Laura Klock and Chad Blasé, Ethan, S.D., bootstrapped an on-farm startup called Farm Life Creamery.
Using Grade A milk from Gee Aye Dairy, operated by Chad’s parents, Amy and Gary Blasé, they handcraft small batch artisan cheese and sell it in southeast South Dakota and northeast Nebraska.
Chad’s parents had long talked of starting a creamery to generate enough income to pass the dairy on to the next generation.
When Laura became part of the family, she was intrigued. She had started a couple businesses of her own.
“I listened and asked, ‘OK, what do we have to do start?’” she says.
FARM LIFE: A hand-painted Farm Life Creamery sign hangs in a wall in the creamery’s retail store.
Chad and Laura started networking. They talked to on-farm cheese makers in other states. Eventually, they connected with the South Dakota Value Added Agriculture Development Center. The development center is an organization funded by 16 producer-based ag commodity groups, trade organizations and cooperatives dedicated to the development of value-added agricultural businesses in South Dakota.
Cheri Rath, the center’s director, introduced Chad and Laura to Kris and Scott Swanson, owners of Valley Side Cheese, an artisan cheese company from Crooks, S.D. The Swansons wanted to retire from the business. Laura and Chad decided to purchase the Swansons’ business.
Buying an existing business was a good way to get started, Chad says.
They received the inventory, equipment and customer list and, for nearly a year, they operated out of Valley Side Cheese’s facility as Kris taught them how to make cheese using the equipment.
Chad and Laura sold cheese and cheese curds under the Farm Life Cheese brand beginning in Nov. 2018. They sold directly to consumers and through grocery and convenience stores and butcher shops in Mitchell, Renner, Sioux Falls and Yankton, S.D., and Norfolk, Neb. They also marketed cheese to restaurants, hospitals, schools and several food services. Each Saturday during the summer, they participated in the Falls Park Farmers Market in Sioux Falls.
CURD STOCK: Laura Klock displays packages of flavored cheese curds they sell as Chad Blasé looks on.
“It was a quick way to get our brand out to the marketplace,” Laura says.
Back on the farm outside of Ethan, Chad and Laura converted the milking parlor on an old dairy where Chad’s parents raised calves into a creamery. They built an addition onto the parlor for packaging, office and retail space
Chad and Laura made cheese in their own creamery for the first time in October 2019. They had their best week of sales in March 2020. Then the coronavirus pandemic started. Sales dropped as schools, restaurants, hospitals, cafes and coffee shops closed.
Business has picked up again with reopening, Laura says.
“It was a challenge we didn’t expect, but we are optimistic that we will recover and continue our expansion plans,” she says.
MANY FLAVORS: Farm Life Creamery sells a wide variety of flavored cheese curds including Sweet Barbeque, Sassy Sesame, Chili Lime Cilanto, Pumpkin Pie and Whiskey Apricot.
Since the family dairy produces Grade A milk, the couple hope to bottle milk and make ice cream and butter in the future. They want to offer farm tours, too.
“We have lots of plans,” Laura says.