Help Save Swede Farm Dairy!
$39,085 of $35,000 goal
In 2012, Swede Farm sought to expand its influence by partnering with another local dairy. Swede Farm would purchase milk from this larger dairy, allowing us to provide product to those who needed it but whose access was limited. In April 2014, we were informed that the other dairy would not be milking their goats past November. Goats, being mammals, make milk to feed their babies. In order to make milk, they must be bred, go through their five month pregnancy and then deliver their babies. When we were told that the other local dairy woud cease milking their goats in November, we made the decision to stop milking all but a small percentage of our herd to allow for them to become bred earlier in the year than normal. The plan was that when our source of supplemental milk was no longer available in November, Swede Farm would be ready to continue independently of the larger dairy.
All appeared to be progressing according to plan. Swede Farm goats had been "dried off" when the other local dairy was unexpectedly shut down in May, 2014, causing a complete and unanticipated cessation of the milk supplied to Swede Farm. This left Swede Farm without adequate milk with which to make cheese, yogurt, etc. Essentially we found ourselves with the challenging equation; no milk=no product=no income from April through November.
Facing a total loss of income is causing us to reassess the direction of the farm and our family. We have been able to hold on from May into August, but we have fallen further and further behind until we have reached the end of our ability to compensate for not having enough product to sell. We need to find a way to make it from now until December, when the goats will have their babies and once more provide milk! Selling our livestock would allow us to cut expenses and pay bills in the short-term, but selling our “seed corn” in such a fashion would essentially call for a decision to leave dairy farming. Ours would not be the first family forced to make such a devastating decision, but we would prefer to avoid it at all costs and we believe that there are others whose lives have benefitted from our farm who would likewise prefer to save Swede Farm.
Hanging on to the farm for the past three months with income barely at one fifth of what our family normally needs has drained every resource, removed every cushion that we may have had and we are now facing the time of year when we have to make decisions critical to continuing on the path to which we feel we have been called. If we desire to hold on to the dairy until December when our goats will once again be in full milk, we need to renew our dairy licenses by the end of August. We have tried to locate other milk suppliers, but have been unable to find any close enough that has the volume of milk available that we would need. We have the opportunity to purchase six goats currently in milk. Although this is not nearly enough to support our family, it would allow us enough product to meet the needs of customers who depend on our product for health reasons as well as allowing us to maintain a vital presence at two of our farmers markets so that we may hold on to our customer base until we have enough product to actually support our family again in December. In addition to these very specific needs, there is the reality that we have been operating on a shoestring while we hoped and prayed that the other dairy would be able to begin selling to us once more. In this time we have fallen behind on bills, the vehicles that we need to get to market are in desperate need of repair, those goats just won't stop eating and it takes money to be able to support a family! We did all this via our farm, the farm isn't able to currently produce! Our adult children who normally work on the farm with us have taken jobs off the farm. We have cashed in all of our retirements savings and we have explored many other ideas to bridge the gap between now and when the dairy will be producing at full capacity once more. These measures have helped, but do not even come close to being enough and we face making the decision to not renew our licenses and selling off our animals in order to provide for our children.
In the end, we are left with a total need of $35,000 to allow us to survive until December when we will be able to stand on our own two feet (or more accurately, 28 feet counting each of our twelve children!) once more. This includes state licenses, six new goats and supporting our family until the end of 2014.
The amount that each person is able to give is not important --saving one more family farm is important. Because of this, we would like to send a handwritten thank you note to every single person who makes a donation. While a donation of any size is appreciated, we do have some very specific needs that absolutely must be met in order to give us even a hope of remaining in farming--some of these by the end of August! To us this seems insurmountable; we simply do not know how to proceed in such an endeavor. We know how to milk goats, make cheese and share the story of the farm--not fundraise! We are earnestly asking those who have been touched by our family and farm to work with us in getting word of our situation out to those who may be able and willing to share our burden between now and December.
