Adding Value by Creating the Upper Canada Creamery

Motivation, dedication, passion, risk taking & good old hard work are key factors that we have relied on through the past 7 years.  Our journey to date has been a short and challenging one, but the risks and sacrifices are starting to pay off. 

Josh & I started on this adventure in 2011 when we purchased the 400-acre certified organic New Care Farm near Iroquois from Josh’s parents. Milking 50 cross-bred cows and working a regimented and highly researched soil health program, we wanted to take our knowledge and quality milk to the next level. In 2013 we made the decision to expand our farm business by the addition of on-farm milk processing.  It was an ‘all or nothing’ leap of faith and an extremely steep learning curve.

We spent many days, nights and weekends researching the regulations, visiting other on-farm processors, paying close attention to dairy industry trends, and drawing countless floor plans.   Upper Canada Creamery opened in August 2015. 

Our naivety in the marketing and processing industry at this early stage worked to our advantage because it forced us to dream big. and hope for the best as we entered the retail world.  Then, reality set in.  We learned very quickly that being a brand-new company offering one product, in one size, and one flavour was a hard sell to grocery stores. We had to cold call everyone and convince them that we were worth the shelf space and could generate sales in their locations.  We had many turn us down, but we also had a few take us on and give us a chance. 

We participated in as many markets, fairs and other vendor shows as possible and offered as many sampling days as we could at our retail locations, because we knew that the most critical element of on-farm processing and market growth was meeting our consumers face-to-face and getting our product in their mouths. The experience of sharing our finished product and gaining feedback directly from the consumer was worth every minute. We are proud that we have managed to expand our reach from Kingston-Casselman, and up through the Ottawa Valley in only a few short years.,

Since 2015 we have been able to increase our product lines from yogurt to fluid milk, cheese, curd, ice cream and frozen yogurt, and still have plans for more.  We are one of the select few on-farm processors in Ontario that hold multiple class processing licences and produce traditional, organic, grass-fed products made from our own cows’ milk.

As farmers, we have learned to embrace the higher regulatory standards in the processing plant and as processors, we have learned to appreciate the regulatory standards on the farm. Because we have a respect and an understanding from both sides within the dairy industry, we have a unique opportunity where we can monitor and control every single step from the soil to the table and identify the direct correlations between farm management and finished product. We believe in nutrient density and sustainable agri-food practices, which is why we have chosen to keep our products pure, simple and whole.  Our motto is “what the cow gives that day, is what you get”. We don’t homogenize our dairy products and we don’t standardize. We allow the natural fluctuations from season to season to be reflected in the finished product and this has been such an important part of our marketing strategy.

We have certainly been challenged over the last 7 years with financial, distribution and consumer education hurdles. The initial investment for starting up an added-value business is significant. Before we even had a market for our yogurt, we needed to provide cash flow projections, budgets, building plans, business models and contingency scenarios. 

Once we were up and running, we needed the next cash inputs to meet bulk packaging orders and all the other on-going monthly expenses that incur regardless of whether we had any sales yet or not. Distribution is another area where we have struggled in growing our business. We have found it increasingly difficult to put the sales of our products in the hands of others. It is a known fact that when you make your own product, no one can sell it or promote it better than you, especially when you are so different! 

Even though we have experienced steady growth, it has been painfully slow at times. We get caught in the ebb and flow of the grocery industry where we see a stagnation in some months until we put another push on marketing to stimulate the interest again. We must rely on our packaging, word of mouth, loyalty, and social media to reach beyond our physical capabilities.

Overall, it has been a truly positive experience. Our start-up network of processors, inspectors, family and community members were there for us every step of the way – guiding, advising, consoling and supporting – each of them rooting for our success.  We continue to rely on the resources that are available to us as we grow and in return, we try to give back to our community wherever we can.

One of our favourite components of our on-farm facility is being able to offer on-site tours to groups of all ages, where we can sit and talk, teach and learn from each other about the everyday workings of farming, processing and marketing. We work with community groups, agricultural organizations and educational institutions where alternative farming practices and added value is often overlooked.  We are a tangible example that organic farming is sustainable, and that adding value can and does work.

Another lesson we have learned through this agri-food expansion is protecting and nurturing the work-life balance. We have 4 young children who watch us very carefully, who are creating their own opinions and shaping future decisions based on how we, being self-employed, managing two businesses can still prioritize time for family and fun. They have embraced the sacrifices we have made over the last 7 years in order to establish a business that could potentially be theirs one day. They understand the importance of long days, hard work and pitching in wherever necessary, and are getting a firsthand experience in what it really takes to be a family-operated business from start to finish.

Finally, as we immerse ourselves into the agri-food industry we are finding that those around us are starting to pay closer attention to their food – who makes it, what’s in it and where it comes from. On-farm processing is a beneficial means to close the gap between farm and consumers. We look forward to the next phase of growth as we exit start-up mode and enter establishment and further diversification opportunities on our farm. The possibilities are endless, and the dream is still a work in progress.

Ellen Biemond, Co-Owner/Operator

Upper Canada Creamery/New Care Farms


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