Finger Lakes Farmstead Cheese Company LLC
I grew up with my brothers, parents and grandparents on a 450-acre crop and dairy farm started by my grandfather in 1919. I fondly remember my childhood as a farm kid, and was drawn back to farm life after about 15 years of other adventures — four getting a BS in Rural Sociology at Cornell University, a year spent interning on a farm in Switzerland, and a decade spent working in Maine as a plant science research assistant, a teacher and finally a newspaper reporter. I know many people experience the yearning I did– a desire to connect with animals, to roam fields and woodlands, to see how food is produced — and in additional to running a top-notch cheese production facility, I can provide visitors with these experiences. I firmly believe that a small-scale cheese production facility can thrive and support a small, pasture-based dairy, providing a livelihood for us as a family, and creating a bridge for the increasingly urban consumer to connect with a farm while maintaining open space in a environmentally responsible manner. My grandfather was a sharecropper; at age 14 his parents left him in charge of the farm while they returned to Pennsylvania to attend to a family issue. From him and from many others in the family, we learned to work hard, to be extremely resourceful, to be mindful of the winds of change, to value family and community. I totally love being an agricultural entrepreneur. I believe food production is going to be an increasingly important factor for addressing the needs and challenges our world faces, on both an local and international scale, and I’m excited for all the potential that even a tiny business like mine can hold as a partner in addressing these larger issues.
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Finger Lakes Farmstead Cheese Co (FLFCC) is an artisan, raw milk cheese producer located in the Finger Lakes region of New York State. I started this business in 2006 with an experienced Dutch cheesemaker to provide a sustainable market for my family’s small dairy farm. FLFCC caters to a broad range of people who are interested in quality, locally-made food, and artisan cheese production has been a nice complement for the area’s thriving wine, hard cider, and spirits industry.
As one of the first artisan cheese producers in this area, I was overwhelmed by the moral and economic support coming from farmers-markets, restaurant chefs, and vineyards who were thrilled to have some great tasting local cheese. Although there is strong support for my cheese, I have run into some challenges. My Dutch business partner lost his work visa just six months into our launch, but due to his good organization and to some timely help from a cheesemaker from Ontario, I was able to step into the cheesemaking role and keep the business going.
More recently I have faced challenges related to FDA regulations. The Food Safety Modernization Act of 2012 led to sweeping changes in policy for all food businesses. As a producer and consumer myself I believe regulatory oversight helps assure product quality, but unfortunately, regulations are generally geared toward large-scale processors, and can easily overwhelm the resources of small businesses like mine.
What is the purpose of this loan?
I have budgeted: $2200 for environmental samples (to be sent to a lab) which is required by the FDA, $2560 for 4 batches of cheese to be made at a neighboring facility until mine is reopened, $500 for some minor maintenance work, and $2240 to pay necessary expenses during the 60-day aging period for the cheese inventory. (Four batches of cheese should be worth about $5400 in sales.) $1400 is also included to cover two important classes offered at Cornell, one to qualify me for FDA food safety criteria and one for advanced specialty cheesemaking.
Right now I am in the red: I have had to pay the plant mortgage, insurance and utilities out of the household budget, and had to destroy about $100,000 worth of cheese. My credit score lost 250 points due to not being able to keep up with all the bills. But the artisan cheese market is strong and I expect to be able to net about $700 per batch (after expenses), which should permit me to both pay off other obligations as well as have something to reinvest in the business. This situation has been a nightmare for me and my family, as the plant is on farm property but the FDA action froze its value as an asset, and I am prevented from selling, using or renting the facility until the issue is resolved. A true Catch-22 situation. I have been keeping abreast of necessary professional qualifications and the plant is in good shape.
Years in operation: More than 5 years