|By CELESTE BAUMGARTNER
DENVER Colo. — National Farmers Union members, in Denver for the annual meeting, had an opportunity to learn about farming in the region on a Sustainable Ag and Farm Tour.
They visited Haystack Mountain Goat Dairy, Full Circle Farm, and toured Gerard’s Bakery owned by Mountain View Harvest Cooperative.
Haystack Mountain Goat Dairy
The dairy got started in 1989 when founder Jim Schott left teaching and began raising goats.
The farm is now recognized as a producer of premium goat cheeses available throughout the United States. But it took a while to get there, said part owner Joan Knecht.
“Fresh chčvre is how we started,” Knecht said. “It’s the French style - fresh, un-aged goat cheese. Americans needed to learn about it because when Jim first started he couldn’t give it away.
“He had to persevere through some pretty lean years,” she said. “Now Americans are getting on the bandwagon and we’ve been tripling our business in the last six years.”
Knecht became part-owner when, after a few successful years, Schott allowed regular employees to buy into the business.
The bulk of the dairy herd are Saanen goats, a Northern European breed of big, white goats and good milk producers (a good milking goat gives two gallons of milk a day), Knecht said.
“Nubians are the second most popular, she said. “They give rich milk high in butterfat. We needed to grow the herd so we took on Alpine, Oberhasli and LaManchas.
The goats, housed in pens with three sided barns, are fed a diet of alfalfa and mixed grain.
“All they need is dry bedding and the Colorado sun even in January and they’re all healthy,” Knecht said.
Full Circle Farm
Dave Asbury is a first generation farmer. He grows organic mixed vegetables, hay and honey on 390-acres of private land and Boulder County land.
He sells at farmers markets, wholesale and on-farm sales from May through November.
Asbury started farming fulltime on five-acres 12 years ago. He had pumpkins and a fall festival.
“I started with a little operation and it was phenomenally successful,” Asbury said. “I realized this is how I’m going to farm: I’m going to take the money that we got from agri-entertainment and I’m going to start really farming.”
“We still do the fall festival but my wholesale business has surpassed my agri-entertainment business,” Asbury said. “I’m quite excited because I love to grow things.”
Asbury said he played by thirds - a third of the business is wholesale, a third is direct marketing - he does five farmers markets - and a third is the fall festival.
“If any of those things were to fall down on me I could probably pick my feet up and keep going,” he said. “Diversification has been what’s ‘saved my bacon.’”
The fall festival brings in 22,000 visitors over a three-week period.
“Pumpkins are the biggest crop,” he said. “We get $2.50 for three ears of Indian corn. Who’d pay that as a farmer? But that’s agri-entertainment.”
Mountain View Harvest Cooperative is a new generation value-added cooperative, said Gary Knight, CEO.
Two hundred twenty-five eastern Colorado farmers formed a cooperative to buy a value-added business that returns a little more money than production agriculture, Knight said.
In 1997 they bought a bakery, which was selling breads to the food service industry - primarily restaurants, catering and institutions, Knight said.
Although they don’t own the flour mill, in Colorado they used wheat produced by cooperative members, Knight said.
“We use that as a selling tool because we found our customers, the restaurants chain and consumers are interested in this farmer connection.”
The bakery is striving to use more varieties of wheat to create innovative products, Knight said.
“We go in and sit down with the restaurant chains and they have culinary teams and they have chefs on staff and we’ll create a bread for them that differentiates them from their competitors,” Knight said.
Gerard’s biggest customer is Quiznos, a national chain. They also make bread for IHOP, Red Lobster, Wal-Mart, Krogers and others.
The bakery worked with IHOP for a year to create a cheese bread for them to use in their “stacker” sandwich.
Gerard’s also has a bakery in Livermore, California and just opened another in North Carolina.
“We are strategically set across the nation to be able to serve these large restaurant chains and that’s where we see our primary focus.”
Gerard’s had sales exceeding $35 million in 2005.
This farm news was published in the March 22, 2006 issue of Farm World.