4/14/2014 10:29:00 AM Redhead Creamery aims to be
'a curd above' Sjostrom leads breakout session at Women's Ag Leadership Conference
Alise Sjostrom, president and co-owner of Redhead Creamery, LLC, shares the basics of starting a new business during the 16th Annual Women’s Agricultural Leadership Conference on April 2 in Chaska, Minn. PHOTO BY RUTH KLOSSNER
by Ruth Klossner
CHASKA, Minn. - Alise Sjostrom and her husband, Lucas, have deep roots in the dairy industry and want to make it their life's work, but not necessarily in the dairy barn. "My dream has been to make cheese for at least 10 years, but I didn't want to milk twice a day," Alise told those attending her breakout session at the 16th Annual Women's Agricultural Leadership Conference in Chaska on April 2. "I visited farmstead creameries and gained experience at three different cheese companies throughout the country. I'm excited to bring it back to our home farm." The Sjostroms and Alise's parents, Jerry and Linda Jennissen, have started Redhead Creamery LLC, a farmstead cheese company set to begin production later this spring. Construction of the family's cheese house continues on the Jennissen farm in rural Brooten. In her presentation, Sjostrom talked about the process of starting a new business, developing relationships, and managing uncertainty. It takes more than a dream to create a successful business and Sjostrom has spent much of the last decade preparing herself for the start of Redhead Creamery. It all started with a tour of Crave Brothers Farmstead Cheese during a trip to National 4-H Dairy Conference. After earning a degree in Agricultural Industries and Marketing from the U of M and getting married, Alise and Lucas moved to Vermont. There Alise worked for Grafton Village Cheese and Champlain Valley Creamery. She also attended a two-week training session at Vermont Institute of Artisan Cheese. When Lucas's work took the couple to Wisconsin, Alise worked for Crave Brothers. In preparation for the opening of their own business, Alise experimented with several varieties of cheese at the University of Minnesota. To help get the business going, the Sjostroms launched a Kickstarter campaign. While the campaign raised $41,495, that amount is only about 10 percent of the operation's start-up costs. Alise noted that the press and exposure the campaign created was even more valuable. "Publicity was the biggest thing Kickstarter did for us," she said. "We had stories in the Pioneer Press and everywhere. We spent a lot of time on the phone." Sjostrom told the audience that developing good relationships with everyone involved in the project-from family members to government officials-is very important. "Make sure you're friendly with your dairy inspector," she said. "We discussed our plan with the inspector before we even broke ground. We don't want to do anything wrong." As for the family-which includes Alise's three red-headed sisters-Alise said, "Not all are involved but we keep them clued in. We have our own Thursday night dinner meetings." Relationships with social media are also important as they keep people up to date. "Keep sending positive messages out there," she said. "The big thing we've found is to be real, be current, and be funny." Developing relationships with big wigs is also important. "We rub shoulders with the artisans of the industry. We attended national meetings and found that food co-ops are asking for our product. People are asking for it." While dealing with uncertainties can be difficult, Sjostrom said, "We planned to spend five years in Vermont, then we planned to spend five years in Wisconsin. We only spent a year-and-a-half in each. Our whole life is uncertainty. Now the question is, 'When will you be up and running?' I like control-I like to know what's happening, but we have to deal with uncertainty." Although the start-up date isn't certain, it's getting nearer as Sjostrom showed in photos taken the day before the conference. The cheese building is located on a hill-only 50 feet from the dairy barn. Milk will gravity flow to the milk room in the cheese processing plant. Noting that many cheese plants are dark, Alise designed the building with plenty of natural light and a view of the farm pond. The upstairs will be open to the public, with viewing windows to allow visitors to watch the cheesemaking on the lower level. Two aging rooms (caves) will be downstairs. "Food safety is huge," Alise said. The upstairs also has a kitchen and tasting room where the Sjostroms plan to host small events and gatherings. "We hope to be really good in making a few cheeses, but not too many," Alise said. "We also plan to make cheese curds for the local market and for people who stop by." Recycled heat will be used to heat much of the water used in the plant and leftover whey from the cheesemaking process will help power the farm. The Sjostroms' vision is to educate people, have fun, and help the family farm grow, though not in cow numbers. Jer-Lindy Farms now milks about 200 cows and plans to stay at that number. About 10 percent of the milk will go toward cheese making, with the remainder sold to Bongards. "Why are we doing this? It's because we want to raise our family on a farm. Our daughter Lucy is just 18 months, but we realize how much this has already influenced her life." While it will still be several months before Redhead Creamery is up and running, the Sjostroms are excitedly looking forward to bringing people to the farm, to show them that Minnesota dairy farmers are good people. "It's an exciting thing, even when we're stressed out," Alise said.