One of Wisconsin’s best-loved farmstead cheesemakers thought building a new cheese factory, a 300-cow dairy farm and farmstead retail store with an agri-tourism focus would be welcomed by their entire local community. They thought wrong.
Holland’s Family Cheese’s Marieke and Rolf Penterman, along with their five young children, are facing opposition and open hostility from a very small but vocal group of Thorp residents, who argue a “factory farm” within city limits will lead to water contamination, air and soil pollution, and an increased risk of children developing asthma from the dust and odor of a working dairy farm.
Last week, Holland’s Family Cheese company members appeared before the City of Thorp Planning Zoning Commission to ask for a re-zoning of 100 acres on the edge of Thorp’s city limits off Highway 29.
The Pentermans have dreams of expanding and relocating their “Marieke Gouda” cheese factory from its current rural location to a more visitor-friendly parcel on the main highway. The proposal calls for building a new 300-cow freestall barn on the highway, which would provide milk for the family’s authentic Dutch Gouda, winner of dozens of national and international awards.
The good news: the Planning and Zoning commission unanimously voted to recommend approval of the project to the City Council, with more than 100 people attending the local meeting. While some testified in opposition, most testified in favor.
The bad news: unfounded accusations pertaining to everything from the Pentermans’ immigrant status, to whether they shop locally, to the cleanliness of their current 850-cow dairy have been floating amongst the community for weeks. These negative rumors have hurt the Pentermans, who until now, felt like they were accepted members of the Thorp community.
“Never did we expect that this would cause this kind of situation,” Marieke says. “All these kinds of misleading rumors not only hurt us as a business, but also the whole dairy industry.”
Marieke is asking Holland’s Family Cheese supporters to post positive comments on both the City of Thorp and Thorp Chamber Facebook sites, as both sites are now filled with extremely negative – and sometimes, blatantly false – comments regarding the Pentermans and their proposal. “If anyone has any bright ideas or suggestions as to how to help this situation, please let us know,” Marieke said.
Cheese Underground supports Holland’s Family Cheese, recognizes their importance to the Wisconsin dairy industry, and has witnessed first hand their dedication to operating a top-notch, clean dairy farm and Grade A cheese plant, both in complete compliance with Wisconsin’s strict dairy regulations.
Let’s hope a vocal majority in favor of a new Holland’s Family Cheese cheese factory and agri-tourism-focused dairy farm now takes the floor and allows the Pentermans to disseminate the facts of their new family farmstead operation, so it may be judged on its merits, and not on rumors.