Micro-dairy producer transitions from Midwest to West

Where there’s a will for small-scale dairy producers to market nutrient-dense raw milk direct to consumers, there’s usually a way; whether that “way” lands those farmers in the heartland of Wisconsin or in God’s country in Colorado may depend on the pendulum swing of legislation of the respective states.

In a nutshell, that’s the story to date of micro-dairy farmers (10 cows or less) Daphne Kingsley and her husband, Cameron Genter (and their 7- and 12-year-old daughters), who started out producing raw milk in the rural country of Cashton, Wisconsin, for eight years before journeying to and setting up their small-scale farming practices in Fort Collins in August of last year.

But their story is a bit richer than that. Beyond being consistent producers of raw milk, their farming practices are deeply rooted in biodynamic agriculture, where soil quality, livestock management and plant growth are all viewed as interconnected.

Referring to themselves as biodynamic farmers, they look at the farm holistically instead of from an input/output standpoint, and the farm in turn generates manure and compost they use to sustain their future.

This mindset, which was practiced in Wisconsin, is working equally as well on the Colorado scene. That said, an obvious question may arise: Why leave Wisconsin?

The tricky part about the Midwest, Wisconsin in particular, involved the state’s legislative views on raw milk dairy producers. “In Wisconsin it was quite a bit different running a small-scale micro-dairy with a couple cows, selling direct to the consumer,” Kingsley says.

The legislation regarding raw milk in the state had “gray areas,” and when they started out selling raw milk to their local community, it seemed within the legal parameters of how the legislation was interpreted at the time.

cow“Over time, many small farms had built up pretty significant herd shares for selling raw milk,” she says. “Herd shares are a legal format to produce and sell raw milk, whereby a consumer buys into a herd and, because they are partial owner of the herd, they can consume the milk that it produces.

But the big question was, ‘Is it legal or illegal?’ There was a lot of consumer demand; people wanted fresh local milk. So there was a lot of support from the community.” In the Kingsley/Genter case, they built up to eight to 10 cows and worked on that scale for a while.

“Over the years though, Wisconsin changed interpretation of its laws and started to crack down on sale of raw milk,” even for small-scale producers.

So, because Kingsley and Genter still planned on running a farm, they began looking elsewhere and landed on Colorado near the north edge of Fort Collins as an option. It helped that Daphne’s husband already had family in the state. But perhaps just as important, it was legal to sell raw milk in Colorado.

Now based in Colorado, their farm operates with six cows on the premises as part of the herd share program, where one share equals 1 gallon of milk. “We only have so many shares we can sell in the herd, so it averages about 100 shares per week at our farm,” Kingsley says. Local consumers pay $25 per share of the herd, and they also pay a boarding fee. The end cost for a gallon of milk per week is about $12.

Colorado is not the only favorable state for sales of raw milk; Daphne cites Vermont, New York, Nebraska and several others as having established legislation that allows for some form of raw milk sales that favors small-scale farmers.

“In Colorado, because there is a legal format for selling milk, the Raw Milk Association of Colorado (RMAC), an independent non-governmental organization, provides a website that includes education about herd shares as well as a list of raw milk producers around the state,” Kingsley explains.

woman pouring milk

For a raw milk producer to be listed on RMAC’s site, they must be a member and follow certain testing requirements to ensure they are producing high-quality raw milk. Colorado has had legislation in place since 2005, so the practice of selling raw milk direct to consumers is largely accepted with great consumer backing.

“We found since coming to Colorado that there is a lot of support and appreciation for local farmers, so we were easily able to grow when landing here from Wisconsin,” she says, noting that the farm was easily able to get up to 100 shares within a few months’ time and hopes to expand up to 150 shares or so.

The main goal, however, is for the dairy farm to stay within the eight to 10 milk cow limit to be able to manage day-to-day operations, as their overhead includes just Daphne and Cameron and no other hired help for the farm, powered by draft horses. The horses are employed for mowing, raking hay, spreading manure and compost. “They are our primary workforce,” she says.

The greatest obstacle for Kingsley and Genter in Colorado is not legislation but affordable land access. In Wisconsin, they operated a 40-acre farm with the help of a loan from an FSA; her husband also had an off-farm job doing organic farm certification to help pay the mortgage.

“Now in Colorado, land prices are another beast,” Kingsley says of their current situation, where they sublease on a piece of property. In spring they plan to move to another location in the north Boulder area. At that time, their farm name will be changing. (They now sublease as Cresset Farm Dairy; the new name will be Light Root Community Farm.)

“We plan to maintain a direct-to-consumer relationship by cultivating community support around the farm. Herd share is one way we can do that,” Kingsley says. They also encourage people to visit the cows and see where they’re getting their milk. “We want kids to come out as well so they can tour the farm. This helps everyone to appreciate where they’re getting their food.”

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