Andy and I have been doing much thinking and talking together recently about the farm and the store. The timing is funny... there have been a few clips and articles circulating around Facebook regarding raw milk dairy farmers and the costs of raw milk.. so we must not be the only ones taking a long hard look at our business. These articles resonated with us....and I would like to whey in on the issue. (pun intended)
Andy and I want to make decisions that will allow us to be sustainable.. to be here with your milk for years to come. It seems that more and more small raw milk dairies are shutting down all the time. The trend is alarming, but as farmers ourselves.. also quite understandable. Rising feed costs, and the hours and dedication required make this a lifestyle that is physically and emotionally draining. Dairy farming is hard.. its hard work, its hard on families too... cows have to be milked 365 days a year, regardless of whether its a holiday, a snow day, a sick day, or someone's birthday. It's also financially draining at times. Cows are unpredictable, as most things in nature, they rarely choose convenient times and places in which to have their babies.. they seem to prefer the worst days and the most difficult locations for their caregivers! As we know all too well.. cows die. Sometimes its a slip on the ice... finding the slippery slope on a creek bed, freaky things happen with livestock... and the cost to the farmer can be financially devastating. Imagine waking up one morning to discover a $2500 loss in your checking account with no explanation... it's kind of like that. It can be hard to recoup from a hit like that. Cows don't always get pregnant or have babies when we need them to.. we are currently experiencing this side affect right now. We have 13 babies due by the end of March! Never would we have planned it that way! Consequently at the moment we have an all-time low in milk production! But in the next few weeks I wont be able to make enough cheese to keep up! I am just thankful we have the creamery... all that extra milk won't go to waste!
There has been much discussion about the costs of raw milk. We charge $8.50 for a gallon of our milk. When we sit down and figure all of our expenses.. the truth is it costs more like $10 to produce each gallon of milk and this is without our paying ourselves a paycheck. It is because of this realization that we moved to the new farm and built the creamery and store. Rather than keep raising the cost of our milk, we focused on adding value to our milk in the form of cheese and yogurt and we added the store so that our customers have the opportunity to not only support other local farmers and crafters.. but to help offset our expenses. By shopping in our store.. converting a small portion of your grocery budget you are helping to keep your milk price down. Everything in the store is here on consignment with us with a 20% commission rate. For every $6 spent in our store we make an additional $1.30 which just about helps us meet expenses for one gallon of milk! Purchases of cheese especially help as 100% of that sale stays with us and helps offset milk prices. We are asking everyone to convert your spending dollars..not add on. Not seeing what you need or want in the store? Let us know! Have an idea of something we should get in? Let us know! It is our hope that we will grow the store to generate enough income to help us be here for the long haul without having to raise our prices to make ends meet.
Being sustainable, to be here for years to come, involves more for us than just our financial bottom line. We also need to manage our time so that exhaustion is not such an issue for us. We have spent the last year spending every free moment working on the creamery and store. This has begun to take its toll on us. In years past we always operated on a self service, honor system basis. We are not able to run our business this way any longer because of the need to keep raw milk sales and store sales completely separate. This means that while our store was open six days a week.. we have had to be 100% available all that time... farm chores have been difficult to complete, family time has been non-existent, and we need to make some changes to avoid burnout. Beginning on March 1st we have changed our availability to give us more time to work the farm, care for animals, and our family. We have spent weeks discussing this, looking long term, and we feel confident our new schedule is one that we can maintain for years to come. It feels much more sustainable and manageable.
We are blessed! We LOVE what we do and we have the absolute BEST customers in the world! You have supported us through a rough and rocky couple of years. If it were not for YOU we would not be here today. We came so close to closing down last year and it is only because of the support of our donors, volunteers, and cheerleaders that we pulled through and completed the creamery! As we are nearing completion of our project we cannot tell you how very thankful we are and how much we are looking forward to being here for many years to come!
Trixie and The Nooners
It has been suggested a few times (LOL) that we should make Farm Fest a yearly event! What a wonderful idea. But next time lets just make it a celebration.... cuz the barn will be all done.. right???
