This month Farm Aid spoke with grass-based dairy farmer and artisan raw milk cheese maker, Stuart Veldhuizen. Stuart quit dairy farming in the 1990s, but came back to it again when he realized that producing a value-added product and direct marketing could help him thrive as a dairy farmer. Stuart is a member of Farm Aid partner Texas Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association (TOFGA).
He grew up on a Minnesota dairy farm and generations before him were dairy farmers, but Stuart Veldhuizen quit farming in 1996. He and his dad had survived the farm crisis of the 1980s on their farm in Minnesota. Frustrated with the long winters and low milk prices, Stuart moved the farm to Texas. Southern milk prices were about $2.50 higher per hundred weight and the climate allowed more grazing and less harvesting, breaking ice, and manure hauling. But Stuart still didn't think it was worth it. As he explains, "We could never get ahead." So, Stuart sold off his herd and went to work off-farm.
But in 1999, Stuart had a change of heart and an itch to once again do something with the farm where he and his family lived. Stuart explains, "We knew we didn't want to go into debt, and we knew we didn't want to milk 1,000 cows, like the trend was going." Stuart's wife, Connie, got online to see if there was a way to make a living with 20 or so cows. That's when Stuart became fascinated by the idea of making artisan raw milk cheese.
In 2000, Stuart became a farmer again, bartering his labor for calves and studying cheese making at the University of Wisconsin and at various workshops with cheese makers from New Zealand, Italy and New England. The Veldhuizens remodeled their barn to include a cheese making facility and pulled together the necessary equipment.
In 2002, Stuart finally began making cheese from his own herd of about 20 Jersey-Holstein cows and built a beautiful stone cave in which to age the cheese. But it was another year before he was able to sell any cheese. In 2005, the family built a new cheese making room with more capacity to meet the demand they had for their cheese, as well as an on-farm store.
The milking herd has grown to about 45 and the cheese varieties now number seven, two of which—Paragon and Texas Star—are signature Veldhuizen cheeses and the farm's best sellers. Stuart credits the "Buy Local" movement for much of his success. In addition to being available for purchase at the farm and online, Veldhuizen cheeses can be found in a couple Texas grocery stores and cheese shops, at local farmers markets, and in local restaurants. Folks who discover Veldhuizen cheeses on restaurant menus and in local markets often come out to the farm for a visit. As Stuart explains, "Texans really enjoy supporting their local producers. This is an outlet that we didn't have twenty years ago… it's a huge opportunity."
Taking advantage of that opportunity requires a long day! A typical day on the farm begins at 5 am, with a morning milking around 5:30. Much of the day is spent in the cheese room where the cheese is made, and in the cheese cave, where cheese is aged for up to 2 years, with turnings, coatings, and washes throughout the aging process. The on-farm store is open Monday through Saturday. In addition, the fields, where the cows graze on alfalfa, rye, millet, and oats, depending on the season, require attention. And there's often equipment to repair. Finally, there's the evening milking before the day is through.
Stuart emphasizes, "To be successful, you've got to shoot for quality. Taste everyone else's product for comparison, and give your product away to get feedback. Tell friends and family, ‘Don't tell me it's good… tell me the truth.'" In this way, Stuart says you end up with a better product. It's a method that has clearly worked for him.
