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Lifelong Learning: An open mind and readiness to learn lead to opportunities

Darci Daniels for Progressive Dairy Published on 05 February 2021
Darci Daniels and family

From a pop-up tent in our yard to a retail farmstead store selling beef, cheese, butter, chicken and more, the last four years have been a whirlwind of learning opportunities for my husband, Justin, and me.

Sharing the food produced from our farm with our community and raising our young family in a farming lifestyle are the highlights of our journey, but it has been full of obstacles and challenges, too. Along the way we’ve tapped into networks of fellow farmers, government officials, as well as our customers – in addition to countless hours of research, reading and listening to podcasts. We’re also learning to balance growth opportunities with finding the right fit for our family.

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Justin and I both grew up on dairy farms in southern Wisconsin, then moved in 2011 to our current location in west-central Wisconsin to begin farming. We started milking cows in 2013, began selling direct to consumers in 2017 and added our Garden Valley Farmstead retail store in 2018. Along the way, we also began our family, which now includes Weston, 5; Sadie, 4; and Hazel, 1.

Our goal is to provide the best-tasting and most nutritious food to our family and customers while also giving back to the land and providing the best quality of life possible for our animals.

We started small with the retail business, knowing we would make mistakes and learn a lot along the way. Research is important to us, but each community and farm is different, so developing the right business model involves trial-and-error. Determining the best way to sell products – whether via on-farm storefront, wholesale, farmers markets or online – was the first step, and we’ve continued to adjust our approach. We are taking growth and change one decision at a time given the uncertainties in the world and marketplace.

Mental strength and staying true to our values and goals has been critical since we started, and intensified in 2020. Our customer base has grown, though we’ve struggled to secure enough processing appointments to keep our products fully stocked. Constant communication with each other and all our business partners has been essential. For Justin and me, it means waking up before the kids to have a cup of coffee and talk while our minds are fresh and before the kids and animals start interrupting.

Keeping an open mind and continuing to ask questions allows us to keep doing better for our kids, animals and customers. As a business owner and mother, I’ve found there is always room to improve and learn. The same is true for our farm; science is never settled, and we are constantly learning new ways to take better care of our animals and land, and learning new ways to market and sell our products.

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We also have a unique opportunity to give our customers a better understanding of modern agriculture. We hear over and over from our customers that they love the taste of farm-fresh products, and many of them enjoy visiting the farm because it brings back memories of visits to grandparents’ farms years ago. Most of our customers genuinely want to know more about where their food comes from, but they haven’t known where to start because they’re so removed from it. Visits to the farm, tours, social media and blog posts allow us to share pieces of our story and help our customers make connections from our farm to their tables.

Looking ahead, we’ll continue to evaluate each opportunity as it comes, learning something new each day and building a strong foundation for our family, farm and business. end mark

PHOTO: Darci Daniels and her husband, Justin. They have three children: Weston, Sadie and Hazel. Photo provided by Darci Daniels.

Darci Daniels and her husband, Justin, own and operate Garden Valley Farmstead dairy farm and retail store in Hixton, Wisconsin. Darci cares for calves, heifers and chickens on the farm as well as managing finances and the retail store and farmers market sales. They have three children: Weston, Sadie and Hazel.

This column is contributed by Professional Dairy Producers (PDPW), which is the nation’s largest dairy producer-led organization of its kind. PDPW focuses on producer professionalism, stakeholder engagement and unified outreach to share ideas, solutions, resources and experiences that help dairy producers succeed. 

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