Growing a diversified farming business

Sugar Maple Jerseys building its brand in populated area

By Martha Hoffman Kerestes

Stockton, New Jersey — Heidi Denbigh started Sugar Maple Jerseys in 2013 as a first-generation farmer with about a decade of experience working on dairy farms. Not sure where it would lead, she just wanted to build a life where she could be home with her two daughters.

A decade later, there’s a herd of purebred grass-based Jerseys, a farm store for dairy and meat products, a strong group of direct-market customers, and new ventures in the works.

Her husband Rick helps with the forage side of the livestock and has his own business raising hay, straw and a bit of grain in addition to his full-time job in construction.

Located in west-central New Jersey, the farm is a few miles from the Pennsylvania border in the sixth richest county in the U.S., so there are plenty of customers and money for direct-market products.

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Grassfed aiding dairy quality of life

For Bontragers, the money is the same, but lifestyle is better

By Martha Hoffman Kerestes

Shipshewana, Indiana — The simplicity of grassfed organic dairy is one of the biggest reasons Chris and Nora Bontrager and their family aren’t planning to go back to their regular organic days.

Three years into grassfed, Chris, 32, says income is about the same with grassfed organic as it was with conventional organic, as grassfed’s higher milk price makes up for its lower milk production.

He sees the big advantage with grassfed as being the time, equipment and input savings from not growing and feeding ear corn and corn silage. Not buying a protein grain supplement and fertility for the corn also helps. He appreciates spending more time with his family and working in the garden or around the house. Or fishing.

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Grassfed enterprise aiming high

Beef on pasture

99 Counties taps venture capital to achieve goals

By Martha Hoffman Kerestes

Keystone, Iowa — Nick Wallace’s grandmother took eggs and cream from the farm to sell in nearby Keystone. That era of small, diversified farms with vibrant communities is something Nick is hoping to recapture, at least in part.

To that end, he has started 99 Counties, a company that seeks to be the catalyst to a resurgence of grazing farms and communities.

The new venture follows Nick and his family’s two decades of experience raising and selling grassfed beef and pastured meats and sourcing additional meats from other farms as sales volumes grew. In addition to farming 200 acres of organic row crops, the Wallace family grazes 60 head of red and black Angus brood cows and 40-50 finishers.

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Making a go of 100% grassfed dairy

Just two years in, Lambrights see solid progress

By Martha Hoffman Kerestes

Wolcottville, Indiana — Grassfed organic dairy is working well for Alvin and Miriam Lambright of JerZ Acres.

Only five years into their dairy career and just two years after they began shipping milk to a no-grain market, the Lambrights are showing solid financial results while milking a herd of 40 Jerseys fed almost entirely from 80 acres of good northeastern Indiana ground.

Alvin’s Jerseys are producing 10,000-11,000 lbs. of milk that averages 5.3% butterfat in the winter. Calves are fed whole milk for just over four months, leaving about 9,600 lbs. for shipping as JerZ Acres moves from Horizon Organic to CROPP/Organic Valley’s Grassmilk program this fall.

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Tapping a big demand for raw milk

Dutch Meadows Farm sees rapidly growing no-grain, raw milk sales business

By Martha Hoffman Kerestes

Paradise, Pennsylvania — It all started with Alvin and Elizabeth Stoltzfus shifting from commodity organic to raw milk sales.

Customers started asking for eggs and meat, so they started diversifying. Almost two decades later, Dutch Meadows Farm is marketing a wide range of products from their own farm and 25 others in the area through a variety of avenues including home delivery, shipping, pickup locations and a farm store.

Raw milk cheeses are offered, and Dutch Meadows sells a variety of pasteurized products including butter, ghee, cream, yogurt, kefir, sour cream and cottage cheese. Raw goat milk comes from another local farm.

Grassfed beef sales are strong, and other offerings include pastured chicken and turkey, milk-fed pastured pork, garden produce, baked goods, and fish. Almost all of the farms supplying Dutch Meadows are within 20 miles of the Stoltzfus dairy..

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Helmicks’ change places family first

Grazing sheep

Switch to multi-species grazing providing a better quality of life

By Martha Hoffman Kerestes

Greenville, West Virginia — Starting their own grass dairy from scratch was a dream come true for Aaron and Tara Helmick. But the dairy became a burden despite a decade of economic success.

The problem was a lack of quality of life. Aaron says he has very few memories of his second and third children before they were four years old because he was working so much that he was barely in the house.

Aaron and Tara started the low-input dairy as newlyweds in 2010 with an FSA loan and a 10-year lease on 470 acres. At first, prices were good and their seasonal management allowed a two-week vacation every year to recharge.

Then they were offered an organic contract at a good price that required a switch to year-round milking, so they made the transition in 2015. Milk prices dropped soon after, and the continuous milking made it hard to get away and even harder to maintain a healthy day-to-day life. They had doubled the herd in 2016, and were getting ready to double it again in 2018 when they realized something needed to change.

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