The Midwest Organic and Sustainable Education Service (MOSES), based in Spring Valley, WI, received a Helping Farmers Thrive grant to support their mission of promoting organic and sustainable agriculture by providing the education, resources and expertise farmers need to succeed. One of the ways MOSES accomplishes these goals is with their Organic Field Days. These on-farm events give farmers the chance to see firsthand how successful organic farmers manage their operations.
With commodity milk prices depressed and the consolidation of dairy pushing small producers out of business, MOSES created one of these workshops for dairy farmers looking to get into value-added dairy ventures.
Cosmic Wheel Creamery/Turnip Rock Farm, owned and operated by Josh Bryceson and Rama Hoffpauir, is a micro-dairy that processes the milk from 20 grass-fed cows into artisanal cheese. This cheese is directly marketed via both a CSA and various area farmers markets. Aside from the advantages that come with direct marketing, many see grass-based dairy farms, like Cosmic Wheel, as a way of staying in the marketplace by managing costs. In a 2009 study, the Center for Integrated Agricultural Systems at the University of Wisconsin-Madison identified high-quality, pasture as the least expensive feed source for dairy cows, in a business where feed is the biggest share of expenses.
While their small farmstead creamery can feel a world apart from the turmoil of the dairy industry in Wisconsin, Rama said she feels the heartbreak of the consolidation that’s happening all around them and feels allied with other family farms. “The other small farms in our area are important to our survival,” she explained. “Finding hay, et cetera, doesn’t happen unless there’s other small farms. Also, it’s important to have families in our town with children in the schools, and all the other things we want in a thriving small town.”
MOSES hosted a free field day at Cosmic Wheel Creamery to show participants how this farm integrated the dairy into their existing farm business—and how much they love their decision to milk just once a day and only seasonally. Participants got a lot out of the workshop; some said things like, “I don’t think I could do it without MOSES education and support [as a] lone woman farmer;” and “We now have a framework to build our knowledge on, and resources to obtain more information. We are just starting to see all that MOSES offers.”
The field day hosts, Rama and Josh, were once enrolled in the farmer-to-farmer mentorship program at MOSES and now are mentors themselves. Field days and mentorships are just a couple resources MOSES is able to offer with the help of support from Farm Aid grant dollars.