Monday, February 28, 2011

Agritourism Event for Farmers in Kansas

Source: Kansas Farmer

If you've been thinking there might be an agritourism application for your farm or if you are interested in Farmers Market direct marketing, then a Feb. 26 conference in Clyde is one you don't want to miss.

The "Direct Marketing Tools for Farmers Markets and Agritourism Enterprises" Conference will cover different aspects of of agritourism, profitability, marketing and high tunnel production.

Conference speakers include farmers market managers, fruit and vegetable farmers and others experienced in agricultural marketing and agritourism.

The conference will be held at the Clifton-Clyde High School. Registration will begin at 8:30 a.m. and the conference will end at 4:30 p.m. The registration fee is $10 per person and includes lunch. Checks can be made payable to "Clyde Economic Development" and mailed with an accompanying registration form to Direct Marketing Conference, 1651 N. 270 Road, Clyde, KS 66938.

Sponsors of the conference include K-State Research and Extension's River Valley District, Clyde Economic Development, North Central Kansas Specialty Crop Project, Kansas Farm Bureau Foundation for Agriculture, Washington County Farm Bureau, Kansas Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education and the Federal Home Loan Bank of Topeka.

More information is available on the Web at or by contacting David Coltrain, community development and horticulture extension agent for the River Valley Extension District, at 785-325-2121 or

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

NCR-SARE Seeking Nominations for Administrative Council Members

NCR-SARE is seeking nominees for five seats on its Administrative Council (AC) as follows:
  • Kansas – farmer/rancher*
  • Indiana – extension representative
  • South Dakota – research representative
  • At large** – USDA-NRCS representative
  • At large – agribusiness representative
*Should be actively engaged in farming or ranching in Kansas.
**At large representatives should be from one of the 12 states that comprise the North Central SARE region. Those states are IL, IN, IA, KS, MI, MN, MO, ND, NE, OH, SD, and WI.

The term for each of these SARE Administrative Council slots is four years, and is expected to include two meetings a year, typically 3-day meetings in November and March at various Midwest locations. Travel expenses are fully covered for travel to AC meetings, and farmers/ranchers receive a modest daily honorarium. Nominees should have a basic understanding of sustainable agriculture and be comfortable with reviewing grant proposals and participating in a group decision-making process. More information about NCR-SARE and the AC is at

To nominate yourself or someone else for a seat on the NCR-SARE AC, submit the following information by 4:30 pm, Feb. 28:
  • an email or letter regarding the nomination, which must mention which slot the nomination is for and what the nominee would bring to the AC
  • indication that the nominee is willing to serve and come to meetings if elected
  • a brief (two pages or less) bio or CV for the nominee
Nominations can be emailed to or mailed to 1390 Eckles Ave, Suite 120, St Paul, MN 55108. We will acknowledge receipt of the materials and send a reply regarding the outcome of the election.

Since 1988, NCR-SARE has awarded more than $40 million worth of competitive grants to farmers and ranchers, researchers, educators, public and private institutions, nonprofit groups, and others exploring sustainable agriculture in 12 states. NCR-SARE’s Administrative Council represents various agricultural sectors, states and organizations. It sets program priorities and makes granting decisions for the region. A collection of farm and non-farm residents, the AC includes a diverse mix of agricultural stakeholders in our 12 states. Council members come from regional farms and ranches, university extension and research programs, and nonprofits. In addition, the AC includes regional representatives of the U.S. Geological Survey, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Natural Resources Conservation Service, state agencies, and agribusinesses.

Monday, February 7, 2011

South Dakota ‘Goat Lady’ Wants Everybody to Say Cheese!

Source: The Brookings Register
BY: Vicki Schuster

Joan Williams of Arlington demonstrates how goat milk is pasteurized to make a soft cheese called chèvre.

There’s an extra dozen kids – give or take one or two – running around Joan and Gordon Williams’ farm these days.

They aren’t human – they’re the “goat kind” of kids, a mixed herd of Alpine and Saanen dairy goats.

They’re there because Joan Williams has a dream – a cheesy dream.

Over the past decade, Joan has been adding to her herd of goats at the family farm southwest of Sinai in hopes of making and marketing chèvre – a creamy, tart cheese made from goat milk.

Being creative and ambitious by nature, Joan was turned on to the idea of starting a goat-cheese business after watching an episode of the “Martha Stewart Show” that featured small U.S. cheese producers.

“It just kind of looked like fun,” she says. “So (my husband and I) found some goats, and I started playing around with my idea.”

What she makes is called farmstead or artisanal cheese, which means that the cheese is made from the milk of animals on the property. Joan says her goats provide the milk not only for fresh chèvre (which is French for “goat”) but feta, crottins, St. Maure and other varieties.

Looking out the window of her bakery and smiling at the sight of her 20 hoofed friends (many of whom have been born on her farm), she says she couldn’t be more than satisfied with her career choice.

