There have been many disheartening stories of struggles the dairy production and supply chain have had over the past couple of months because of the COVID-19 pandemic. However, many value-added farms are seeing record sales and gaining more customers.
The Koehn family of Meno, Okla. started Red Ridge Creamery in early 2019, making various dairy products with milk from their cows at Kane-Lane Jerseys. Both businesses are run by Steve and Patricia Koehn, with their children, Blake, Hope, Chandler, Jackson, and Chloe.
In 1922, Steve’s grandfather bought their first Registered Jersey, Foxy Star Lady, and today 80% of their herd traces back to her. They now milk around 75 Jerseys. “With the way the dairy industry has been the past few years, farms our size, in the grand scheme of things, can’t sustain,” said Patricia. As they considered the creamery venture, she explained, “Our two oldest kids knew they wanted to stay on the farm, and we knew there was no way to make two more incomes on the dairy unless we wanted to expand or diversify. We have the land and resources to support our cows now, so we decided to diversify and open a creamery.”
At the time they were making this decision, the first Value-Added 101 workshop, hosted by National-All Jersey Inc. (NAJ), was introduced. Steve and Patricia attended the workshop in 2017. Patricia went to another training, with Hope, in Pennsylvania to learn about cheesemaking. Blake was a Fred Stout on-farm intern at Kilgus Farmstead in 2017 and learned more about family dynamics while running a family farmstead.
The family spent countless hours sourcing different pieces from around the country to put together the creamery, and then many more hours consulting with experts on how to piece the parts together.
“It was difficult to weed through all the options and figure out what we needed to have versus what would be nice to have in the creamery,” Patricia said. After calling a lot of different people and finding a wonderful cheese consultant, they began processing dairy products in early 2019.
Red Ridge Creamery started off with cheddar curds, a rare find in Oklahoma, and whole milk. They now make creamline milk, heavy cream, block mozzarella, block Colby, block cheddar, butter, and ice cream. Along with their dairy products, they sell Jersey beef and pork. Most of their products are sold through their store in Lahoma, delivery and the Conscious Community Coop in Edmond, OK. Smaller accounts are found further west in stores and coffeeshops near Tulsa and Oklahoma City.
“In the beginning of working with one coffeeshop to use our cream, we stopped at a BBQ place around the corner. I was wearing a shirt with our logo, and a guy came up and said, ‘I know you guys, that’s Red Ridge Creamery,’” said Patricia. “He said that he noticed the change in his coffee right away when the store switched to using our cream. We know our Jerseys make cream that tastes better, and it was reassuring to see customers noticing the difference too,” she said.
The Koehn’s have been long-time members of the Association of Oklahoma Jersey Cattle Breeders, and were excited to partner with the youth members to sell cheese boxes as a fundraiser around the holidays. “We were proud that the association finally had an in-state herd that could do the fundraiser from start to finish,” said Patricia.
As COVID-19 has affected our country, the Koehn’s have seen a large shift in the business. “In the first two weeks of the pandemic, people were buying our milk left and right. The following two weeks, more people were staying home, but we were selling the same amount of product to less customers,” explained Patricia. “We have doubled our milk sales, we can’t keep cream on the shelf, and our beef and pork has been selling out.” One of their coffeeshop customers even started buying more milk to sell with their carryout and delivery orders.
“We had experts tell us we couldn’t do what we wanted to do, but we’re special in Oklahoma,” said Patricia. Processing your own milk can be found in many areas of the northeast and Wisconsin, not so much in Oklahoma. “Our Jersey milk garners a premium product, and people taste the difference.”
Story provided by AJCA-NAJ Area Representative Sydney Endres. Photo credit to Red Ridge Creamery and Candace Krebs of FarmTalk.