Today Veldhuizen Family Farm is a thriving family operation involving three generations of the Veldhuizen family. Stuart's parents, Connie and Stuart and their seven children, aged 11-25, have all worked on the farm. Connie and Stuart say "a number of the kids show a good amount of interest" in continuing in the family tradition of dairy farming. They can thank the ingenuity and creativity of their parents for that opportunity.To find out more about Veldhuizen Texas Farmstead Cheese and purchase some for yourself, visit http://veldhuizencheese.com/
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Sarah Hoffmann & Jacqueline Smith - Weston, MO
Art Tanderup - Neligh, NE
Tom Rogers - Madera County, CA
Abbe Turner - Kent, OH
Deb Windecker - Frankfort, NY
Chuck Deichmann - Belmont, NY
Carroll Wade - Jasper, NY
Ben Shute - Clermont, NY
Kevin Jablonski - Argyle, NY
Andrew Pittz - Missouri Valley, IA
Chris & Donna Garza - Calhan, CO
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Kate Canney - Needham, MA
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James & Ida Burkholder - Berks County, PA
Zoë Bradbury - Langlois, OR
Rosie & Ward Burroughs - Denair, CA
Gary Purgason - Madison, NC
Stanley & Evan Hall - South Paoli, IN
Jim Gerritsen - Bridgewater, ME
Zach Ducheneaux - Eagle Butte, SD
Jacob & Courtney Cowgill - Conrad, MT
Tom Nuessmeier - Le Sueur, MN
Sherri Harvel - Kansas City, MO
Gail Fuller - Emporia, KS
Jason Schmidt - Newton, KS
Nick Meyer - Hardwick, VT
The Local Food Hub - Charlottesville, VA
Corky Jones - Brownville, NE
Pat Trask - Wasta, SD
Carol Ford & Chuck Waibel - Milan, MN
Mike Weaver - Fort Sybert, WV
Glyen Holmes - Dothan, AL
Will Allen - Milwaukee, WI
Rebecca Goodman - Wonewoc, WI
Eric Odberg - Genesee, ID
John Kinsman - Sauk County, WI
Luciano Alvarado - Fayetteville, NC
Russ Kremer - Osage County, MO
Hector Mora - Monterey County, CA
Theresa Podoll - Fullerton, ND
Mary Hendrickson - Columbia, MO
Jen Friedrich & Dom Fernandes - Carver, MA
David Senter - Washington, DC
Jere Gettle - Mansfield, MO
Rhonda Perry & Roger Allison - Howard County, MO
Walker Claridge - Hatton, MO
David Marvel - Harrington, DE
Jerry Harvey - Promise City, IA
Donley Darnell - Newcastle, WY
Greg Massa - Hamilton City, CA
Stuart Veldhuizen - Dublin, TX
Joel Greeno - Kendall, WI
Jeremy Freymoyer - Hamburg, PA
Alan and Lori Callister - West Concord, MN
Jeanne Charter - Billings, Montana
Susan Meredith & Brenna Chase - Brunswick, Maine
Elizabeth Keen - Great Barrington, MA
Missy Bahret & Casey Steinberg - Amherst, Massachusetts
Justin Pitts - Jones County, Mississippi
Kim Buchheit & Mike Robinson - Wise Acre Farm
Ben & Alysha Godfrey - Cameron, TX
David & Serena - Mount Vernon, WA
Andres Mejides - Homestead, FL
Jamie Collins - Carmel & Carmel Valley, Ca
Kenneth Barber - Ithaca, N.Y.
Genell Pridgen - Snow Hill, N.C.
Chris Kobayashi - Hanalei, Hawaii
Matthew Kurek - Jamesport, N.Y.
Elizabeth Ryan - Staatsburg, N.Y.
Klein Family - Silver Springs, N.Y.
McKinley Hightower-Beyah - New York, NY
Adam Barr - Rhodelia, Ky.
Stan Schutte - Stewardson, Ill.
Francis & Susan Thicke - Fairfield, Iowa
Ben Burkett - Petal, Miss.
Doug Flack - Enosburg Falls, Vt.
Bob and Kathy Perol - Troy, Maine
Bob Muth - Gloucester County, N.J.
Jim Kinsel - Pennington, N.J.
Mary Seton Corboy - Philadelphia, Pa.
Miguel Martinez - San Juan Bautista, Calif.
Tony Thompson - Cottonwood, Minn.
Laura Garber - Hamilton, Mont.
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Kelli Emenes - Covington, La.
Brian Futhey - Woodward, Pa.
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Kristi & Brad Fernholz - Appleton, Minn.
Stacy Hall and Bill Dix - Athens, Ohio
Jack & Julie - Barre, Mass.
Bud Odland - Clarion, Iowa
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Rick and Lora Lea - Northeastern, Wash.
Cynthia & Joel Huesby - Walla Walla, Wash.
David Mills - Brandon, Vt.
Ed Snavely - Fredericktown, Ohio
Kim & Ann Seeley - Bradford County, Pa.
Mark Parrish - Boston, Mass.