Each month, MSAN will highlight one of the many hard-working producers here in Mississippi making a difference in their communities by committing to natural, sustainable, and regenerative models of agriculture. It’s not just about good food; it’s about good people.
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Country Girl’s Creamery evolved in 2009 when RN Butch Smith joined his long time dairy farmer father Kiahnell to introduce the business to a new way of milking and marketing. Rather than subsist on shipping bulk milk that emphasized quantity over quality and limited the control they had on production methods and price setting, they decided self-processing their milk and selling locally would be the only way to really sustain both families through the dairy. With the help of the Brown Family, who has a similar but smaller operation in Oxford, the Smiths figured out their rough business plan and took a leap of faith.
Their switch to a more sustainable business model occurred in the wake of volatile feed prices in 2009 when it jumped from $170 per ton, to over $300 without a corresponding increase in what they were getting for their milk. Kiahnell decided the only way to overcome this cost would be to depend on more grass-feeding while growing more forage material for the cows in order to store up grass and hay when it was plentiful. They found this move didn’t just pay off financially, but their cows were significantly healthier. Cows are not designed to eat corn and other refined grains. They develop stomach problems, carry more harmful bacteria, experience more bloating, and sometimes stop eating altogether because of their discomfort.
The Smiths now raise small-bodied Jersey cows, each of which produces about 5 gallons of milk per day. With 116 head, they roughly process 580 gallons per day. The milk gets pumped from the milking parlor to the cooling room and then to a unique pasteurization process. CGC chooses to slowly bring their milk to 140 degrees, which differs from typical flash pasteurization at a higher heat which kills off many healthy enzymes and reduces vitamin content. From there, the milk finds its way to farmers markets across South Mississippi, is carried by many locally-owned grocers, and is sold off the farm to neighbors along with a number of other delicious dairy products (cheese, butter, cream and more).
Though the amount of dairy farms in the state has dwindled, Butch and Kiahnell are confident in the small farm movement as they believe people are going back to the time when they knew their farmers. In an effort to educate, encourage demand for quality products, and deepen the farmer-consumer relationship, Country Girl’s Creamery hosts their annual Dairy Festival that brings in more than 1,000 people. Eating local never tasted so good!
By Claire Campbell, MSAN Intern
Photos by Danny Klimetz