Redhead Creamery Brings Youth Back to the Farm

webshotThis week we’ve been discussing young/new farmers and startup businesses. The Tuesday night #AgChat was fast-paced and fun! Questions ranged from determining the “ideal” age for a young farmer to challenges facing new farmers and types of skills needed to be successful.

A unique success story we would like to highlight comes from Minnesota and the Redhead Creamery. We were able to catch up with Alise Sjstrom, President and dreamer maker behind the expansion of her family’s dairy.

Q: The Redhead Creamery is a new venture for your family. What was your motivation for beginning the Redhead Creamery?

A: The idea of coming home to my parent’s farm to make cheese came from a trip to the  National 4-H Dairy Conference when I was a senior in high school. We toured Crave Brothers Farmstead Cheese, and I was hooked. I came home and told my parents that the only way I would come home to the farm was if I could make cheese. They said ‘go for it’. I’ve basically dedicated my life to cheese ever since.

The name Redhead Creamery comes from my hair color, as well as the color of my three sisters’ hair. It was a no-brainer.
Q: Beginning a new business in agriculture is risky, what resources did you use to help guide you through the process?
A: There couldn’t be a more opportune time to start a new business in Ag than now. I have some advantages: I grew up on a dairy farm, I went to an Ag-focused university (University of Minnesota, Twin Cities), my jobs have always focused around Ag or cheese, I married a guy that grew up on a dairy farm, my parents are as supportive as they come and I have an awesome support system all over the country. That doesn’t mean we didn’t seek out help.

Past co-workers and acquaintances of cheese companies have been the best resources. Artisan cheesemaking is not very common in central Minnesota, but our banker has been outstanding. He’s even taken the time to read some of our farmstead cheesemaking books <– another resource. Our farm business manager has assisted us with financial guidance and business structure. My personal experiences working for cheese companies and my training at the Vermont Institute of Artisan Cheese ultimately guide us through this process.
Q: Your family used a unique way to partially fund your business. Can you tell us a little bit about the process?
A: I first want to make clear that Kickstarter did not fund our new business. Starting up a farmstead creamery will cost us nearly 10 times what we raised through the campaign.  What it did do for us is raise awareness. Our first contributor was from California. We’ve never met the guy, but he has now named a cow on our farm.

Lucas (my husband) read about Kickstarter in the New York Times about 5 years ago when we were living in Vermont. He thought that if we ever did decide to come home and start a cheese company, that this could be the best tool we use. He was right. The press and exposure we got from those 30 days of raising $35,000+ was unbelievable. We knew we needed around 500 contributors to average out what was typically given, based on statistics from Kickstarter. We had 499 and were funded 8 days early. Our rewards were based on things that we would appreciate getting: cheese, tours, branded swag and dinner on the farm and social media is what allowed us to really get the word out. Lucas had sent out a press release about a week prior, but Facebook gave us the ultimate exposure.
What really helped us succeed is the help and experience from past Kickstarter campaigns. We attended a workshop at the American Cheese Society conference all about Kickstarter from two successful entrepreneurs who started or expanded their businesses on Kickstarter. Their experiences and answers to our questions really helped refine our strategy for the better.

Q: If you had to do it again, what would you do differently?

A: I’m not sure that we would do anything differently if we were to run a campaign again. Some of the best advice we got prior to launching is to give ourselves enough time to get the rewards out. It takes some time to get everything organized, no need to beat yourself up over it.

Q: Are you providing tours of the creamery?

A: Once we are up and running, tours will be available at the creamery. We are still a few months out before we can begin production.

Q: What is it that connects the creamery to the consumer?

A: We specifically designed the creamery so that the public can come in and watch us making cheese without interrupting the actual cheesemaking process. The processing area is all on one floor - the basement. The public can come in on the upper floor and look down through viewing windows into the cheesemaking room. The upstairs also has a kitchen and tasting room where we hope to host smaller events and gatherings.

Our dairy barn is only 50 ft away from the cheese plant. We will be gravity flowing the milk right from the milk room to the cheese processing room, so visitors will be able to fully realize the connection of cows to cheese and fresh milk to quality cheese.
Q: What goals do you have for agriculture advocacy?
A: Other than doing something we truly love, the primary reason for coming back home is to give our own children the opportunity to grow up on a farm. The second, is to further educate our peers about where their food is coming from. We plan to host events and tours as well as sending ourselves to them for cheese tastings and educational purposes. We have the moral obligation to talk about and show what we do in a positive and exciting way. We can’t wait to get started!
Such an inspirational story and passion for cheese! Like anything in life, you must start somewhere. The Redhead Creamery began as a dream and in the spring of 2014 they will have brought that dream to reality. For more information about the creamery or to follow their story visit the website or Facebook page.
Are there other farmers or ranchers who have utilized the KickStarter or similar campaign?
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Jen Schweigert - TheMagicFarmHouse.com
Jenny serves as the AgChat Foundation Communications Director while helping manage her family’s small hobby farm in central Illinois. In addition to AgChat.org, she can be found blogging about life on the farm, Jersey dairy cattle, hunting and her boys, all at TheMagicFarmHouse.com.