Collaboration is the heart of Charlotte’s opportunity for a local dairy
Posted on 14 Jun 2009 by Justin Ritchie
video: Justin Ritchie; view this video on Vimeo
Charlotte and the greater Mecklenburg County metro region has yet to gain a devoted local milk, cheese and yogurt source. North Carolina has only one commercial cheese processing plant (in Jefferson, NC) and 11 milk processing plants (8 large commercial and 3 producer processors). A recent report assembled by the NC Dairy Industry Stabilization and Growth Program referenced the fact that Pennsylvania experiences $14,000/year of economic benefit from each dairy cow. And as local economies look to diversify, dairies are an excellent investment in the community’s economy and health, essential to the well-being of the citizens of the area.
The advantages of focusing on small-scale local agriculture was exemplified by economist E.F. Shumacher’s essays on how economics would work as if people mattered, Small is Beautiful,
The most striking thing about modern industry is that it requires so much and accomplishes so little. Modern industry seems to be inefficient to a degree that surpasses one’s ordinary powers of imagination. Its inefficiency therefore remains unnoticed.
As the local farm infrastructure begins to grow, a crucial piece will be the stages between the farmer and consumer. The butchers, the dairies and the markets that withered and died due to the past decades of regulation and corporate expansion will be the key to overcoming that massive corporate inefficiency. Charlotte’s local food infrastructure is on the verge of a major step with the addition of a dairy out in western Rowan County thanks to local farm owners Chuck Moore and Rick Parker.
Chuck Moore is the owner of Honey Mountain Farms and hosts the site of the future dairy on the land he bought in 2003 from the owner of Lazy 5 Ranch. This piece of land has a tremendous history: the farmhouse on the site was built in 1898 and when Chuck was digging up the foundation a few years back he found a cannonball!
Photos by James Willamor view the original on Flickr
Keeping livestock is no new challenge to Chuck who grew up on a farm in Troutman, NC while developing a background in show horses.
When the Moore family started Honey Mountain Farm, they milked 30 goats by hand every day just to see if they could handle it. Milking a goat can take 1–2 minutes and a good goat will give you 1 gallon a day. After getting the small scale under control, they were ready to pursue automation for larger numbers of goats. They were ready to start a larger operation. A moderate supply of goat’s milk for the region will be a new commodity and is a great option for those that are lactose intolerant but want to enjoy milk.
When Chuck got his dairy plans kick started, he went to Maryland with Rick Parker of the nearby Mary L Farms to look at equipment, during the trip Rick and Chuck hit it off. From that point on, they and decided to pool their resources to build the dairy. Everything that has happened so far has been because of the collaborative mindset that Chuck and Rick share. One example: Goat milk isn’t great for butter because it is so low in fat, so the dairy will use Rick’s cow milk to produce a steady stream of butter.
The dairy will include a storefront and will employ about 16 people. Five hundred gallon trucks will transport milk to and from local markets. Yogurt will be produced 300 gallons at a time in a yogurt machine procured from Israel. The milk will be sterilized in vat pasteurizers, the old style of pasteurizing. This old-style method will heat milk for a longer period of time at a lower temperature to ensure that beneficial enzymes aren’t damaged by the hot and fast methods used by all mass produced milk while still removing potentially harmful microorganisms. When milk flows into the vat pasteurizer, it will be heated to 140 degrees Fahrenheit for thirty minutes and will be pumped into a 600 gallon storage tank. After pasteurization the milk will be stored in a cold cellar from Cottonwood Brewery in Mooresville, brewers of Carolina Blonde. They can bottle 600 gallons/day with quick plans to ramp up to 1200 gallons/day. Water will be supplied from a fully operational windmill, which can pump 1500 gallons. This water will be pumped using very little electricity as gravity will do most of the work. The definition of implementing smart solutions for a low-impact production style.
Even though the dairy is on Chuck’s land, it won’t just be bottling for his goats. He’ll also be bottling for Rick Parker of Mary-L farms who plans to sell milk under the Two Buckets label.
Mary L Farms owned by Rick is now in its 5th generation of ownership. With over 170 acres, the farm milks over 152 cows every day.
Initially all the milk will sell at places like Earth Fare and Poppy’s in Brevard.
Everything was on track until the financial slowdown occurred, driving previously secured loans away. So the project remains stalled for now. Once loans, grants or other funding can be secured, they’ll be operating in 45–90 days. What do they need? About 300k more to finish construction and to begin operating. When I was out at the location, I couldn’t stop thinking about how important it would be for venture capitalists and other investors to look for slower, lower margin opportunities like agriculture. The investment in local agriculture isn’t as sexy as a tech company or web startup but is sustainable and based on real wealth. Bubble mentalities aren’t going to destroy money returned on local dairies and farms.
For a more in depth look at why local food and farms are the most profitable investment for communities and individuals you can check out , Inquiries into the Nature of Slow Money by career venture capitalist or 35+ years Woody Tasch.
If you want the 30 minute summary of Mr. Tasch’s ideas, you can find the interview on Seattle’s KEXP 90.3 Sustainability Segment.
With a little help Charlotte will have a great source of local milk just down the road.