We had a farm full of activity, friends old and new, great food, fabulous music, and we actually got quite a bit of work done on the barn too!
I made 60lbs of pulled pork, and salad. Ty's Amazing Kitchen came along as well and made gumbo with our cajun sausage! YUMMY! He also helped us roast our corn! Corn was donated by Abie Vegetable People and from Schoolhouse Gardens.
Upstream Brewing Company donated two kegs of their amazing beer and Trader Joe's in Lincoln donated a case of yummy wines! Bands played all day and into the night.
A late night bonfire complete with marshmallows and campers ended our first day and we all woke up ragged and tired but happy and ready to get back to work.
Day 2 was all about the tin. We purchased some second hand tin for the interior of the cheese room but it has to be sanded so it can be repainted. Most of the morning we were roughing up the tin with scouring pads. Looks like fun... right?
We had a lot of fun! I was more exhausted than I thought possible afterwards but what a wonderful weekend!
Andy and I are so thankful to everyone who came out to help and for those who donated. Without you we would not be this far along.
Work party #2 planned for next weekend (Aug 17)! We still have an untapped keg of beer and wine left! Work still to be completed.... join us next weekend. More info to come as I get it. But I am so looking forward to it!
I needed to post today to properly thank everyone who has donated, volunteered, mentored, and supported us! It is hard believe we have come so far. As of yesterday, we are once again a Grade A Inspected Dairy! This absolutely would not have happened without your support and help. Getting our Grade "A" at the new farm is the first step in making cheese again!
I have been all aflutter looking at cheese moulds, forms, tools, and getting incredibly excited! So many choices! It is both fun and a little overwhelming.
My teeny tiny cheese vat!
Now, on to focusing on finishing up the cheese rooms! All that is really left is putting the tin on the walls, hooking up the sinks, an finishing the cave. Simple.. right? My cheese vat arrived a few weeks ago. I stop in and say hello to it daily.. cannot WAIT to get to using it! It is a 30 gallon cheese vat.. small enough to work with as little as four gallons of milk up to thirty gallons. Perfect size for me!
So, how do we finish? Well, a good friend made an awesome suggestion. Let's have a work party! Heck, let's take it one step further and have a work party / mini festival here at the farm! So.. August 3rd and 4th Farm Fest 2013!
We have bands offering to come play all day Saturday and some on Sunday too. We will provide a farm fresh dinner on Saturday (pulled pork anyone!!). Potluck lunch on Saturday.
Many hands make light work! With a little help from our friends we can finish this whole dang barn! Don't like the idea of working in the barn? We could also use help in the garden! A little work and a whole lotta fun is what we are planning. Come, bring the family, enjoy the music, help out on the farm, eat some fantabulous grub and if you are up to it... bring a tent and stay the night! We can have a bonfire and roast marshmallows, relax and enjoy the countryside.
What to bring? If you have a drill, bring it, if you have a ladder grab that too, gloves, a camp chair, dish to share for lunch, to save on trash bring a plate, bowl, utensils, and a cup, swimsuit for the kids.. they can play in the sprinkler, and anything else that springs to mind. Feel free to set up camp if you want to stay the night. We have plenty of room!
As bands confirm and we get a schedule together I will post on Facebook and our website. We also have a facebook event set up. This is a party in progress!
Can't come but want to help? Our online donation is still active, and there are still many supplies needed.
Again, we are so thankful for all the support everyone has shown!
Here we are mid February 2013 and the barn that was supposed to be built in November is still just a slab of concrete. Remember our grand opening celebration that was scheduled on December 8th? Obviously it has not happened.
To add insult to injury we discovered that what little work was done... was sabotaged by the contractor. I wish I had known what footings were when they were pouring that cement pad... because there are NONE there. We kept asking about the lack of floor drains in the cement and the contractor kept saying "Trust Me... I have been in construction for 15 years." He spoke of some magic roto-rooter device that would create floor drains after the building was placed on the slab... little did we know he was full of it. The picture above shows the cement pad and where we have begun to have the concrete cut for footings.
