No matter how you look at it, the data on farming in the U.S. are depressing. The average age of farmers is approaching 60, and most family farms have less than $50,000 annual revenues.
That’s why it’s inspiring to meet Charlotte Smith, and hear her story of Champoeg Creamery’s success—based on her commitment to produce high-quality raw milk, which she increasingly complements with grass-fed beef, pastured chicken, pork, and eggs. I met her in person for the first time (along with her husband, Marc, who is a public school teacher), at the Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund’s Food Freedom Fest in Staunton, VA, on Friday. That event, which drew about 150 people, was followed on Saturday by the FTCLDF fund-raising tour of Polyface Farm, led by owner Joel Salatin, which drew an overflow crowd of 300. There I met Margaret and Steve Cegelski, California cattle ranchers who won my crowdfunding prize earlier this year in connection with my new book, The Raw Milk Answer Book, to accompany me on the Polyface tour (see photo above).
In chatting with Charlotte Smith, I realized she is a great illustration of how working diligently and publicly for safe raw milk can be a big business booster. Charlotte pushed hard to become the first certified dairy member of the Raw Milk Institute (RAWMI) in 2012, and is also on its board. Her milk is in such demand she is now selling raw milk for $24 a gallon. She is limited in her production by Oregon’s three-cow limit on raw dairies, or she would likely be serving many more than the 100 regular customers she currently has.
Instead, she has a long waiting list for her milk; certainly it helps being within a half hour of Portland, OR.
Her experience selling raw milk and building Champoeg Creamery over the last six years has convinced her about the importance of having good business skills to supplement farming ability. So much so that she’s begun a training program for farmers, known as 3 Cow Marketing.
She’s worked with some dozens of farmers and wannabe farmers, helping them via a training program she devised, of videos, worksheets, and live group coaching calls, to learn basic skills in marketing and financial planning. It’s not just about selling raw milk. “I’ve seen lots of excellent farmers give up after a couple years,” she says. This includes farmers of all types, and it’s usually because they didn’t run the farm enough as a business, she says.
For Charlotte, the weekly or bi-weekly need families have to replenish raw milk supplies helps keep customers regularly returning to Champoeg, and increasingly buying her farm’s beef, chicken, pork, and eggs. She’ll face a dilemma shortly as to whether to continue pushing the farm’s breakneck growth, which has seen sales double each of the last six years.
While she’s publicly encouraged dairy farmers to become RAWMI members, she’s also pushed for expanded access to milk, such as a lifting of the three-cow limit on dairy owners in Oregon. Just recently, she joined the board of the Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund.