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Cella Langer and Emmet Fisher of Oxheart Farm benefited from a MOSES Farmer-to-Farmer mentorship for their Grade A Dairy. Photo by Oxheart Farm.

Building a Grade A Dairy through a second MOSES mentorship

By Sarah Woutat

Cella Langer and Emmet Fisher of Oxheart Farm always knew they wanted to have a dairy as part of their farm, but also knew it would take a lot of infrastructure, and they would have to wait a few years. They both grew up in agriculture, Cella on a homestead in Massachusetts, and Emmet on a diversified vegetable farm in western Wisconsin. After interning on and managing vegetable farms around the country, in 2013 they secured a lease for land in southern Wisconsin 

Through the Land Stewardship Project’s Farm Beginnings Program, they mapped out a plan for the first few years of their farm: they started with a very small vegetable CSA (Community Supported Agriculture), pastured pork, and meat birds, and sold at the farmers market. After three years they moved to another piece of rented land, closer to Hager City, Wisconsin.  

In the winter of 2014, they began Land Stewardship Project’s two-year Journeyperson Course, and in February of 2015 were paired with their first MOSES mentors. They had met Kat Becker and Tony Schultz of Stony Acres Farm at a conference (Kat now owns and operates Cattail Organics) and requested to work with them as mentors with a focus on veggies, pastured meats, and mushrooms. “The mentorship with Kat and Tony was great – we got a lot out of it for our veggie production,” said Langer.  

Knowing that dairy was a long-term goal of Cella and Emmet’s, Kat and Tony augmented a visit to Stony Acres with a tour of a neighbor’s Grade A dairy farm, Clover Meadows Family Farm, which sells glass bottled milk and yogurt. Langer recalls, “Touring the dairy farm with Kat and Tony, and that introduction was a huge turning point for us in realizing the dairy dream. It was the first time we had seen, in Wisconsin at a very small scale, a Grade A dairy. This was what we could actually, realistically do! It was very eye-opening and exciting. So, we based our model off of that. We stayed in touch with that farmer and went back to visit once we had started construction of our creamery.”  

In Spring of 2017, Cella and Emmet bought their first two bottle calves. “It’s a long process”, said Langer. “We knew we wanted to raise our own calves. Once you buy them, raise them, then wait one and a half years to breed them, and another nine months for them to have calves, then leave the calves on, it’s another two months before you have any milk.”  

They bought their farm in Hager City, Wisconsin, in 2018. That February, they attended an Organic University course on Organic Dairy at the MOSES Organic Farming Conference taught by Francis Thicke. After that, they knew that when they were ready for a dairy mentorship, they wanted to work with Francis.  

After submitting their plan to the Department of Ag for pre-approval, Cella and Emmet had the cement floor for the facility poured on Halloween of 2019. “The plan was to work on it over the winter and start selling milk in spring 2020”, Langer shared. “COVID hit and we hadn’t bought our equipment yet, so we said, ‘Let’s put this on pause. Starting a new business right now doesn’t seem like a good idea.’”  

They put on the brakes and finished construction in winter 2020-21. They did all the work themselves, except the concrete floor, and officially got their license in April of 2021.  

In the meantime, they applied for their second mentorship with MOSES, this time with a focus on their small-scale Grade A dairy, and requested to be mentored by Francis, who operates an on-farm Grade A dairy in Iowa.  

“We specifically wanted someone with Grade A at a smaller scale, and someone who knows the regulations inside and out. Those folks are few and far between. Francis is already an educator so we though he would be a good person.” Langer added, “The mentorship has been super helpful. There are so many little, tiny details. I keep a running list of the most minute little questions, but they add up, and it gets very overwhelming. It’s hard to find it in the regulations, or a book, so being able to have a phone call once a month or so, or send an email, and run through that list of questions has just been so helpful. It’s saved us some money, some time, and Francis has been really supportive. I appreciate that.” 

The MOSES Farmer-to-Farmer mentorship “is a great program and I tell lots of people about it. It’s just really tangible. You can search the internet forever, you can read a book, and we have lots of farming people in our lives. But there’s something about having a designated person who has said ‘yes, I will let you come at me with all of your questions’. Having someone whose designated role in this program is to help is so reassuring. There’s a comfort and assurance in accumulating that list knowing that I’ll be able to ask someone, and I’ll be able to find the answer,” added Langer. 

Langer ended by saying, “We really want to be a model for small scale dairy in Wisconsin. We wanted to prove to ourselves and to the world that it’s still possible in the 21st century to have a small, on-farm dairy that’s financially viable that can be run just by a family. We’re still pretty early in the game, but it’s looking good. I’m excited to be here telling our story so that if there are other people who want to do this, we can work with them in the same way as the people who have helped us along the way.” 

You can find Oxheart Farm’s milk and yogurt at the Whole Earth Market Co-op in River Falls, Wisconsin, or pick it up at the farm. 

Are you interested in being mentored or being a mentor? Applications are now open for the 2022 Farmer-to-Farmer Mentoring program. More information and application can be found at mosesorganic.org/projects/mentor-program/ .

 

Sarah Woutat is the  MOSES Farmer Advancement Program Coordinator 

 

From the September | October 2021 Issue

 

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