The bakery, by the way, is another part of the couple’s well-known Cider Hill Farm business.

The Williams family started Cider Hill, now a 120-acre produce operation, about 14 years ago when Joan wanted to find a way to make a living and stay home with her kids (the human kind). She had run a small graphic design company in Sioux Falls, but her yearning to return to the house and area where she grew up brought her back to Brookings County. (The farm’s location is usually given as Arlington.)

“We had little kids at the time, and I was looking for something to do that allowed me to stay home with them,” she says.

Inspired by trips to France, Joan began baking bread to sell at area outlets.

“I started out with gardening and going to farmers’ markets and very quickly decided that was too short of a season, so I expanded into bread.”

The bakery has taken off like wildfire. She bakes at least 300 loaves a week – and as many as 100-200 loaves a day during her summer “busy season.” In all, Joan has about 19 artisanal varieties from which to choose.

“If I had my way, I’d spend all day making sourdough,” she jokes.

She uses locally produced ingredients in her breads whenever possible, giving preference to organic items.

She also makes pies, lefse, scones, caramel rolls and cookies and bars.

She added “80-proof pies” to her line in 2009. She jokes that she was “unable to find lard that doesn’t taste like bicycle grease,” so she had to find a replacement recipe for her mom’s never-fail pie crust.

Another product the company markets that customers can’t seem to get enough of is a tasty wood-fired pizza. (Gordon and Joan even haul their wood-fired pizza oven to special community events.)

Cider Hill now has outlets not only in nearby Brookings, but in Madison and Sioux Falls, and the Williamses even sell products at the farm.

Lots of Red Tape

Implementing the cheese and milk into her business has been a slow and gradual process, Joan says. The demands that come with raising five (human) kids, her bread sales and “government red tape” have slowed her down.

About eight years ago, she got a Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education grant to help underwrite some of the costs of developing her cheese operation. She said there isn’t really a lot of farmstead cheese being made in South Dakota, so the state is working on the criteria for her licensure. Currently, Dimock Dairy Cooperative in Dimock is the state’s lone producer of artisanal cheese, distributing its product in a five-state area.

“(The S.D. Department of Agriculture) doesn’t quite know what to do with me,” says Joan. “It seems like every time I’m ready to start selling, they throw something new at me. Hopefully, by the summer they’ll give us the OK.”

But she will wait patiently. Joan, who happens to be a Brookings Farmer’s Market vendor, is keeping her fingers crossed that she will be selling cheese by May 1.

In the meantime, to help her business remain successful, the whole family pitches in. When husband Gordon, a registered nurse, isn’t helping dialysis patients at the Brookings hospital, he takes charge of daily farm operations such as maintaining equipment and feeding the goats.

Over the years, the family’s noticed that the animals have a “real personality” to them. “Yeah, if you walk by them and don’t say something to them, they give you this look like they’re almost mad at you,” says Gordon.

No More Chickens, Cows

At one time, the family had chickens and tried cows, but Joan says it was “more than we wanted on our plates.”

Her son, Zach, 23, does most of the milking of the goats, once a day using a vacuum pump. Son Andrew, 11, helps take care of the goats, too. Max, 21, makes wood-fired pizzas and takes them, along with her breads into Brookings.

Daughters Anna, 32, and Molly, 28, have left the farm, but in the past helped with production and marketing.

During the summer, which is Joan’s busiest time of the year, she also employs two part-time helpers.

Although phasing in the goat milk and cheese operation has been a gradual thing, Joan has been able to make some money in the meantime off “Billy and Nanny.” A change in state law last year has enabled her to get a license to sell raw goat milk. Goat milk is appealing to many – especially to those people with cow milk allergies – because goat milk fat is easier to digest than cow’s milk. It’s more similar to human milk than cow’s milk, too.

In most of the non-Western world, goat milk and goat cheese are the preferred dairy product. In fact, goat cheese has been made for thousands of years and is probably one of the very first “manufactured” dairy products.

Once Joan’s cheese operation is in full swing, she says it won’t take long to crank out the final product. The one-day process requires pasteurization of the milk, letting it cool and then adding some culture and rennet. Rennet allows protein components in milk to form (curd) and permits liquid components to separate and run off as whey.

The mixture is left to sit overnight and then is drained using cheesecloth or a colander.

Approximately one gallon of milk can make one pound of cheese. Joan estimates her goats produce a half-gallon of milk per goat per day.

20 is Enough

Although she considers herself a creative individual, she says once the State of South Dakota gives her the green light, she doesn’t anticipate adding to her herd.

“I don’t think I want to milk more than 20 to 25 goats per day,” she says. “I’ve got enough of them for what I want to do.”

But she hopes to bring her love for the local food culture full circle, especially to consumers who crave a new, and unique dining experience. In the past, Joan and Chef John Gilbertson have organized an outdoor event called HarvesTable near Renner. Its purpose is to get the chef, guests and producers together for a special meal in an outdoor, rural setting. Only locally produced foods go on the menu.

