“Their motto is From Cow to Cone,” was what Bonnie Hildreth told me as we drove into the Moo-ville Creamery for lunch on our tour of Barry County. Each of us got a tasting of homemade cheese whey and of course unlimited glasses of milk.
Louisa Westendorp and her husband Doug opened the creamery three years ago after milking cows on the farm on the hill for the past 15 years. Louisa told me, “We bought this farm and started milking 40 cows, three times each day even though we had six kids under the age of six. Now we are up to 80 cows and our 22 year old son Carlyle takes care of all of the milking. The twins are in college and the triplets are still in high school.”
She went on, “We never liked the idea of our milk being mixed with other farmers’ and wanted to produce something of a higher quality. We put together a business plan, got a $150,000 value-added grant from USDA and thought that it would take us six years to get to where we are today. For the last two months we’ve been bottling all of our own milk and aren’t selling any in bulk. We started making our own ice cream a year and a half ago and cheese curds within in the last two weeks. We hope to expand into yogurt and egg nog in the future.”
“Our kids didn’t take to the idea of opening the creamery. They were embarrassed by the MOO-ville name. But, now they’ve embraced it and we’re having a lot of fun.”
When I asked what they would do if they have too much demand for their product, Carlyle let me know that 80 cows were plenty to be milking. He didn’t want to add anymore. The Westendorp’s daughter Britney started a petting zoo next to the creamery/restaurant.
The Westendorp’s goal is to not only produce a super high quality product but to also educate consumers on the importance of milk and how their product is different. Louisa went on, “We pasteurize our milk but we don’t homogenize it. Homogenization takes the cream or fat content out of the milk. That cream is the cream-line that you’ll see in a glass of our milk and is why our milk has so much more flavor and also added health benefits.”
Customers of the MOO-ville Creamery drive from up to 50 miles away to buy their milk. Prairie Farm Dairy has begun selling their milk in Michigan stores. The Westendorps have developed a wonderful niche that is on the cutting wave of trends in both local and small batch production that I’m seeing as I travel around the USA.
I learned that there are five farmer-owned creameries in MI that are similar to MOO-ville. They are each great examples of “out of the box” thinking by farmers who have traditionally been more production orientated than marketing focused. I’m convinced that there is a wealth of entrepreneurial talent, vision and drive that is going to percolate up from young farmers like Louisa and Doug Westendorp. Talent like this is going to birth an incredible number of entrepreneurial, niche-focused agricultural businesses in the next several years.