LARCHWOOD, Iowa - From dairy production to processing, it's all done local and farm fresh at Stensland Family Farms near Larchwood, Iowa.
The family-owned operation was established in 1915, and the idea to become vertically integrated with an on-farm processing plant and retail facility started as a way to add value to their product by selling directly to the consumer.
Less than two years later, they process a full line of products, including butter, aged block hard cheeses, cheese curds, various types of fluid milk and around 45 different flavors of ice cream.
The operation includes nine family members, and one of the principal owners is Doug Stensland. He believes their attention to detail is at the heart of their success.
Stensland says their products may have a higher price point, but it's because they focus on quality, not quantity.
"Our emphasis is always on the highest quality no matter what we do," Stensland says.
The focus on quality actually starts with the way the milk is produced. The Stenslands currently milk around 175 cows and have a robotic milking system with three machines. That in itself is unique, but Stensland says they also raise 1,500 acres of organic crops that are fed to their herd. They feed flax meal as well, which provides omega-3 fatty acids in the milk. Plus, the cows are bred to produce the A2 beta-casein protein, which is easier to digest for those that have lactose intolerance or milk sensitivity.
Currently, the Stenslands are using 30 percent of the 17,000 pounds of their daily milk production for their creamery and their branded products. However, they hope to increase that substantially in the next few months.
"Within the end of the year I think our goal would be to be in the 60-percent area," Stensland says.
The on-farm creamery is unique because they use various processing techniques larger plants do not or cannot because of their size. One is vat pasteurization, which is more labor intensive, but Stensland thinks it improves the taste of their fluid milk products because the milk is kept closer to its natural state.
"With vat pasteurization we're using the low-heat process, where the temperature is raised to 142 degrees for 30 minutes rather than the high temp. I think that makes the difference in the taste of the milk and our customers tell us that, as well," he says.
Stensland says they process a number of different types of fluid milk.
"We do a fat-free, a 1 percent, a 2 percent, a whole, a non-homogenized whole, and then we also branched out into a chocolate milk, strawberry milk, a latte," he says.
That taste transfers to their butters and cheeses, but it's ice cream that has quickly made them a household name in the tri-state area.
"Ice cream, that's our big thing," Stensland says. "We do a number of different flavors of ice cream. I think with the retail location in Sioux Falls, there's probably 26 different flavors of ice cream."
They've also expanded into 50 other outlets, such as daycares, coffee shops and grocery stores.
"We have quite a few HyVees here in Sioux Falls, the Sunshines in the surrounding area, the Fairways," he says.
With more consumers interested in buying local and knowing where their food comes from, they have also expanded into agritourism and offer farm tours.
"It's really neat because a lot of times you can bring the people out, and they can come to our farm, they can actually see from the beginning to the end," Stensland says.
While the Stenslands have had success with their products, they aren't raking in the profits yet.
"That cash flow thing would really be nice to get to the point where we can at least cash flow, let alone even make any money," he laughs. "And it's coming, it just takes time."
However, he says they are encouraged by their growth and excited about the future.
For more information on Stensland Family Farms, visit their website at " target="_blank">www.stenslandfamilyfarms.com.