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Unexplored marketing possibilities help create unique, successful dairy business
by Samantha Dunstan
There's much more to dairy farming than just milking cows, according to the Heinzle family of St. Eugene, Ontario.
For over ten years, the Heinzle's have been biodynamically producing organic milk on their 165 hectare Pinehedge Farms. While this has satisfied their personal standards in land and animal management, there still remained unexplored possibilities in terms of marketing as the Heinzle's organic milk was blended into the pool of milk producing conventional dairy products.
The desire to increase the viability of their farm and to set their milk apart from the conventional product, led Josef, one of four sons, to research various value-added processes. After deliberating over regulations, markets and existing products, yogurt and Kefir production were chosen.
Kefir is a premium yogurt-style delicacy, originating in Russia. The name Kefir translates as "taste of pleasure". When production began in August 1994, the Heinzle's were the only organic yogurt on-farm producers in Ontario so the market was open.
For the two new yogurt products, Josef demands an all-natural approach. He uses only whole (unhomogenized) milk from his family's cows and live bacterial culture.
The yogurt and Kefir are sold in re-usable glass jars. This satisfied the Heinzle's concerns about wasteful packaging, and at the same time has ensured a unique position for their products on store shelves.
The integrity of glass was also in line with the high standards of biodynamics. This system suits a special group of educated consumers, but, at first, the jars were only available in a 1 kg size. To cater to the single person, and those not comfortable with the deposit and return idea, a small amount of both products are now sold in plastic 500 gram containers.
The Heinzle's also have plans to make sour cream and a low fat Kefir. This expansion is hoped to lead to on-farm use of all the 3,500 litres of milk produced weekly, as opposed to the present 1,200 litres/week.
The Heinzle's organic dairy products are currently distributed throughout nearby town centres, Toronto, Ottawa, Montreal and Quebec City. Consumer reaction has been extremely positive.
Anton and Edith Heinzle first began farming biodynamically in 1971 in Meiningen, Austria. Their switch from conventional farming practices to biodynamics was a result of following suggestions from Edith's sister and a visit to a Biodynamic Society information booth at a local farm show. The rural community, at that time, was wary of the "antics" involved with Rudolf Steiner's agricultural methods, yet the Heinzle's stood fast in the discouraging environment.
Steiner taught that recognition of the cosmic forces could be used to a great advantage in agriculture. It is a self-sustaining organic system that recognizes the spirituality of the natural world. The Biodynamic Calendar is a vital tool in such practices. It shows what days and times of those days are best suited to working with root plants, leaf plants, fruits and flowers. This, combined with composting and preparations that are applied homeopathically to the soil, promises to renew the life force in the soil and produce "live" food. Working with the land and learning to read nature and the guiding lessons it gives is an important step.
When the Heinzle's moved to St. Eugene in 1982, their new property had been previously managed in a conventional manner. However, using the biodynamic techniques and philosophy they learned in their native Austria, the Heinzle's figure they are increasing the natural vitality of their soil.
Their knowledge of organics has inevitably led to a greater understanding of natural health. The family, especially Anton Sr., have strong convictions concerning the connection between eating wholesome organic food and the development of a greater understanding and ability to reason.
The Heinzle's 30 cow herd is fed hay, grain and corn grown biodynamically on the farm. Salt, kelp and a small amount of commercial minerals are also used. Protein requirements are often supplemented with flax oil cake.
Josef's sister and brother-in-law press their own flax oil on a nearby farm. The flax is certified organic and the oil cake is a by-product of the pressing.
The Heinzle's don't push for milk production and it is generally determined by the quality and quantity of feed grown in a particular season. Cows that become sick are cared for with homeopathic remedies like: aloe vera for mastitis, or simple measures such as giving them apple cider vinegar and herbal teas.
The Heinzle's have used this crop rotation (see Graph 1) for nearly ten years with positive results. Josef has suggested the possibility of more plowdowns in the future. With any rotation, Josef emphasizes the need for patience. The Heinzle's system has resulted in a steady increase in humus levels, better drainage, fewer weeds and as the life cycles are broken, fewer disease problems.
Manure is an important component in a closed biodynamic system. The Heinzle's collect manure in their barn by a barn cleaner and it is handled as a solid using a stacker system. It is stacked over winter. The run off is collected at the base of the stack in a lagoon and is also used as fertilizer.
In the spring, the manure is put into compost piles using a manure spreader, and then biodynamic preparations #502-#507 are added as soon as possible. The preparations are made following Steiner's guidelines and are made the previous fall and buried over winter. The compost is then left for three months and applied when compaction is least likely to occur.
Horn manure is also used to increase soil fertility, while barrel compost is used to aid decomposition of green manure and preparation #501 is sprayed on foliage to promote photosynthesis.
All the members of the Heinzle family that are still on the farm are involved in production in some way. Everyone keeps busy with tasks in the store ranging from direct sales to washing and labeling jars, packing the end product and making deliveries. As well, there are the the daily chores and general upkeep of the farm. It is inspiring to see that the Heinzle's have created a successful business without sacrificing any of their standards.
Samantha Dunstan is an agricultural student from Australia who has been working on the Heinzle farm in January and February 1996.
Copyright © 1995 REAP Canada
Reprinted with permission. All rights reserved.
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