BOOTSTRAP @ NORTH COUNTRY CREAMERY – DEVELOPING A MARKETING PLAN

By Ashlee Kleinhammer of North Country Creamery

Speaking with a customer at the farmers market.

Speaking with a customer at the farmers market.

 

This year we took a multi-prong approach to marketing. I was striving toward an ideal that we would sell most of our products through a CSA. We managed to serve around a dozen members locally, and twenty-eight members through Juniper Hill Farms’ Farmigo share (a CSA service managed completely online). The local CSA operated like a pre-paid credit system where the members start off with a “Small Share” or “Large Share” balance, receiving extra credit toward their balance in exchange for their pre-payment, and we track their purchases on a weekly basis. Members can pick up at the Farmstore or the Farmers Markets. This year we tracked balances on paper and sent out email notices, but would like to find an affordable swipe card system in the future, where members can check their balance at any given time.

Speaking of the Farmstore: yes, this dairy farm came with a proper Farmstore. Actually the previous owners used to run it as a café and cheese shop. Our neighbors and friends, Mace Chasm Farm, have turned the kitchen into a butcher shop, legal and official with a 20C commercial kitchen and retail license.

Taking a wholesale order during a slow day at the market for North Country Creamery.

Taking a wholesale order during a slow day at the market for North Country Creamery.

Last week we had our first event at the Farmstore: Pulled Pork Dinner and Cider Pressing. It drew in about 50 guests, and a local newspaper reporter, without spending very much time at all on publicity. The creamery contribution was macaroni and cheese and feta salad. We are having our next event on Oct. 11, encouraging people to check out our new Farmstore and hang out with us for dinner.

Another avenue to pull people in to the store is that it’s in the process of becoming a Wholeshare pick-up site. Wholeshare is an online buying club that accesses regional local and organic foods as well as bulk goods. The website takes very little, if any, cut for providing the service, so it’s as close to buying directly from the distributor as most of us can get.

Fingerling super hero! (AKA, a slow day at the farmers market.)

Fingerling super hero! (AKA, a slow day at the farmers market.)

As much as we’d like to sell it all straight from the store, we attending three markets per week through the summer. We’re stopping two this month, but will continue attending the Saranac Lake through December. I had a lot more fun selling at the markets than I’d predicted! It was somewhat disappointing when the markets were slow since it took so much time and energy to attend—except that on slow days vendors got to sit around the picnic tables and catch up with each other… or play wiffle ball, or make a Potato Super Hero (photos included).

Though I had fun at the markets, my partner and I recognized that they took up a lot of time. We’re knee-deep in the process of marketing a Dairy Delivery CSA to tag onto existing vegetable CSAs. It will work in a similar way to the Farmigo shares we sold this year: members can choose between a cheese share (will rotate between fresh and aged cheeses) or yogurt share (members can choose plain or flavored).

North-Country-Creamery-talking-with-customers-at-the-market-smallEach week’s share is only $5, about equal to wholesale prices. Each additional share per household is only $4, offering incentive to buy multiple shares. We figured that we would need to sell between 500-800 shares to stop attending farmers markets. It would behoove us to know exactly how much to produce each week, so the trade-off is one day of deliveries to guaranteed customers verses three days of delivering to potential customers… then we might have time to get our friends together to play wiffle ball on the weekend! I wonder how long it will take us to meet our goal.

Thanks to Stonyfield, Profits for the Planet, for funding the 2013 Bootstrap blog series.

Bootstrap @ The Golden Yoke – Pasture Management

The Golden Yoke - Fresh Grass - smallPasture management in Montana is not just about building fence and moving cows. First and foremost it is about irrigation. Because of our arid climate we rely heavily on irrigation water, which is dependent on mountain snow pack. Every winter farmers and ranchers in the west look to the mountains as they plan for the following year. Good snow levels correlate to a successful growing season. Poor snow levels might mean selling off some stock, planting fewer crops, and preparing a plan for drought. The Golden Yoke’s water starts high up in the Mission Mountains. The melt and subsequent runoff is collected in a series of reservoirs located at the base of the mountains. The water then travels through a complex system of canals and ditches before it reaches our land. This is all controlled by the local water board and in our area this control belongs jointly to the Confederated Salish and Kootenai tribes (our land is located on the Flathead Indian Reservation) and government agencies. (more…)

BOOTSTRAP @ NORTH COUNTRY CREAMERY – REFLECTIONS ON TRAINING FOR A NEW FARMER

By Ashlee Kleinhammer of North Country Creamery

North-Country-Creamery-walking-with-the-herd-small-220x280I first landed on the east coast almost a decade ago, my initiation into dairy farming was watching the herdswoman, Judith, at Hawthorne Valley Farm tend the sixty Brown Swiss beasts. “I can never do that, but how freaking inspiring…” It’s an understatement to say that much has changed for me over these years.

