Farmstead First Story

"Charuth Van Beuzekom-Loth and Krista Dittman met through connections with Nebraska Sustainable Ag Society and because their husbands went to the same high school.  Kevin and Charuth started their certified organic vegetable farm in 1996 and Doug and Krista began farming in 2000 and certified their grass-based dairy organic in 2007.  Farmstead First grew out of a cooperative vision between these two farms."

We love food, especially food that is produced by people we know.  Over dinner together one winter night in 2003, we decided it was time to develop the artisan cheese scene in our community.  A long time customer of ShadowBrook Farm had been offering help and encouragement to write a grant to start this project.

We applied for two different grants:  a SARE grant and a USDA VAPG.  When we began this process, there were three individual farms interested in working together in an effort to pool resources and inspiration.  By the time we were finished with the application process and received these two grants, only the folks at ShadowBrook Farm and Branched Oak Farm had decided they wanted to move forward with the process. 

When we started our research, we discovered that in 1984 there were 1,070 grade A dairies in Nebraska.  By 2002, there were 428.  There were also 1,600 manufacturing grade producers in 1984 and only 32 left in 2002. 

We also discovered that there has been incredible growth in the public’s awareness of the American food system.  This has in part fueled the number of shoppers wanted to find authentic food grown close to home.  These parts of our research inspired us to reestablish dairy terroir in Nebraska.

By establishing a model for a cooperatively-owned and managed dairy processing facility, we want to demonstrate the continued viability of the small, family farm and an economically feasible alternative for the next generation of young farmers to continue the rural way of life.

We began visiting  farmstead cheese makers in 2004. By 2009, we had visited 28 cheese making facilities in six states and three countries and made friends and professional contacts everywhere we went.  It was encouraging to see these small, but successful businesses producing wonderful food.  These visits were invaluable to us as we made important start-up decisions:  where to start building, should we consider a mobile cheese plant, how big our facility should be and what equipment we would need to buy.  

Our grant funding helped us educate ourselves about the process and business of cheese making.  We completed courses in cheese-related topics at Cal Poly Tech at San Luis Obispo in California, at the University of Wisconsin Madison and River Falls. We have also invited different cheese makers to visit Nebraska and teach classes here.  We have also attended and presented at cheese making workshops at the Pennsylvania Association for Sustainable Agriculture’s annual conference as well as the Nebraska Sustainable Agriculture Society.