This month we celebrated two years of being a Grade A Licensed Goat Dairy.
It's an easy milestone to keep track of because Banzai, our son, also turned two this month.
I'll never forget standing in our cheese make room with our inspector, 5 days after giving birth, going through all the final inspections, trying not to pass out from pain. That same day I developed a case of mastitis and desperately needed to just lie down and heal.
What kind of idiots start a goat dairy the same week they gave birth to a child, while also raising a 2.5 year old?
The same idiots who have known each other just shy of three years this same month. I mean, imagine dating a super cute guy and then 3 months later crossing all the boundaries when you ask him to please please please just put the anti-nausea medication up your butt while you're sleeping.
What's that saying? We make plans and God laughs?
Sounds about right.
Don't get me wrong.
Because at least there's laughing.
And I can honestly say, ever since I met Matthew and we started this ridiculously insane journey together, there has always been laughing.
So much love I sometimes think my heart will burst.
What there hasn't been is an abundance of money.
Because every single penny we make we have thrown into our business.
Matthew showed me an article the other day: "Start-up and operating costs for artisan cheese companies". I didn't even read it. I already knew the answer. We've lived the answer. We're living the answer.
It's expensive on your time, it's expensive on your resources, and it's expensive on your pocketbook.
But this year, knock on wood, it kind of feels like we're getting our wits about us.
Our goat herd is stable and closed, meaning we're not adding any more girls except for ones we breed. This is huge in the harmony of things, because every time you add a new animal it creates unrest and stress in the herd.
We've got an order and rhythm down with our cheese makes. We've decided to focus on making just three cheeses: Chevre (Thai Garlic and Plain), Halloumi, and a Raw Milk Aged Cheese that we have yet to name. In the past we were all over the place with what cheese we were making. In a sense, we were chasing the money. Whatever we thought we could sell we would make. But, in reality, we never sold out. And we threw a lot of cheese away. Which basically is like setting money on fire.
We've changed our business model and are becoming more wholesale based than Farmer's Market based. This was sad for us, because we love Farmer's Markets. We love what they represent and we love what they bring to communities. At our peak we were working 5 Farmer's Markets a week. It's too much. Obviously we aren't capable of working all those ourselves so we had to pay labor to do it. And on top of that, there's no given you'll make any money at a market. You're always at a whim of the weather, other events that may be going on, or people's shopping habits (it's hard for a lot of people to buy cheese if they're not going straight home). This year we have committed to just two markets. Puyallup Farmer's Market and Tumwater Farmer's Market. The rest of our cheese we are selling wholesale through our local co-ops, PCC Community Markets (we're in all of them), and chefs. And we've decided after the first trial CSA to continue our CSA another three months (you can sign up to start in July!). The biggest change in our model is one of predictability. At this point, our cheese is sold before we even make it. We're no longer guessing about what people will want to buy. We're making cheese to order. LIFE CHANGING.
Before you start singing Shania Twain's "Looks like we made it" in your head though, we need to be honest.
We're still hustling our butts off. We still eat, sleep, and breathe this dairy. Our children actively participate in conversations around demoing, making cheese and caring for animals because it's so much of what we talk about. (If you want to see a really proud Mama moment go over to facebook and watch this video of Gizmo milking the goats!) They come with us on delivery days and walk into each place, ring the bell for service, and hand the person in charge the invoice. When we say this is a family business it doesn't get more family than this. We may have cut back on Farmer's Markets but we've started demoing weekly in PCC stores to help drive the demand of our halloumi up (and educate people on what this amazing piece of cheese tastes like after we grill it). We are actively searching for more wholesale accounts, more chefs and more CSA members. The bottom line is, we have to grow.
I read an article the other week about a farm to table chef. In it the reporter asked, "What are you most proud of." He answered, "I'm proud that we're profitable."
It seems like a silly thing right? Not very noble on the surface at least.
But it's that same profitability that allows him to buy from farmers at the price they ask, to pay his staff a living wage, and to keep his business open. Not to mention take care of his own family.
There is no shame in wanting to be profitable. It doesn't make the work we're doing less pure. It certainly doesn't detract from the beauty of taking the relationship we have with these animals and turning it into healthy and wholesome food for our community.
In fact, I would argue, it ensures that this farm continues to exist.
And so, even though we're still babies in this industry, we're optimistic and excited for what this year holds for us.
Maybe, just maybe, we'll see profitability.
And if this isn't the year we see profitability maybe it could be the year Banzai starts sleeping through the night. I mean, I don't want to get greedy here, but a girl can dream right?