After missing yet another deadline of Christmas for construction completion, another long line of more excuses from Mr. Allen, and with the end of January fast approaching we decided to fire this contractor and requested a refund. We had discovered that the cement pad would require thousands of extra dollars to repair and bring to code. We learned that Mr. Allen had not paid the cement contractor, and the electrics that were done on the house were all wrong. We needed to basically start over.
Since then we have had nothing more than empty promises to refund the money paid Mr. Allen. We contacted the authorities and a Deputy came out to take a report, and things were beginning to feel pretty glum. Then yesterday my phone rang. It was Tonya Ward from Energy Rescue, a local non-profit. She is a dear friend and we had spoken about our situation a week or so ago. Tonya offered to orchestrate a giant fundraising and volunteer effort to raise the barn! Needless to say, I was blown away and brought to tears.
Tonya got right to work! She contacted news stations and Fox 42 was the first to jump at the opportunity to broadcast our story. For those that remember.... this is the same station that aired the story about the tornado that took the barn two years ago. In fact, they sent the same reporter, Curt Casper. I believe the story will air after American Idol tomorrow night (2/13).
Right now, we do know that the barn kit will be here Saturday. We need help with cement work, we need a septic tank, water needs to be run to the barn and electricity, materials for the inside of the barn and general man hours to get everything completed. We have been granted until the end of Feb to get off the Elmwood farm so timing is crucial... there is much to be done and little time.. and no funds left.
Tonya is working hard to secure financial and material donations and volunteers to help us get this creamery completed. Andy and I borrowed $10,000 from a friend last week and this will cover the cost of the new building I ordered. We are operating under the assumption that there will not be a refund in the foreseeable future but if there is we will use all funds to the rest of the project.
It is our sincere hope that his coverage will encourage Mr. Allen to refund Lowell the money he was paid.... nearly all of it since what little work was done is going to require significant expense to correct.
I will share more info as I have it....
Fall is here and boy am I crashing. The summer was long and hot.. too hot and too wet. Weeds overtook our pastures because the heat along with last year's flood sucked the life out of the ground. We now have an operational tractor thanks to good friends who like working on engines and lots of dents on my Tahoe. We decided I could drive a dented up vehicle and Andy could drive a tractor. Seemed like a fair swap.
Here is his new toy. It also now has a loader with a bucket and grapple useful for moving bales of hay around all winter.
It's officially an antique... but it runs smooth and gets the job done. It can pull the mower from the little tractor and Andy has already knocked down the weeds in the pastures. This will be a huge help to us this year and next and help us keep atop of pasture management.
Hay has gone through the roof and we are having to feed it already with the pastures so poor in nutrition. So, we had to raise our milk prices by $1 per half gallon. A very tough choice... two weeks of upset tummy and fried nerves for me in the decision... but really there was no decision. It was do it, or not be here to provide milk all winter. Our customers have been so supportive and understanding. A few have dropped out but for the most part were immediately replaced by new folks waiting for milk. I never fail to be amazed by how good God is and how He cares for us. In reality winter is a really scary thought for me. We have fifteen cows calving between Christmas and March. We will have to be on top of things, watching these mamas closely to keep those new babies safe and warm. It's gonna be a wild ride!
Andy has been busy! He is making amazing progress on clearing junk and debris from the "once a hay barn" reckage. Tonight he was working on clearing out our basement so our junk can go down here. We need to clear the area so we can demo the area and hopefully construction can begin soon. I am really hoping we get a barn with doors that keep chickens out! The old barn was open and a favorite roosting spot for about 20 chickens... POOP CENTRAL. All of Andy's tools were in there and the work benches were a constant source of needed cleanup.