This was a particularly timely message for Tim and I. After all of the struggles of the last year, we have finally reached a point where we had made up lost ground and were finally hitting our stride. We had begun slowly, only bringing cheese to markets and we were on the cusp of fully bringing back our full product line such as yogurt and chocolate milk, the oldies but goodies. Even our dairy inspector seemed to catch our optimism when he inspected us on Tuesday, saying “I wasn’t sure that you would be able to make it, but you fought your way back!” As he left he let us know that he would be returning the next day to do an equipment test on our pasteurizer, as it needs to be done quarterly and they did not have the time to do it on Tuesday.
I was at school on Wednesday when the dairy inspector called me. I was surprised, as I did not really anticipate any issues with the pasteurizer or thermometers as we use them several times weekly and had seen nothing untoward. Imagine my surprise when he informed me that he had not done the equipment test, instead he was suspending all of our permits. Why? Because he felt that we needed to replace a lid on one of the septic tanks at the house and work on the kitchen grease trap. For the house. Mind you, the house system and the dairy are IN NO WAY connected. Mind you, other than the typical “hey, let’s get some new screen on the screened in porch, let’s try some bleach on that stain” type corrections, the inspector said the dairy looked great. Mind you, the dairy inspector commented that the results of our milk samples have always been great.
And yet here we sit, no permits, no ability to move forward, no way to make money until we sink potentially tens of thousands of dollars into a situation that is NOT new, is as it has been for YEARS, and that has NO discernable impact on our ability to produce a good and safe product.
The situation just leaves me shaking my head. All this work. All the struggles and trials. All of the faithful and dedicated efforts of our supporters. The twenty-three year old daughter whose life revolves around ensuring that the herd stays healthy. The nineteen year old who feels that she has found her calling in cheesemaking. The seventeen year old who fiercely defends “her” markets and outsells even her dad. The fifteen year old who gladly milks whenever needed to allow his older sisters a break. We started this farm to be able to work with our family and to have an avenue for our children to learn how to run a business. We wanted to be able to provide healthy safe food for people (remember those ‘always great samples?). Instead it seems what we are teaching our children is that no matter how hard you work, there will always be something that the state can find to shut you down, should they so choose, that there is no way to keep from being essentially ‘coded’ to death and that in the end a small family farm has only a miniscule chance of succeeding against the mountain of code that was put in place for large corporations. We hear this over and over. Recently a meat and egg farmer we know told us “one more fight and we are done. We quit. We are just too tired.” Their last fight was a $500 fine for having their license in a filing cabinet instead of on the wall. We also get to teach our children courage to stand up for what is right when it is ‘suggested’ that interactions with the state not be shared and that we should not take pictures of our farm or dairy nor let customers visit the farm. We call it transparency. I am not sure what the state calls it.
Who really loses here? Consumers. Families who want to hold on to the family farm. A society that had its roots in agrarian values. Young people who want to work with their hands in the dirt or with livestock but who learn all too quickly that the fight is not with the weather or the birthing process of the animal, but the multitude of code and inspectors with which they must comply. It is sad to think of all of the small dairies that we know in Texas who have been ground down by these kinds of issues and finally lost the will to fight. It is even sadder to think of all the small dairies that will not even start because small farmers see nothing but discouragement due to government intervention. Maybe even the inspectors lose out by becoming simply a cog in the government juggernaut.
So. Who is enlightened, here? What are we to learn from this experience?
I guess patience. I guess trust that what we have invested will not come back void. I guess more long suffering. I guess tolerance for an inspector who is ‘just doing his job’ even when it seems a 360 degree turn from the day (and months and years) prior. Most of all, faith, and thankfulness, that we have each other. Thankfulness also that we have our extended family (that is YOU if you are reading this) to shake your heads and learn along with us.
I guess we are all enlightened by this experience.
We have a few details to wrap up, and this page has become our message board, so it makes sense to continue posting these updates here, even when our original goal was met some time ago.
First, some market updates. We posted a few weeks ago that we were returning to markets in Austin. It was incredibly fulfilling to be able to see our market customers and supporters after almost half a year. We hadn't been forgotten! People still remembered us! It was truly like coming home. We will continue to be at the markets in Austin and look forward to continuing to seeing "our people" each week.
