Adding Value to Our Seventh Generation Dairy Farm by Turning Our Milk into Farmstead and Artisan Cheeses

Project Overview

FNC09-773
Project Type: Farmer/Rancher
Funds awarded in 2009: $6,000.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2011
Region: North Central
State: Illinois
Project Coordinator:

Annual Reports

Commodities

  • Animal Products: dairy

Practices

  • Farm Business Management: marketing management

    Summary:

    PROJECT BACKGROUND
    We are a Jersey (dairy) farm. We milk approximately 65 cows. We have been rotational grazing for 12 year. In June 2010, we opened our value added addition, a creamery. We have been making cheese 2 years and have been successful in the St. Louis, MO market and Chicago, IL market. We currently use all of our milk for cheese production and are hoping to add more animals to our herd within the next year.

    We began rotational grazing in March 2001. We did this to simplify the life of the animals and ourselves! We turned 55 acres of premium farmland into premium pasture when we made this switch. We also began using all-natural treatments as the first line of defense for our animals.

    PROJECT DESCRIPTION
    GOAL: Our goal was to add value to our seventh generation dairy farm by turning our milk into cheese.

    PROCESS
    When we decided to take the step to add a value-added business to our farm we had many obstacles and much research that had to take place. As we began making, marketing, and selling our products we had to make adjustments to the needs of our customers. As we grow and began to establish ourselves we continue to learn more about the industry.

    Planning Stages
    We visited well over 27 farms/creameries across the country to learn about the industry. We read books and talked to many more people trying to grasp the reality of what we were entering into. Benefits and difficulties were what we were attempting to assess in this stage. We found that the difficulties for many individuals in this business include: making the transition from being a dairy farmer to own a food manufacturing business, dairy farming is quite demanding in itself and adding another demanding business to the already demanding lifestyle can be challenging, and the challenges for some to understand the significance of sanitation. The benefits include: the rewards of making a farm to table product, being able to meet satisfied customers and learn more about the industry, and most of all being able to become a sustainable business.

    Making, Marketing, Selling
    In March of 2010 we began making cheese, and we began selling it in June 2010. The first and foremost goal was to learn as quickly as we could about how to make great cheese. We knew if could create a great product our chances of success would be much higher. We began marketing our cheese at farmers markets in St. Louis, MO. The close proximity (45 miles) to farm made this an excellent outlet. We would talk to our customers and get feedback at every market.

    Through these outlets, we were able to make adjustments to our products and learn more about what our local market wanted in a local cheese. In March of 2011 we began working with a distributor in St. Louis. We increased our outlets substantially at this time. We went from selling to 30 retail outlets and 3 restaurants to 45 retail outlets and 50 restaurants in 6 weeks. In July 2011 we began working with a distributor in Chicago.

    Continuing learning
    We now begin our third year of making, marketing, and selling cheese. We are constantly learning how to make our product better to meet our customers needs even more. We are planning new cheeses and how to make the products we have better.

    PEOPLE
    • Lynne Weiss, Bond County Extension Service helped extensively over the two years. We built our 3,200 square foot creamery with view windows into our production room. We did this with agritourism in mind. We are passionate about educating the community about dairy products and dairy farming. Lynne has helped us with setting up curriculum for school groups.
    • Neville McNaughton, CheezeSorce. Neville is a cheese making consultant. He has been instrumental in helping us develop cheeses.
    • Jim Gage, has assisted us with business planning and grant writing.

    RESULTS
    We were researching whether or not we could be profitable by turning our raw milk into cheese. The expense to set up a cheesemaking facility is less than a bottling facility. We also researched the benefits of using our facility to educate the community.

    We are beginning the third year of operation and like most start-up businesses we anticipate that we won’t see profits until year five. With that being said, our goal for last year was to be able to sell all of our products. We were able to do this. We are aware that if we can continue to sell all of our products we will be able to be profitable by year five. We anticipate that this will happen.

    With agri-tourism being the fastest growing sector of tourism in America, we have found that agri-tourism has been and will continue to be an important part of our business. Educating the consumers about the value of our product is very important.

    DISCUSSION
    The past two years we have learned much from this project. We have learned more about what our customers want and have learned more about how to create what they want. Our primary barrier before the grant was that our small family farm was not sustainable due to low milk prices and increased cost. We have since built our creamery and have begun our value-added business. We are working to build our business so that we can be sustainable not just for the seventh generation, but for the eighth generation as well.

    There are many advantages and disadvantages. The advantages include being able to control our milk prices because we are no longer selling our milk as a commodity product. The disadvantages are really opportunities to grow. It is important for farmers who are considering moving to a value-added business to realize that it adds many components to farming that one may not realize before they begin. For example, farmers must realize that they are now responsible for marketing and selling their product. This is a great opportunity to get out into the community and meet many wonderful people. However, it also adds more work to an already overwhelming schedule.

    OUTREACH
    One way that information was shared in 2011 was by speaking at the Farmers Forum at the National Small Farm Trade Show and Conference in Columbia, Missouri. We also share our project with others on a daily basis through having an on-farm retail store. We built our facility with viewing windows in the Grade A and Grade B sides of the production facility. We want the public to be able to come and watch. Through this they ask questions and we are able to educate them about our processes. We also allow tour groups to come to our facility. We have school groups to senior groups that have participated in this. This provides us with an amazing opportunity to educate the public.

    We have increased our school tours and other tours over the last year. We have also increased sales on our on-farm retail store. We will have approximately 1000 school aged students coming through our facility for tours this year. We had much press this year as we were featured in a minimum of five different newspapers or magazines in the surrounding areas. We will be featured in April in a magazine in Chicago. We anticipate that this will increase our sales in this area.

    We will continue to communicate our results by adding information to our brochures. When we win awards we will send out press releases.

    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.