I got the chance last month to dabble in event planning again. The Nebraska Food Coop was in need of a fundraiser and I wanted to see the movie Farmageddon.. so an idea was born. :-) I threw out the idea to try to get a screening planned and to serve a dinner or something with foods from farmers in the coop and try to raise funds. It worked out better than I could ever have imagined. I got the opportunity to work with and get to know some amazing women as we planned and orchestrated the event. We screened the movie at Aksarben Cinema in Omaha. We charged $15 per person. We had tons of amazing foods donated and the Top Chef team at the culinary school in Omaha wowed everyone! The food was just out of site! Gorgeous and delicious.
The movie really broke my heart. I knew what it was going to be about... but to watch what other farmers and families have been put through was just gut wrenching. What a wake up call! I hope everyone here has an opportunity to see this film. As a nation... it's time for us to stand up and say NO MORE! There are things we can all do. Check out our Activism page I just created. There are links there to petitions, a House Bill being introduced, and a grassroots Ballot Initiative with ways we can all get involved.
We had a little media blitz last month. First the barn segments on the news. Then two magazine article interviews, one about Farmageddon and one about raw milk laws. I was invited to be a guest on The Morning Blend.. and Omaha morning program. They have a Village Pointe Farmers Market segment every other week and I got the be the farmer that week. Here is a link to the segment on The Morning Blend . I found the experience scary and confusing. No one warned me there would be no cameras. I had this internal dialogue of "where are the cameras" followed by "look I'm on TV" and "crap.. pay attention!". If invited again, I would be more relaxed and able to function a bit better. It was just unnerving on the first go.. but exciting and fun too!
I was on the radio a couple of weeks ago! I was invited to be a guest on Talk Back Omaha! I very much enjoyed the experience. Here is a link to the podcast if you would like to listen to the segment: Talk Back Omaha Podcast
Other things going on family related: Ashley has her first day of college today! She was able to get a full ride scholarship to SCC in Lincoln. She is taking her classes at the downtown location. She has also signed her lease on her new apartment and is moving out this weekend. Big changes.
Hannah and Jamie are growing too fast. Too fast! Two pre-adolescent girls in one house is interesting... and loud. They seem to fight a lot more lately.. and the DRAMA is off the hook! Jamie is in the "project" stage.. spends her days cutting up little pieces of paper and whatever she can find and creating stuff. Today the boys found a butterfly and Jamie saved it... fed it a pear and nursed it back to health. The picture here was taken by Jamie of her butterfly. Pretty cool shot I thought! Hannah and Jamie have both been such fun all summer at the farmers markets. Now, if we could get them to give the same attention to helping clean the house life would be almost perfect! LOL
The boys are just busy busy busy. Alexander loves helping with barn demo.. his job is to hold the magnet stick and pick up the nails. The hard part is getting him to keep his shoes on while doing it! Michael is talking more now.. a relief. He is suddenly using sentences and even relaying events and stories. He told me the other day about a dream he had. A bad bear was biting him outside. Poor little guy. :-( He woke up crying. At least Mama was right there laying next to him and he settled down pretty quickly... but he talked about that dream all day.
It seems like I am always working on this blog late at night... when the house is quiet. it's 11:30 now... I better hit the sheets... our day starts early around here. My next project is to work on an online store for the off season. We are planning on making monthly drops (maybe more often too) to the spots were we have been all summer at market. I am hoping to create an online store where folks can pre-order what they want and I can drop it off. Wish me luck! It's quite an undertaking.... but a needed project.
Nite nite... Don't let the bed bugs bite!
Wanted to update everyone and give one place for pictures. Friday night around 9m we think we had a tornado take out the barn right next to the house. Very scary. No warnings at all, not even severe thunderstorm. It just came out of nowhere.
This is what I saw outside my back door. When we ran downstairs to the basement, I could see large items flying through the air but didn't stop to see what it was. It was parts of the barn!
We are so thankful... we were all upstairs and we easily could have lost a kid or all of us had this thing hit the house. Scary.
Rubble in driveway
Here is the driveway next to the house.... crazy.
Standing and looking in what was the barn....
This beam was thrown across the farm, landing in the roof of the milk barn, and extending 6 feet inside the barn!