Joan and Gilbertson hope to organize more of them in the future, perhaps in the Brookings or Arlington areas.

And she may even take the idea to another level by using the back area of her bakery to someday put in a small restaurant.

“I love the idea behind what I’m doing,” she says. “The possibilities are endless.”

Until the Brookings Farmer’s Market opens in April, Brookings-area shoppers can get Williams’ Cider Hill breads locally at Nature’s Paradise Health Foods every Tuesday. Cider Hill is also a producer on the South Dakota Local Foods Cooperative. For a complete listing of products, prices, locations where customers can buy Williams’ goods and other product inquiries, check out the company’s web site at

It’s ‘Farmville – For Real’: Farmers map out plans for new revenue opportunities

Source: The Messenger

MARSHALLTOWN - They were as diverse as the farming operations they came from, or wanted to start.

Forty people attended an afternoon-long session called "Farmville - For Real" on Friday at Marshalltown Community College during the first of a two-day annual conference for Practical Farmers of Iowa.

Some were young farmers just getting a start. Others were older farmers looking to expand their operations into new revenue streams. Others were ending "town career" and wanted to retire into farming. Before they left, each operation had the chance to sit down with one of eight mentoring farmers who would review their plans and offer advice for getting started.

Leading the workshop was Andy Larson, coordinator for the Iowa State University Sustainable agriculture Research and Education office. Larson is also an ISU Extension field specialist in small farm sustainability.

Larson told the 40-person audience, that they would begin the first steps in identifying what they envisioned for their farms in the near- and long-term future, as well as understand the skills they had available to make the dream come true and where they would need outside help.

At the event was Joe Monahan, who has a small fruit and vegetable farm in Jackson Township in northeast Boone County. His dream is to add an acre or two of vegetable crops with some mechanization to sell at area farmers markets. He said he said several unused outbuildings and is also studying if any of them can be economically converted into greenhouses.

Monahan sells through the Ames farmers market, as well as through an online CSA, or customer supported agriculture. He's looking for something unique that will make his food stand stand out among the others. He said his wife bakes artisan bread for the venture, often selling out before the vegetables. He recently built her a wood-fired oven that will bake 12 loaves at a time.

"Her bread is more marketable than my vegetables," he said.

He recently found another niche at the market by planting Indian and Asian vegetables that were well-received in the university town. He's hoping that expanding a couple of more acres will give him the chance to plant more unique vegetables that will find those niche consumers.

"I want to be outside farming," Monahan said. "I don't want to farm from the office."

Values and Visions

Larson had the workshop open with a values study that helped each participant understand what they value most in farming and being farmers. Once he had them distill their key values to find their No. 1 priority, he told them, "This value will influence every decision you make on your farm."

Following that exercise participants had to draw picture of how they would want to see their farm sometime in the future. Participants drew in buildings, livestock, conservation practices, quality of life images and even a few wind turbines.

This was followed by a critical look at each person's available skills in bringing the new farm operations into existence and in what areas they would need help in making it happen.

"You don't have to go solo to get these things done," Larson told the audience. "There's something to be said about hiring out or have a management team.

"I mean are you going to be your own soil tester and consultant?"

Meet with Mentors

Following a break, the workshop attendees met with eight mentoring farmers who had experience in a variety of local foods and niche marketing experiences.

"This is a reality check," Larson told the group.

Monahan met with Sean Skeehan, of Chariton. Monahan said he has built a hoop building for vegetables. His chickens' eggs are used for the artisan bread. He wanted to know how to prioritize the operations various revenue streams.

"Conventional farming is a whole lot easier," Monahan told Skeehan. "I don't want to be a gentleman farmer. I want a return on my investment."

Skeehan told him that income "is a tricky thing." The Monahan operation have to learn to live with less, especially paying for its own health care coverage.

"Diversity is essential," Skeehan said. He explained that when some of his vegetables had been damaged by herbicide drift from a neighboring farm, other parts of the operation, such as his honey business, helped to balance the books.

He recommended the Monahans use a spreadsheet program for projecting incomes and using social media to build a following of customers, letting them know where he will be on market days.

"Don't play the price cut game," Skeehan said. "We set the price and stay with it. If we have to take some of it home, we do."


For Joe Monahan, time spent with mentor Skeehan was helpful.

"A lot of us don't have the background experience," Monahan said. "We didn't grow up on farms and our fathers didn't farm. So getting the feedback and hearing others experiences is helpful."

He's hoping to get more confidence in the years to come in know the right price for his vegetables that will be good for him and the customer.

He said he also picked up ideas for keeping produce fresh enroute to the market and how to properly display vegetables at the market.

Contact Larry Kershner at (515) 573-2141, ext. 453, or at