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Indiana’s only grass-fed dairy markets locally

Alisa Anderson Published on 07 October 2009

“Grass-fed milk is a viable niche market. A lot of producers I have spoken with were using pasture-based as a way to potentially market their milk as a value-added product. Pasture has to be a major component of an organic system, so organic producers would be interested in this,” says Mat Haan, who is the coordinator of the Pasture-Based Dairy Project at Michigan State University.

Traders Point Farm (TPF) Organics, the first and only pasture-based dairy in Indiana, is one example of a dairy that has found a place in this niche market.

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They milk and graze 85 Brown Swiss cows, process their own milk and market it to the local community. Dr. Peter Kunz, a physician, and his wife, Jane, started the dairy in 2003. Jane inherited the 320-acre dairy farm from her grandmother and made a commitment to keep the land rather than sell it to developers.

Peter had been interested in the effects of food on health, so with this opportunity they established an organic, pasture-based dairy. The growing interest in natural, healthy, locally produced foods has provided a market opportunity that TPF Organics has been able to take advantage of.

“Grass-fed milk has a huge market advantage because of two things. We don’t homogenize our milk, which is fairly unique. And also the animals that are on a grass-fed diet produce milk that is very high in omegas and fatty acids and all the things that are very good for you. With pastured animals, the value goes up from a health benefit, and that’s the driving force behind it,” says Chuck Green, president of TPF Organics.

Green says the business has grown 20 percent over the last year. Although they’ve been successful, the Kunzes had a rough time starting out.

“I met with the board of animal health, and they saw that we were a doctor and a doctor’s wife, and they kind of looked at us and said, ‘You guys don’t really want to do this. This isn’t something you want to do.’ We were discouraged from the get-go,” Peter says.

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The Kunzes started out with 29 Brown Swiss cows, and their original plan was to sell their milk to Organic Valley. Since they were the only organic dairy in Indiana, they were too far away for the co-op to pick up their milk. So the Kunzes started selling to a conventional processor. What they really wanted to do was to sell it as organic, so they looked at one other option.

“We traveled around to visit some of the on-farm processing facilities that we’d heard about and looked into the possibility of making our milk into our own products,” Jane says. The main challenge they faced was finding someone who could design a facility that was small enough for just their farm use.

“I can still remember calling many dairy plant designers, and they’d laugh at me and say, ‘We design 1-million gallon plants, not 1,000-gallon plants,’” Peter says.

The Kunzes were finally able to contact a designer who had designed smaller facilities in the 1950s. With that solved, the next obstacle was obtaining a variance from the local planning and zoning committee so that they could build their facility.

TPF Organics is located in a suburban area, and they faced some opposition from a few neighbors. But most of the community was in favor of their project and even helped them get the variance.

“We had about a thousand people sign in favor of our variance. We had a lot of support from the community,” Jane says.

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Since then, they have tried to give back to their neighbors by marketing locally.

“I like how it was explained to me once. You buy from your neighbor, you pay them. Your neighbor buys from another neighbor; they pay the other neighbor. You can actually recycle that money in your own community so that it does 10 times as much good as it would have if the person you sold it to had a Chinese accent,” Peter says.

The Kunzes are considering expanding their business someday by building processing facilities in other local communities and by encouraging other dairy producers to work with them to produce grass-fed milk and market it locally.

“I would say that the more people who can support this kind of movement will help generations to come. In the long run, I think people are going to join us because they want to help future generations and preserve our resources,” Jane says. PD

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