Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Niche Milk & Cheese Tourism

I was in Rensselaer, IN (population 5,294) doing a talk for their county ED annual meeting (Jasper County—population 31,876). The north part of the county is booming with new housing sprouting from urban sprawl from the Chicago metro area. The south is still very rural. Rensselaer sits in the middle, typical of a county seat town.

Orville Redenbacher popcorn is packaged in Rensselaer. White Castle buns are baked there. A new 40 million gallon ethanol plant is under construction. The town has a strong industrial base. St. Joseph College, with 1,000 students, is also a solid asset for the town.

One of the interesting places that Valarie Hunter, head of ED, took me on my tour was Fair Oaks Dairy, which sits right along I-65. The dairy was started by Tony & Mary Bos who moved here from El Paso, TX in 1999 when the USDA did a cow buy-out along the TX-Mexico border in the late 90s. They came with a vision of rebuilding their dairy as not only a modern one, but developing it into a specialized niche marketer.

They bought 5,300 acres of land along I-65, built their own interstate exit and started construction of two 3,500 head dairies for their son Steve and a son-in-law. Other sites have been added since then. Today 27,000 cows are milked on 9 separate sites, which is approximately 400 million pounds or 5 billion cups of milk/year.

In addition to the milking operations, the dairy has a a deli, ice cream plant and cheese plant as well as hosts the Fair Oaks Farms Adventure Center which shows how milk goes from “Grass to Glass.” Their master cheesemaker Randy Krahenbuhl has won numerous awards for his Emmentaler, Asiago, Havarti Pepper and Sweet Swiss cheeses.

The Bus’ are one of those farming families that understand that there is great potential for both ag-tourism and also the development of specialized food niches.

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