North Central SARE From the Field Profile
Ohio Milk and Cheese Initiative Explores New Market Opportunities in Ohio
Abbe and Anderson Turner’s Lucky Penny Farm is a family-owned dairy goat farm located on a once-fallow century farmstead in Northeast Ohio’s Hiram Township. The 14-acre farm includes Nubian, La Mancha and Alpine dairy goats. They also run a creamery located in Kent, OH.
“I love working with small ruminants,” said Abbe Turner. “The size of livestock is great for small family farms and the delicious, nutritious milk they produce is a fantastic addition to the family diet.”
Lucky Penny Creamery produces about 400 to 500 pounds of cheese a week, but Abbe Turner says the facility could potentially produce nearly five times that much, including the production of sheep’s milk cheese. To determine the level of interest and opportunities for the production of sheep milk and cheeses in Ohio, the Turners helped form the Ohio Sheep Milk and Cheese Initiative (OSMCI). In 2009, the OSCMI applied for a NCRSARE Farmer Rancher grant, receiving $16,885.
“The sheep dairy industry is a market that could unfold into an exciting economic opportunity for small farm producers in Ohio,” said Turner. “Demand for specialty cheeses exists, but raw materials, fluid sheep milk, processing capabilities, quality sheep dairy genetics, and milk logistics issues in Ohio are currently limiting factors.”
Turner managed OSMCI’s NCR-SARE grant project, and together, the group conducted surveys of farmers, consumers, producers, chefs, retailers, food service workers, farmer’s market patrons, specialty food vendors, and ordinary consumers to understand the producers’ interests, the marketplace, and the demand for the products.
Of the 263 survey responders, 35 percent were farmers, 10 percent worked in the food industry, 4 percent were retailers, and 51 percent were consumers of cheese. OSCMI’s survey results revealed:
• 88.6 percent of those surveyed would pay more for a locally produced cheese.
• 96 percent said eating local cheese was somewhat or very important.
• 100 percent were somewhat likely or very likely to purchase Ohio-made cheese.
• 45 percent of farmers were somewhat or very interested in adding a sheep or sheep cheese enterprise.
In addition to the survey, the OSMCI presented a Sheep Dairy Symposium at Ohio State University’s Agricultural Technical Institute. They covered topics such as sheep genetics, the state of artisan cheese, workings of a sheep dairy and cheese maker, grazing practices, and they had a panel of cheese makers tell their stories and answer questions. More than 80 people attended.
Turner believes the survey results and feedback they received at the symposium, along with the subsequent development of new sheep dairies in Ohio, support future action and the continuation of business development for the production of sheep milk and sheep cheese.
“We are proud to say that as of this writing there are three licensed sheep dairies in Ohio that didn’t exist before the OSMCI project started,” said Turner. “Another two dairies are on the way in 2013 and now the challenge is to continue to build the market for sheep milk and cheeses across Ohio.”
Although their SARE grant project is complete, the OSMCI project will continue with support from Innovative Farmers of Ohio, and will continue to work to put Ohio on the map for sheep dairying. “The NCR-SARE Farmer Rancher grant was a good start for the Ohio Sheep Milk and Cheese Initiative because it gave us the opportunity to educate and inform the interested community as well as build an industry in Ohio that otherwise didn’t exist,” said Turner.
Want more information? See the related SARE grant(s) FNC09-780, Ohio Sheep Milk and Cheese Initiative.
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Project products are developed as part of SARE grants. They are made available with support from the Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE) program, which is funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture-National Institute of Food and Agriculture (USDA-NIFA). Any opinions, findings, conclusions or recommendations expressed within project products do not necessarily reflect the view of the SARE program or the U.S. Department of Agriculture. USDA is an equal opportunity provider and employer.