Check out my car! That is a beam under my car! Rubble all around the car but nothing in the car! All I have are smashed rear view windows, scratches, and dents!
I was shocked to welcome our fist hero helper at 7:30 am! He was a workhorse! Cleared most of the upper driveway and worked on the huge piece of shed in the swingset in an hour or two! Amazing!
Thanks Rebecca for loaning us your husband!
Rex was here early too!
Always the knight in shining armor that one! :-)
All the kids got into the action!
So many people showed up to help! We really were amazed... all day long it seemed like people showed up and other left.. it was constant stream of help. The phone rang and text messages of support came in all weekend. We really are blessed with wonderful friends and customers!
Before dinner.... yard, driveway, and pasture cleared! How incredible is that! When I looked at the mess in the morning.. I figured it would be weeks of work!
Got a phone call Sunday afternoon from Jim... one of our customers and friends. He took some video footage and said they wanted to air it on the 9:00 news... was that OK? Sure... why not. So we wait and watch Fox 42 9:00 news and about died laughing at the video footage aired - about 30 seconds of Alex running around the barn naked as a jaybird playing with one of his friends. Geez.. I thought he stayed dressed all day Saturday! Oh well... so goes life..
Yesterday, another phone call. Fox 42 wants to send a reporter out. Is this OK? Sure... what's another naked butt on TV gonna hurt? Right? It's gonna happen... best not to fight it. I can have those darned boys dressed and ten seconds later they are streaking. But wait... they are all at Cynthia's house playing! Woo Hoo! We can do an interivew without naked people! What a concept... sure come on over!
Turns out they want to come because apparently the weather service says the winds were only 25 miles an hour. Naturally he waits to tell me this till I am on camera and captures my response. Seriously, the reporter was a super nice guy. :-) I would love to kick the editor though. :-) Why is it that they take 30 minutes of footage and choose the most bizzare comments to air. Like me pointing out our junk... that wasn't even part of the interview.. I didnt realize I was being taped. How funny. I watch the news last night and all I could think was how silly we looked.. and how I need to loose a bunch of weight. We did say some great stuff that actually made sense... but that didn't get aired. LOL Oh.. and of course they re-aired the naked boy footage. GREAT.
Here is a link to the news segment.. if you need a good chuckle.. CLICK HERE
I will leave you with a couple interesting shots Andy took... I think they are pretty cool.
Our love to all... and again THANKS SO MUCH to everyone who came out to help, called, emailed, left gifts, expressed concern and generally showed us LOVE.
I keep hearing this question. To answer.... YES! We are SERIOUSLY moving.... again.
Sometimes life hands you a little something "extra" and our Lincoln location has been just that. It has had it's share of challenges and at times has been overwhelming but we have learned a lot and have made some new friends and for that we will are most thankful. But, it is time for us to move on and to seek a location that is better suited for our needs. It's not an easy task to find a property with the right size of pasture, the buildings we need, and one that has been treated in a holistic fashion.. not an undertaking we relished the though of. We are very blessed to have found such a place!
The history of the farm we are moving to is an interesting one. It was once a dairy farm and the owner raised chickens and sold his eggs in Lincoln. For the past several years it has been the home of Hollenbeck Farms. Their cattle are still located in the Elmwood area on pastures around the farm; but they are moving their home base to Lincoln for some very exciting reasons. :-)
future holding area
We are returning the former milking barn to it's roots. The cement floor has been uncovered and the drains are being updated. Water has been run to the barn and a cement pad and wall forms are ready to be poured.
Then came the rain......... SERIOUSLY??!!! We now have a fourty acre lake!
water line... now a river
Not exactly great conditions for pouring cement!
So, interior framing begins...... enter our friend and customer Rob - master of construction!
They tell me the rain is over now for a week.... so if it dries up enough we are hoping to get the cement truck in to pour on Friday. We were meant to be moving this weekend and the cows were set to go Monday. This has been set back at least a few days.
Artisan Cheesemaker. Lover of all foods dairy..