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Organic dairy pays for fencing project with online donations

Kelli Boylen Published on 11 September 2015

Sara RissiCrowd-funding and dairy farming don’t necessarily go together in most people’s minds, but Farmers Creamery, maker of Kalona SuperNatural dairy products, made it work.

Almost 200 consumers and members of the general public contributed $20,128 in a 30-day online fundraising campaign toward fencing that will help to meet demand for their organic products, according to Sara Rissi, marketing manager at Kalona Organics.

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About 35 Amish and Mennonite farms supply the milk processed into Kalona SuperNatural products at Farmers Creamery in rural Kalona, Iowa. Most of these dairy operations have 30 to 40 cows and average about 90 acres. Many of the farms have been in the same families for up to 150 years and have never been touched by herbicides or insecticides.

Sales of organic milk and dairy products has increased 9.5 percent in 2014, and Kalona SuperNatural says demand for their products is up to more than 40 percent. They brainstormed ways to help increase the milk supply and came up with the idea of creating a custom-grazing program at Marilyn Farms, a nearby organic operation that had organic pasture available but no fencing.

Farmers will place their young, non-milk producing stock on the cooperatively grazed pastures, freeing up more space on their own farm to invest in more milking cows, increasing the milking herd. Organic regulations stipulate only so many cows per acre, per year.

The “Fencing Fields” Kickstarter campaign was created to raise $20,000 for the first phase, which will consists of fencing a little more than 100 acres, Rissi explains.

Staff at Farmers Creamery first started kicking around the idea of crowd-sourcing in the fall of 2014, and they started actively putting together a plan in January. They launched their campaign on April 9, 2015.

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They chose Kickstarter, a do-it-yourself fundraising website. With Kickstarter, like many other crowd-funding sites, the organization sets a goal and creates a deadline for funding. The catch is: If you don’t raise your goal in the time limit, you don’t get any of the money.

Rissi said they used social media such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram to spread the word about their campaign. They held a kickoff event for when the fundraising started. They promoted it through their newsletter, email database and Iowa media outlets, as well as some out-of-state media.

grassy hillThey also had help promoting their campaign from local food bloggers, grocery stores that sell their products and the Marilyn Farms network. They were constantly sending out updates on how the project was going and continuously working on spreading the word about what they were trying to do.

Their campaign started out slow and steady, but like many other fundraising campaigns, it came down to the wire. With just one week left, they still had $5,000 to raise.

“The last 48 hours, we were on pins and needles to see if we were going to make it,” she says.

A total of 190 people contributed to the fencing project with an average contribution of $105. Kalona SuperNatural created rewards for sponsors, ranging from personal thank-yous from their staff to T-shirts and tours.

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Top sponsors of $500 or more had the opportunity to name a cow. The cow names chosen were Clarabelle and AnnaGrazie. Rissi traveled out to the pasture with the newly named cows, and they were photographed with their name cards to send to the donors.

There were 190 backers total for the fencing project. Of the 134 contributors who took advantage of the rewards, nine pledges were for more than $250, 30 were between $100 and $250, and 95 were for less than $100.

“Though many backers took advantage of the rewards, numerous backers simply wanted to make a pledge to support the cause,” Rissi says.

Some supporters left comments about the project when giving donations, including, “This is a practical and creative way to participate in our community’s drive for a wholesome lifestyle. Thank you!” and “I’m so happy to help out and ensure more good, clean dairy in the future! Love you guys and all you do!”

Rissi says they worked hard to keep their fundraising campaign as transparent as possible. On their Kickstarter campaign page, they clearly explained that 80 percent of the donations would go toward the actual fencing project including labor and materials, 10 percent would be used for rewards and campaign marketing, and 10 percent would pay the Kickstarter fees.

dairy cows in a fieldA successfully funded project must pay Kickstarter a 5 percent fee and also payment processing fees, which can run up to an additional 5 percent.

Rissi says the campaign was very time-consuming for their staff and even more work than they had expected. In fact, they said they would recommend smaller organizations consider outsourcing their marketing during a campaign like this.

But she says the extra strain on the staff was worth it.

“We had so much interaction with our consumers during this time, and we learned that they enjoyed being a part of this collaborative campaign that supports local businesses and communities,” she says.

One challenge they had was that their fencing project was not necessarily a tangible idea and was somewhat difficult to explain.

“We found that once people took the time to listen and learn about the project, they understood and were supportive,” she says. “Overall, it was a great experience.”

Now that the funds are raised, they are working on purchasing the needed materials, and they will be installing the fences in October and November so that the pasture will be ready as soon as grazing season begins in the spring.

She says there is more land to be fenced, and they are considering another crowd-sourced fundraising campaign in the future, but they have no definite plans at this time.  PD

Kelli Boylen is a freelance writer in Waterville, Iowa.

PHOTO 1: Top sponsors of $500 or more for the fencing project had the opportunity to name a cow. Here, Sara Rissi poses with one of the named cows, Clarabelle. The donor received a copy of the photograph. 

PHOTO 2: Lots of work was needed for the project besides the fundraising, including clearing ditches to make way for new fencing, as shown in this photo. 

PHOTO 3: One comment left on the Kickstarter campaign page was, “I’m so happy to help out and ensure more good, clean dairy in the future! Love you guys and all you do!” Photos courtesy Sara Rissi.

About Kalona SuperNatural
Kalona SuperNatural produces organic dairy products including butter, cottage cheese, eggs, yogurt, Greek yogurt, milk, cheese and sour cream. Keeping things natural is important to the folks at Kalona SuperNatural.

“We think it’s better for the people eating it and it’s better for the environment,” says Steve Young-Burns, sales director.

In 1988, Bill Evans, his wife and their six children moved back to Iowa. He started to put down roots in a community largely comprised of Amish and Mennonite farmers in Kalona in 1994. In 2005, he started Kalona Organics, distributing Farmer’s All Natural Creamery dairy products and Cultural Revolution yogurt. In 2010, these brands were consolidated under the family brand name Kalona SuperNatural.

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