virginia’s dairy laws include goat and sheep milk, the cheesemaking regulations do not; in them, milk is defined as the product of a cow. Therefore, a “renegade” group of goat owners insists that the cheesemaking laws do not apply to them, and that they should be free to sell their cheese without oversight. The woman enrolled in the Virginia Tech processing course and deliberately disrupted nearly every speaker, to the point that other participants were telling her to “shut up.” This woman also has sent a large volume of acidic letters to me, to the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (VDACS), and to other cheesemakers in the state, and has made it difficult for Virginia cheesemakers to work together.

(4) Recently, VDACS has been testing cheeses made by all cheesemakers in the state, including both inspected and uninspected ones. Twice this year they have ordered recalls of cheese made in inspected facilities, and later found out that the cheeses were not contaminated at the source, but may have been contaminated at the lab or in transit to the lab. One case resulted in a public recall (see article from Rappahannock News); fortunately in the second case none of the cheese had been sold. This is a critical problem. We feel it is important that VDACS conduct their inspections, sampling and testing in a professional and careful manner, as it is very damaging to the business of a small-scale cheesemaker who has to recall product, reducing customer confidence and causing financial losses.

(5) As mentioned before, the FDA is considering mandatory pasteurization of all dairy products produced in the U.S. From what we have learned, many of the tests they are doing are not representative of conditions in small cheesemaking operations. According to a professional cheesemaker who has been following the studies, the FDA is inoculating cheese with extremely high levels of a multi-bacterial slurry, then storing the cheese in cold, anaerobic conditions. Then – surprise – the tests come back showing contamination, even after 60 days of aging. This seems to be very poor science in light of several facts: (1) most farmstead-scale cheese is made from milk with very low initial bacterial counts; (2) most farmstead cheese is not aged under anaerobic conditions; (3) most farmstead cheese is aged at a warmer temperature, which allows the “good” bacteria to grow to combat pathogens. The outcome of this “research,” and the responses of lawmakers to it, are absolutely critical to the survival of the artisan cheesemaker. Cheese is a relatively safe food. According to Fundamentals of Cheese Science, approximately 235 billion tons of cheese were produced in the U.S., Western Europe and Canada between 1970 and 1997. There were only 32 confirmed outbreaks of food poisoning and fewer than 100 deaths due to consumption of cheese in those nations during this time period. Most of the outbreaks and deaths involved cheeses made from pasteurized milk! Forty-eight of the 96 deaths reported resulted from one incident of contaminated pasteurized milk cheese. It seems quite irrational to require pasteurization of cheese milk under these circumstances. As a speaker at the American Cheese Society put it, there are risks in everything we do. “I am putting myself at far greater risk when driving to work than when eating a piece of raw milk cheese,” he said.


Impediments: About my only complaint about SARE is the reimbursement policy. This makes it very difficult for a small NGO that does not have deep pockets to administer a SARE grant. The reimbursement process is very erratic; sometimes it takes only three weeks for an invoice to be processed, other times it takes nearly two months. Around holidays and at the beginning of the fiscal year there is always a long delay, presumably because everyone goes on vacation or because there is too much paperwork. About the time the University of Georgia’s new statement forms were instituted, the wait time went from three weeks to six weeks, and remains at about six to seven weeks.

Assistance: Information Officer Gwen Roland has been extremely helpful throughout the project. Former Director Rick Welsh was able to get us an advance to work with early on, which was very useful. Rick also made efforts to establish networks between people working on SARE projects, finding funds outside our own project to help with expenses for this kind of networking. Dr. Jordan and bookkeeper Elena Scheuerman have been quick to respond to our requests for budget changes.

Economic Analysis

Cooperative Efforts

As mentioned in the introduction, we have formed alliances with a number of groups:

American Cheese Society – we have been working with several ACS members on the raw milk cheese issue (FDA investigating mandatory pasteurization of all dairy products).

American Livestock Breeds Conservancy – ALBC has helped to promote the Hometown Creamery Revival and its publications, and we have returned the favor. ALBC has also been very helpful in answering questions and providing information about rare breed dairy animals.

ATTRA – Holly Born of Appropriate Technology Transfer for Rural Areas assisted with the review and promotion of the Small Dairy Resource Book.

Carolina Farm Stewardship Association – we have made several presentations at CFSA and have participated in their poster display area two years in a row. They also worked with us on a cheesemaking class at Goat Lady Dairy as part of their conference in 1999.

Chesapeake Alliance for Sustainable Agriculture – CASA gave me some time to speak at their 2000 conference to promote the Small Dairy Resource Book during a dairy processing session. They also invited me back in 2001 to participate in a panel on on-farm dairy processing.

Goat Lady Dairy – has worked closely with us to present two professional cheesemakers’ workshops.

Jacksonville Center – this local tourist center is very interested in promoting local arts and crafts, including food products. We have provided ice cream two years in a row for their ice cream socials.

SAN – Valerie Berton of the Sustainable Agriculture Network was absolutely essential in the publication of the Small Dairy Resource Book. SAN is also distributing and promoting the book.

Southern Sustainable Agriculture Working Group (SSAWG) – SSAWG has published a couple of our articles in their newsletter and worked with us to present a very successful full-day cheesemaking workshop as a pre-conference event at the 2000 conference at Jekyll Island.

University of Maryland, Dairy Foods – I have been working with Dr. Scott Rankin and others at the University to plan new programs in dairy processing, including an annual conference and a new cheesemaking short course. They have helped to promote the Small Dairy Resource Book.

Virginia Forage and Grasslands Council – the VFGC has sponsored several grazing conferences, which resulted in the formation of local grazing groups. HCR participants have promoted and attended their pasture walks and other meetings. The animal and grazing materials in the HCR library has been made available to, and used by, members of the New River Graziers. We have also assisted by sending out postcard announcements of pasture walks for the NR Graziers.

Vermont Cheese Council – we exchange publications and other materials with the Vermont Cheese Council, which has been very helpful in providing information on HACCP.

Western North Carolina Nature Center – cheesemakers we have trained are offering cheesemaking demonstrations to the public; also the Nature Center features rare breeds of dairy animals.


Areas needing additional study

As noted above, attention needs to be paid to bottling. Because bottling involves such a heavy financial commitment, and because ready markets are critical for fluid milk, it should not be entered into lightly. Most of the need is for technical information on setting up a bottling plant.

There remains a serious need for investigation into the effects of feeds and pasture changes on milk quality, quantity, flavors, etc. I am certain that much of this research was done back in the days when individuals and small creameries bottled milk and made dairy products, but it is in danger of being lost, as university libraries clean out their shelves to make room for new information.

A university cheesemaking short course is badly needed in the east central or southeast states. At present our cheesemakers have to fly to California, Ontario, Washington State or Wisconsin to take such a course. I have been working with Dr. Scott Rankin at University of Maryland in the development of a cheese course there. I believe he is applying for grant funds for this purpose.

Since universities have been so successful at commanding SARE funds in recent years, and since they already have access to (presumably) politically neutral state-funded laboratories, it is hoped that some university researcher, not funded by large industry, will have the courage to address the raw milk cheese issue. Although this topic is on the edge of SARE’s responsibilities, the outcome of the raw milk cheese debate is critical to a large number of small-scale cheesemakers across the United States. (See “Problems” section.) Currently, the question being asked seems to be, “Don’t we need to institute mandatory pasteurization for cheese?” We need someone who will ask, “Why has raw milk cheese been, historically, such a safe food?”

Information Products

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.