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Value-Added Products Let This Family Farm Together
It’s a problem as old as farming itself. Children grow up and want to stay on the home farm, but the business won’t support an additional family. There are two solutions: Find another farm or make the family operation more profitable.
Aubrey Fletcher and her husband, Tyler, went for option number two, and it is working beautifully for their family. They were both raised on dairy farms and got married when they were college students – Tyler at College of the Ozarks and Aubrey at Missouri State University. Their dream was to join Tyler's family farm in southwest Missouri, a 280-acre, grass-fed dairy set up into 5-acre paddocks. “We knew we couldn’t expand the herd enough to compensate for an income for us, so we began looking for other options,” Aubrey says. During a vacation, they had a brainstorming session and came up with the idea of creating value-added products on the farm.
While they finished earning their college degrees, Tyler’s parents, Charles and Melissa, began researching creameries. They looked into the rules and regulations as well as the building and equipment requirements. They also traveled to other creameries to see what was working for other dairy farmers. Edgewood Creamery was born. “When we built the creamery, we started small but designed it so we could easily expand it,” Aubrey says.
After graduation, Tyler and Aubrey moved into a home on 10 acres, 15 miles west of his parents’ farm. They both began working full time on the Fletcher home farm and creamery. Today, Tyler spends his days milking, feeding calves and dry cows, and doing whatever else needs done. “The cows are rotated after each milking into a fresh paddock,” Aubrey says. “There’s a lot of monitoring of the grass to make sure it has replenished before the cattle are allowed back on it.”
In addition to caring for their 7-year-old daughter and a new baby, Aubrey puts her agricultural communications degree to work at the creamery, managing marketing, social media, online sales, and customer accounts. Edgewood Creamery artisan cheeses and cream-line milk (pasteurized but nonhomogenized) are sold at a store on the farm, and the cheeses are also sold at edgewoodcreamery.com.
Her main focus, however, is managing and acquiring wholesale clients. “Lots of restaurants in the Ozarks are looking for local, farm-to-table foods,” she says. “Many of those restaurants say they use Edgewood Creamery cheese on their menus, and people are starting to recognize our brand. We go to farmers markets and food shows, and people have heard of us. It’s all about building our brand and getting out there.”
Communication is key
Aubrey enjoys working with family, including Tyler's parents, grandparents, and sister, and she says open communication is the key to their success. “We have big family meetings where we talk about everything,” she says. “The main thing is defining who is doing what job. Then, if something isn't getting done or if there’s a problem, we can address it up front and not let it build.”
She also finds support in a local Women in Dairy group, for which she serves on the board. “We have informational meetings on topics like raising calves, but it’s also a really good support group and gives us a chance to talk to other women about the daily struggles of dairy farm life. They understand because they deal with the same problems, and we share ideas with each other.”
One of those challenges is falling milk prices, but the value-added products made at the creamery definitely help, Aubrey says. “The dairy industry is very volatile, and dairy farmers are subject to whatever prices are at the time. With the creamery, the goal was to compensate for those low times because we sell our own milk and cheese, and we set the prices. It helps us float through tough times when prices are devastatingly low.”
The future at Edgewood Creamery is bright. Aubrey hopes to expand the creamery and double or even triple production within the next five to 10 years. “We try to be as traditional as possible,” she says. “We're simple, down-to-earth people trying to make a product families can enjoy for years to come.”
Aubrey is featured in Successful Farming magazine's "10 Up & Comers" article in the June/July issue.