Houston. We had actually anticipated being back in our Houston market before returning to Austin, but this was out of our control. When lack of milk forced us to finally leave markets in December, we were told by the management at our Houston market that once we were able to return, that we would be able to submit the updated paperwork and we would be able to return as the longstanding vendors that we had been. They assured us that they valued our years as vendors and would support us if we were able to survive our challenges and return to market. When we were ready to return we sent the updated paperwork, and were disappointed and disconcerted when we received no response at all regarding our emails. We know that some market managers are very busy people, so we waited patiently. It was very edifying that management in Austin had been keeping up with us via the gofundme and contacted US about returning before we had a chance to contact THEM about returning! Yet, still we waited for word from Houston. One week went by, we sent the email again. Another week went by, we sent yet another email. Finally, we received word that contrary to their assurances that if we survived the challenges, we would be welcome back at market, they now had a change of heart and had decided that they could not provide space for us at the Urban Harvest Farmers Market on Eastside.
So. There you have it. Swede Farm will not be returning to Eastside.
We are determined, however, to not allow the organization to rob us of the joy of returning to market in our own hometown, so we have been exploring other options. We have decided that we will be vending at the Westchase District Farmers Market. This market is held every Thursday, rain or shine, from 3-7pm. It is held at St. Cyril of Alexandria Catholic Church at 10503 Westheimer, one block west of Beltway 8. We are hopeful that this will be a convenient time and location for our Eastside customers to incorporate into their schedule and we promise that you will like this market--it has a lot of heart and community support.
Now, time for some “housekeeping”.
We asked in an earlier update how people wanted to be kept up-to-date as the campaign draws to a close now that we have returned to market. The decision has been made that we will accomplish this in two distinct ways. Those who want to keep up with the day-to-day news of a small family farm will be able to do so via our Facebook page (Swede Farm Dairy). Those who want to keep up with our more philosophical ramblings (as the gofundme updates often became!) can do so via our blog at http://dairyberries.blogspot.com. Currently we are discussing the status of farmers markets in the United States and what steps might be necessary for them to survive. We would love to have as many of the family that we have gained through this campaign to follow us at these two places.
Lastly, we are continuing to send out “thank you” notes. It has been a distinct pleasure to write notes by hand to so many who took us to their hearts. We also have t-shirts, note cards and the like that we have and continue to ship to supporters. To say that we have been overwhelmed by the response that we received on this would be an understatement. To say that we have been overwhelmed by trying to hold family and farm together during a very dark time would likewise be an understatement. That being said, we are not giving up, “thank you” notes are still going out, no one is forgotten, we are just...well, it is proving harder than we thought it would be. Please be patient with us.
Again--thank you. Thank you, thank you, thank you. Thank you for supporting us financially. Thank you for supporting us emotionally. Thank you for lifting us up in your prayers. Thank you for making a family out of people from many different areas and backgrounds. Thank you for changing us forever. Every one of you are precious to us.
~Tim & LeeAnne and the Carlson Clan…
Katarina, Christin, Grace, Sara, Linnea, Emma, Timothy, Liberty, Noah, Judah, Seth and, of course, Dixie!
Our inspector was out earlier this week and verified that the new thermometer is everything that it needs to be. This means that...hold on to your hats...
Swede Farm Dairy will be at market this weekend!
Now...before everyone gets all excited, the truth is that the long wait is over for us, and over for *some* of our customers/supporters/family, but not all of them. The reality is that we have good news and, yeah, you guessed it, bad news.
The good news? We will be in Austin tomorrow! We will be at both Saturday Sustainable Food Center markets, downtown and Sunset Valley. Yay! We are SO excited to see our Austin people that almost the entire family will be making the trek!
The bad news? Our people in Houston will have to wait for a little while longer. We are still waiting to hear back from our Houston market, really the first market we sold at, will have us back. So, until Urban Harvest decides when we can return, you will have to wait a bit longer. (Or contact us at email@example.com about other ways to get product.)
But the bottom line is that...we survived! Thanks to our farm family out there represented by the donations and 'shares' on this page, we survived!
