A few years ago I was bumming around on twitter and came across a gal that not only loves cheese as much as I do, she lived in the town closest to our farm. This gal and her husband were native Minnesotans but I didn’t let that fact get in the way of our shared love for farming and cows! Alise and Lucas Sjostrom are now back in their home ‘hood farming with her parents and looking at how they can keep their farm what they want it to be. They are doing great things to bring the world, what I am positive will be, amazing cheese. They have a neat way to raise capital for their cheeseventure and I wanted to help them get the word out. So check out their story and if you feel the cheese love, give them your support!
The Story of Redhead Creamery
A KICK in the ex-pants-sion
Thanks to Dairy Carrie for asking us to guest post. We’re really excited to tell you about trying to expand our farm and transitioning it to the next generation (us) in an unconventional way. The normal method is to add more cows, then maybe build another barn, a new feed center, and thus extra manure storage, et cetera, et cetera.
We’re asking you to help us build a cheese plant.
Kind of forward of us, isn’t it? We’ll get to the explanation in a bit… over 150 people already have, but don’t let the peer pressure get to you. 🙂
When we found out Alise was pregnant last spring, we were happy and then immediately went into “Operation time to go home” and headed back to Alise’s home farm. We did so, and are now starting Redhead Creamery (www.redheadcreamery.com).
We think this all goes back to the point Dairy Carrie and other agvocates make often – every farm is different and 99.999999 percent have good reasons for what they do. Our neighbors are organic, bigger, smaller, don’t have cows or do have cows, aren’t building cheese plants, and we get along with all of them.
JUST AN IDEA
Alise grew up on the farm where we now live, near Brooten, MN. When Alise was in high school, she stumbled onto a farmstead cheese operation for the first time during the National 4-H Dairy Conference held in Wisconsin each year. Upon returning home from the trip, she told her dad, “We should make cheese.” Funny one, Alise.
Well, the idea stuck. When she ran for Princess Kay of the Milky Way, supporters carried signs that read “Cheese Alise!” And, when her parents had the opportunity to try an experimental anaerobic digester on the farm (a huge investment you can learn more about HERE), whey from the potential cheese plant helped tip the scales that they should do it – even though Alise was still in college.
What’s a digester? Well, on our farm, we send manure into the digester – essentially a big tank with no moving parts – where bacteria already present consume the methane that the cows’ stomachs didn’t take care of, burn that methane to make electricity, and now have less-smelly manure. From there, we squeeze the water out and end up with a brown liquid and essentially fiber from the crops our cows eat. The brown liquid is AWESOME fertilizer – and someday farmers may be able to pelletize this so every square inch of ground gets exactly what we need to grow good crops with no excess. But in the meantime, we’re pretty darn good at getting really close by taking soil samples to determine which areas of the field need it more.
When properly digested, this fiber portion has very little smell, especially after we let it compost for 7 days. At that point, it’s essentially a squishy soil and no longer resembles manure. We use that as bedding for our cows. In fact, we have one of the larger dairies in the U.S. in our area, so many of our neighbors (and by neighbors, we mean a 100-mile radius) use this renewable bedding for their cows with much success.
Now all of that sounds great, in theory, but digesters aren’t really made for 180-cow farms like ours. If you have 500 or more cows, the technology is pretty feasible, but still pretty risky. At 1,000 cows, you can nearly always make it work.
Despite that, we’re trying. It stops and sputters, at times things explode, and most importantly it costs (not makes) us a lot of money. But, a few years ago we tried adding whey from area cheese plants into the system. Whey is what’s left over after you coagulate (make curds) the milk. We can feed that to our cows… or send it to the digester.
When we added whey, things exploded, but this time in a good way – we made so much gas that we surpassed the governor on our engine because we added a tanker-load of whey at a time.
But, if we can add whey on a consistent basis, in theory keeping the “ration” for the digester in the same amount of manure and whey each day, we can make electricity, and maybe make a full-farm system that makes financial sense. Then, we hope to replicate this on other farms… and just maybe small farms everywhere could adopt the cheese/digester model we’re trying to build.
In addition to dairy cows, our farm also features Lowline Angus (bred for smaller size, to have a better carbon footprint and water efficiency) and an apple orchard. SIDENOTE: Alise just made apple sauce, you can see all her cooking creations on her blog: Put a Fork in it!
KICKSTARTING OUR FUTURE
What’s keeping us busy now is our plant’s aforementioned Kickstarter campaign. Through Kickstarter.com, you can preorder our cheese, name a newborn calf, and come to an on-farm dinner where everything was harvested within about 100-yards of the table. Support has been great so far, and we may even meet our goal.
We’ve got a lot of work to do to make it to 100 percent, as Kickstarter is all-or-nothing. If we don’t raise the entire goal, we get zero, zilch, notta.
We would love if you could contribute or spread the word, and we hope you’ll agree that there is a reward there for everyone.
To check out the kick starter campaign for yourself click HERE
Lucas, Alise and Lucy Sjostrom
If you have a few minutes, you should watch this video of Alise talking about their farm and their dream. I love it!