Everyone knows that in Wisconsin, it’s not easy starting up a small-scale, farmstead cheese operation. Every cheesemaker selling cheese commercially must be licensed, his or her facility must be licensed, and an array of permits and bureacratic hoops written for the big boys must be navigated. And if you’re a small goat or sheep dairy operation, good luck finding a banker to loan you money.
That’s why Meg and Joel Wittenmyer, land stewards for a diverse 20 acres in northwestern Wisconsin that they call Bifrost Farms, recently launched a crowdfunding campaign on barnraiser.us. Their goal? To raise $4,000 before the ground freezes to install critical infrastructure needs at their farmstead goat dairy so they can work on the interior of a new micro-creamery this winter.
“It’s scary enough starting a new career at 57,” says Meg, a Wisconsin Licensed Cheesemaker, goat milker, hay thrower, animal wrangler and bottle washer (literally). “But one that requires not only physical stamina, but puts you in the position of being responsible for the lives of so many wonderful animals…well, it’s kind of daunting. But, I’ve faced challenges all my life and never met one I couldn’t overcome.”
The Wyttenmyers’ first step is renovating a building on their farm for a new micro-creamery, with a goal to open in May 2016. This fall, they are trying to get critical infrastructure work done before the snow flies, so early next year, when they apply (and hopefully receive) a USDA micro-loan, they are ready for the rest of the work.
Meg has been experimenting with making goat’s milk cheeses for years, and after spending the past two years earning her Wisconsin Cheese Makers License, she’s already found her first waiting commerical customer. After tasting samples of Meg’s delicious Chevre and Farmhouse Feta, Menomonie Market Cooperative is eager to carry Bifrost Farms cheese as well as Cajeta (a thickened syrup usually made of sweetened caramelized milk, originally from Mexico) and, one day, Gelato. “We can’t get this done fast enough,” Meg says.
In addition to making goat’s milk cheeses, Meg is also dedicated to opening her facility to aspiring cheesemakers looking to gain their 240 needed apprenticeship hours with a licensed cheesemaker. Small-scale operations that meet the state’s requirements for internships are few and far between, especially on the western side of the state.
Those hoping to have their own micro-creamery one day must do as Meg did. Part of her hours were attained at the UW-River Falls Dairy Plant over three semesters, (where incidentally, not only did she not get paid, but had to pay student tuition to be able to work in the plant for liability reasons). The balance of her internship time included a short stint of 30 hours with a small goat dairy two hours away, while the rest occurred at a medium-sized creamery, which was still 100 times larger than her plans for Bifrost Farms, and an hour’s drive from her home.
Once Bifrost Farms is operational, Meg plans to hang out her shingle for interns who not only want to make cheese, but need to understand what it’s like to operate at a micro-level, where often times one or two people are doing all the work. This is not a new problem for small cheesemakers, but hopefully, with one more micro-creamery in the mix, it won’t be so hard, she says.
If you’re interested in helping Meg & Joel with their dream of building an on-farm goat’s milk creamery, I’d urge you to visit their barnraiser.us site
, and learn more about their operation. Even a gift of $5 or $10 adds up, plus they’ll recognize you on their Facebook and Twitter feeds. Larger donations come with more rewards, such as farm tours and baskets of cheese, once the dairy is licensed. My favorite reward? Donate $55 and you’ll get to name a goat next Spring at Bifrost Farms. Because who doesn’t want to name a goat? C’mon people!