When all four of their children expressed interest in remaining on the family dairy farm, Jeff and Mariann Metz knew some big changes would be in order to make that happen.
Not wanting to expand their 200-cow herd, the Metzes opted to add more value to their milk by building an on-farm creamery where they produce more than a dozen different flavors of cheese curds, as well as Cheddar blocks and handcrafted string cheese.
Sales grow every year, Mariann said, and in light of the poor milk prices of the past couple years, they’re glad they went that route instead of adding more cows.
“My husband always had that in the back of his mind,” she said of the creamery. “In 2014, we took the leap of faith. We did a lot of research on what was missing in southeast Minnesota, and that was fresh cheese curds.”
For their innovation in adding a cheese plant to farm operations and social media and community involvement connecting consumers with dairy farming, Metz’s Hart-Land Dairy near Rushford, Minn., has been named the Minnesota Milk Producers Association’s 2018 Producer of the Year.
The family will be honored during the Minnesota Milk Dairy Conference and Expo set Nov. 27-28 in Welch, Minn.
“It’s very nice,” Mariann said. “In the agriculture industry, it’s always nice to have something positive.”
Mariann and Jeff began their first-generation farm in 1983, milking 24 cows.
“I’m known as the city kid that went farming,” said Jeff, who grew up in Minnesota City, Minn.
They married in 1985, eventually moving to their current farm site, where they have an on-site creamery and storefront.
“With four kids, over the years, I’ve always been thinking about how I can add value to the farm and grow our operation so that our kids can be a part of it,” Jeff said.
The couple’s children — Alicia Metz, Courtney Metz-Kalbarczyk, Brittany Agrimson and Nathan Metz — all are involved with the farm and cheese plant, along with Brittany’s husband, Nick Agrimson.
“It’s kind of rare that all four of them wanted to come back to the farm in some aspect,” Mariann said. “They obviously love the farm life and have a passion for crops and animals and farm stewardship.”
Three of the younger Metzes are involved with the farm, while one works in the creamery. Brittany also works off the farm as a nurse, and Alicia, who works for ABS Global, handles reproduction, record-keeping and calf chores on the farm.
Along with making cheese, the Metzes sell honey. In 2013, a neighbor decided to sell his beekeeping business, and while someone else was interested in taking the bees, he approached the Metzes about taking over the bottling and distribution component.
“We decided we had enough (animals) with the cows,” Mariann said, adding that it’s been a nice fit with the creamery. Every two weeks, they deliver a van full of honey to stores, bakeries and restaurants.
The Metzes ship 1,000 to 1,500 pounds of cheese each week. It’s sold on the farm and in grocery stores as far away as the Twin Cities, Mankato, Minn., and Austin, Minn.
They are ramping up for the busy holiday season, compiling gift boxes and prepare for holiday parties, as well as their secnd annual Christmas on the Farm, set from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 8. More than 200 people attended last year, and the Metzes hope for a bigger crowd this year.
They will provide food samples, hot chocolate, hot cider and photo opportunities with a Christmas cow. Visitors also can take a hay ride, tour the milking parlor, roast marshmallows by the camp fire and make reindeer food out of oatmeal and edible glitter.
Mariann said the reindeer food activity provides a teachable moment as they use it to tell people how they feed their cows.
The Metz family continues to look into new products for their creamery. They recently added pizza-flavored cheese curds and are experimenting with more block cheese flavors.
“We’re not sure which way it will go,” she said. “We like to research before we just jump in because none of the equipment is cheap. We need markets first.”
The Metzes also offer yoga on the farm, called “Poses on the Pasture.” Participants practice yoga near grazing cows and enjoy wine and cheese samples.
Off the farm, the Metz family also is active in their community through their church council and the Rushford Chamber of Commerce. They also welcome tours of the farm and creamery, allowing people to see the work that goes into producing milk and making cheese.
As Producers of the Year, the family will receive a $1,000 scholarship toward educational programming, a trip to the conference where the award will be presented and a framed and matted art print.
Metz Hart-Land Dairy will be recognized during the awards banquet on the evening of Nov. 28. Also at that time, Minnesota State Senator Bill Weber, R-Luverne, will be honored as Legislator of the Year and Brant Groen, Director of Dairy Wellness for Form-A-Feed and former dairy management instructor at Ridgewater College, will receive the Bruce Cottington “Friend of Dairy” Award.
The MMPA will celebrate its 40th anniversary at this year’s conference with a focus on the future of the dairy industry. Lucas Sjostrom, executive director, encourages everyone to attend and learn from speakers while networking and having an enjoyable time.
“There’s truly something for everyone in dairy at this event,” Sjostrom said.
The annual conference provides allied businesses and dairy farmers with learning opportunities to strengthen the vitality of the dairy community, while providing networking, fun and entertainment for attendees.
The conference agenda includes opening remarks from U.S. Dairy Export Council Secretary Tom Vilsack on “Dairy Trade and the Next 5 Percent,” entertainment from the Johnny Holm Band, a farm succession training workshop by John Baker of Iowa State University Extension, numerous other speakers and the MMPA annual meeting.
Registration is $100 per person for members and $250 for non-members. Conference registration includes access to all educational speakers, meals and entrance to the expo. Online registration ends Nov. 26, but registration also will be available on-site.