Like I mentioned in other posts, I started farming at educational farms because I liked working with kids and teenagers. I became so engrossed with the “behind the scenes” farmscape that I left the kiddos for real farm work. At Hawthorne Valley I thought I couldn’t wake up at four to start milking, or stay up until nine to wrap up the evening milking. I soon found out that a dairy farmer makes their own schedule (at that time, they were prudently following a twelve-hour-between milkings doctrine). Many dairy farmers choose to milk once a day, Adam Wilson of Bread and Butter Farm among my closest friends of this ilk. Luckily for him, if the cow isn’t suited for once a day milking, he has a good market for beef—it turns out that hosting Burger Night at their farm is more profitable than dairy farming anyway (some farmers keep milking for the joy).

At Hawthorne Valley I was incredibly inspired but also intimidated by the workload in dairy farming. When I moved to apprentice at Farm and Wilderness (Summer Camp and year-round school program), hand milking two cows gave me a lighter perspective in dairying. At that time, I locked myself into the farming side of the educational farm. Hand-milking was a sweet experience, but I yearned for the herd and felt ready to tackle that kind of workload.

North-Country-Creamery-2nd-grazing-lush-hayfield-smallI moved to Brattleboro, VT, and landed at Lilac Ridge Farm where I found a herd of looming Holsteins and Brown Swiss, and a couple years of phenomenal training. I mentioned the importance of having a good attitude in a previous blog, but here I want to officially recognize Ross and Stu Thurber, the father-son duo from whom I learned so much from. Stu elegantly handed the farm over to Ross a number of years ago, and Ross switched from plowing some fields for corn silage to alfalfa baleage, putting up and taking down fencing; they now ship their milk to Organic Valley. The best part of working with the Thurbers was their ceaselessly positive dispositions… pushing through the dark mornings that were thirty degrees below zero, when it barely became light at the end of milking, somehow they maintained steady smiles and shared encouraging words. During of those brutally frigid spells, the electricity had gone out and as the tractor’s generator was blaring in the background, I was cleaning up the milkhouse when Ross commented, “I really appreciate your upbeat attitude through mornings like this…” I’m the optimistic type, but at that moment I realized that I’d imbibed more from working with the Thurbers than just fencing technique and cow care.

After years of my passionate quest for herdsperson training, I’ve started my own gig this spring… the aspect of the North Country Creamery that I hadn’t vehemently pursued until recently was the Creamery. Until this past fall and winter, processing milk hadn’t interested me, in fact even a year ago, I abhorred the thought of spending so much time inside and being so clean. I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to take over Clover Mead Farm from the retiring Sam Hendren, equipped with the infrastructure to process milk, and the mentor to show me the ropes. Starting this venture, I thought for certain I’d partner with a cheese-maker; since last fall, I hadn’t found an experienced cheese-maker business partner, but I did quite unexpectedly fall in love with the ceaselessly supportive Steven Googin. Trying not to maintain expectations, I ended up inspiring him to move from Greyrock Farm in central NY, to Keeseville over the course of the winter.

North-Country-Creamery-Sam-teaching-Ashlee-smallSam ended up bequeathing us both his knowledge of cheesemaking, starting with pots of milk on the kitchen stove in January, moving up to the 200-gallon vat this spring. He guided us through the process time after time, and encouragingly relays thoughts and advice via text at the drop of a hat. Now we’re getting consistent vats, but when we first fired up the boiler in the creamery, we were all confounded when the cheese wouldn’t set, for example.

“Another day of adventure and growth at the North Country Creamery,” he comments as we’re pitching the milk for the pigs.

“Yeah… you had growth too, Sam?” I asked.

“Well no, at my age you can only hope not to get any shorter.”

Sam’s support has been uncanny, his sarcasm and wit unparalleled… it’s shown me that farmers can be inspired with a variety of attitudes toward life.