What do you do when an idea pans out? Enjoy it. Things are good at Limestone Creamery. As a pilot project for the Ontario dairy industry it has been a singular success that is now being looked at as a potential model for other locations around the province. The idea of building a small dairy processing plant located on a dairy farm, producing milk and cream and butter within sight of the cattle in fields, and selling the products at the same location and offering old-style milk delivery to the countryside and a nearby city can work.
The Groenewegen family, who live and farm on Sydenham Road north of Eginburg in South Frontenac, have made it happen. More importantly they have completed a transition from a traditional dairy farm to the kind of operation that the local food and food sustainability movement has embraced. All without changing the way they operate as a family farm.
Francis Groenewegen’s family had been dairy farmers in Holland and Canada, and own farm property near Harrowsmith. Kathie was raised on the farm where they live and work, which her parents bought in 1967. They decided to make the transition to organic dairy production and started making that transition in the late 1990s. They have now been fully organic for 15 years. They joined a number of other farmers from the surrounding area under the brand of Organic Meadow.
“One part of the change over time has been that we don’t push our milk cows to produce so much. They get some grain but are mostly grass fed. We find they are healthier and we can milk them until they are older; many of our milk cows are in their teens,” said Kathie Groenewegen in explaining how they really have not looked back from making the change.
“And the soil is better than it has ever been. This being the International Year of Soil it is important to mention that. Seeing improvement in the soil is pretty important to us, and since we are lucky enough to have our children working with us, it makes us feel we are building a future on this land, not just taking from it,”said Kathie Groenewegen when interviewed in the porch in front of the Limestone Creamery Farm store.
Daughter Olivia manages the farm store and son Patrick runs the processing equipment, while Kathie and Francis run the farm, but they all pitch in where they have to, and there are also four full-time and six parttime employees working in the business.
With support from OMAFRA (Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food, and Rural Affairs), National Farmers’ Union Local 317, and the Frontenac CFDC, Limestone Creamery started up their full service operation three years ago.
“Our business plan was based on us being able to sell half the milk we produce, and we are now selling just about all of it. We do 360 home deliveries, which is a lot, and through the store we sell products from some very good local farms. It’s been pretty exciting, and very busy,” said Kathie.
One part of the mandate of Limestone Creamery is to participate in the rebuilding of the local food system and the infrastructure that is necessary to support it. The processing plant itself enhances the local food infrastructure. At first it was also used by Organic Meadow to process the milk for the co-op, but Organic Meadow has built their own, so now there are two small local processors where there were none before. In the store, they carry cheese: Glengarry cheese (recent winner of a world cheese award), Gun Hill cheese from Western Ontario, and Bushgarden Cheese from Elgin.
Limestone Creamery has also been going to the Sunday Local market at the Memorial Centre in Kingston and has developed connections with a whole community of young farmers in the area.
“It’s really nice to see all that is going on, all these young farmers coming and working very hard to grow food. We like being a part of it.”
Limestone Creamery sells skim, 1%, 2% and whole milk, and they also carry non-homogenized milk, 3.8% chocolate milk, fresh churned salted and un-salted butter, half and half, whipping cream, and more.
Specialty products include Spring butter, and at Christmas time, Egg Nog, which everyone around loves. In the future they may start making Buttermilk, and perhaps some fresh cheese. The store also carries their own Hereford beef, Whitall baked goods, Freedom Farm and Patchwork Garden vegetables and much more.
Among those who have helped the Groenwegens along the way, the Frontenac CFDC has provided grants for the purchase of specific pieces of equipment through the Eastern Ontario Development Program (EODP), some money through loans, as well as encouragement and advice.
“They have supported us from the start,” said Kathie, “and still do today.” The next step for Limestone Creamery – and it is one they are already engaged in – is managing growth and capacity. Our goal has always been to run a family farm, and to keep it to a size that is manageable for ourselves and the land that we farm. We won’t grow beyond that.”
Article by Jeff Green, The Frontenac News
(Original article published in the Frontenac CFDC Summer 2015 newsletter)