And please. Really, please, please, PLEASE. Come out and see us tomorrow. I can't promise that we will have abundant volume of product, and I certainly can't promise that I won't cry when we see everyone, but please. Come to market and see us.
So, I was trying to keep myself busy in order to ignore, as much as possible, the fact that despite our best efforts and heartfelt desires, we were at home today and not at market. As you can probably imagine, there is never a shortage of things with which to occupy myself. After all, I have a household of 14 and I am in school full time! And if that isn't enough, we also have a working farm!
Let me repeat that, slowly. We. Have. A. Working. Farm.
Forty weeks ago, we did not know if we would have a working farm for long. We faced having to sell our animals (possibly at fire sale prices) and our equipment, in short, we were going to have to get out of farming.
We simply did not know any other way of continuing.
That was before. Now, we rest in the amazed realization that we have a family that stretches far beyond the ten acres of our little farm!
As part of 'keeping busy', I decided to gather some statistics regarding the months during which our farm hung in the balance.
Number of weeks since we realized that we were in serious trouble and began this fundraiser.........40
Number of weeks that we were unable to be at market and this fundraiser (and part time babysitting jobs) were the only thing keeping the goats fed....................21
Number of donations (some of our supporters did donate more than once, but this is the specific number of actual donations).................................................336
Number of times this fundraiser was shared via twitter.......81
Number of times that the fundraiser was shared via Facebook...........................................2.7k
Total number of shares..... 2.8k.
TWENTY EIGHT HUNDRED TIMES someone shared the story of our farm.
Number of "likes" here on the gofundme" site....260
I have not put pen to paper to figure out tons of feed bought, miles of gas driven, hours of electricity for our home, etc.
I could never give statistics for the intangibles such as knowing that people cared, that they were pulling for us, praying for us, thinking of us. That when we were down, they encouraged, they cheered and they lifted up our countenances when we were simply too tired to go on. There have been many times when WE did not keep going, for we simply could not, YOU kept going--and you carried us.
How do you put this into words? "Thank you" seems so meager. How about we promise to do our very best to be here to provide cheese and milk to every one of you--and your children and your children’s children for years to come?
Now, for some housekeeping details.
Our dairy inspector is supposed to come out again this week to test the thermometer. We do not anticipate issues, and if all goes well, we should be back at market next weekend, May 23. Please keep us in your thoughts/prayers that nothing else comes up to prevent this from happening.
We have sent out many "thank you" cards, we even saw some of the 'free cheese' coupons redeemed before we had to pull out of markets. We are still working on the 'thank yous', coupons and other 'thank you' gifts. To be brutally honest, we have been so overwhelmed with living largely hand to mouth, trying to keep 14 people and some 4 dozen goats going that it has been hard to keep up with the postage when we were so close to the edge, but I promise, we will get there.
Lastly, this site has become important to us as a means of updating everyone. It is bittersweet to contemplate shutting this down for this reason. We have loved being able to come here and share where we are and what is going on and have the give and take of messages and comments. Obviously, we cannot keep a gofundme open forever! So, we are asking for your thoughts. Some ideas...we could simply transfer all of this over to facebook, but it will exclude the few who are not on facebook. We could pick up the blog that has been languishing and bring it to life again. We could also revisit the idea of an electronic newsletter. What do y’all think? Or should we just let it die and those who want to follow us can figure out a way to do so on their own? Feedback appreciated, here!
And again...thank you. We owe you more than we could possibly express.
I would love if you out the updates on Facebook. I know I will be able to keep up with you then. Please let us know what markets you will be at.
Congrats! So happy to hear about the babies and the babies to come!
Dont listen to them. They dont understand how your family inspires others and gives us hope that choosing to follow one's heart IS worthwhile.
The thought of folks attacking you is no surprise! Extremely sad but not surprising. Personally, I believe that You are special! You are a large family trying to keep a family farm going! Isn't that a very special and important thing in our country!!! Don't give up! Don't be discouraged! Keep pressing toward the mark that the LORD has shown you. Praying for you folks!!!
Don't give up. Please. I respect your family so very much. You are wonderful people.