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FiredUp: Looking for a good gallon of milk

Let me tell you about Picket Fence Creamery [1]. (Though I warn you, I have an ulterior motive for doing so.)

The business is run by the Burkhart family in Woodward, Iowa. They have 80 acres and 80 “working girls”—Jersey cows—which provide the milk that is turned into skim, 2 percent and whole milk; butter; ice cream; whipping cream and cheese curds.

The milk is produced without the use of artificial hormones, and the cows spend most of their hours outside on those 80 acres.

And when I lived in Iowa, I bought their dairy products almost exclusively. Here’s what I love about Picket Fence:

I am not telling you all about Picket Fence just to get the word out about their business, though I am happy to do so, if any Iowans are reading this.

I am writing because I want someone in the James River Valley to copy them.

One of the benefits of moving back to my family farm in South Dakota is that we are now producing much of our own food: We started with garden produce, then added eggs, pork and most recently beef.

But we are not going to add dairy. Dairy is a lot of work, and there are limits to our time and energy, when our own farm isn’t the only thing we do. And all the dairy farmers who’ve gone out of business in our area can tell you that dairy, done without the creamery (i.e., selling to the market rather than selling direct to a customer), does not pay.

But if a family wanted to copy Picket Fence’s model, starting a creamery business like the Burkhart family did, I think there would be a market for it.

I went to the Northern Plains Sustainable Agriculture Conference in Aberdeen last weekend, which just keeps growing. Almost 600 people attended this year, which I think is a testament to the number of people looking for alternative ways to farm, and also the increasing number of consumers hungry for a more authentic connection to their food and the farmers that grow it. I will admit that I go in large part because the food is wonderful—farmers donate the ingredients, which are prepared by Ramkota’s chef. Yet despite all the delicious donated food, no farmer donates any dairy products. I think many of those farmers, who were also attendees, are no longer doing dairy. But boy, would they love to have some good old-fashioned milk.

I invite a Dakota family to consider it. I guarantee you’ll have at least one very dedicated customer.

Read more about Picket Fence Creamery at http://www.picketfencecreamery.net/ [2].


Heidi Marttila-Losure is editor of Dakotafire Media, which brings together community journalists in the James River Valley of the Dakotas to report on regional issues. Read more Dakotafire stories at www.dakotafire.net [3]. Marttila-Losure lives on and works from Dakota Sisu Farm near Frederick, S.D., which has been in the Marttila family for 127 years.