USDA Grant Ignites Major Growth for Colorado's Jumpin' Good Goat Dairy
The USDA Value Added Grant (VAPG) program can become that necessary partner for smaller agricultural businesses to take aggressive growth steps. That’s exactly what happened when, in 2014, Jumpin’ Good Goat Dairy LLC received a modest $100,000 grant award.
Primarily, the USDA funding was to ignite a marketing program and introduce new product choices. But many other activities were outgrowths of the infusion of funds plus the equal company investment.
Jumpin’ Good Dairy was able to introduce five new cheese products, expand its target markets through a broader region, purchase additional goat milk to increase production, upgrade the packaging, upgrade the website and turn out product in sizes requested by customers, according to Danielle Gee, an office administrator,. All of these activities began at the tail end of 2014 and the project was completed in 2015.
“The grant helped us expand our consumer markets. Before, we only dealt with two local markets, now we are available in many more throughout the high Rocky Mountain area, including the Denver area,” Gee said.
Dawn Jump, owner and head cheese-maker, started the family-run business in 2008. Gee said Jumpin’ Good Goat Dairy, is very much a family run business. (https://www.jumpingoodgoats.com/)
Some categories of past and new artisan cheeses from Jumpin’ Good Goat Dairy are recognizable to the average consumer: Feta (now sold in half wheels to food service and restaurant outlets), soft goat cheese called chèvre, cheddars, etc. Some are new: Fiesta Cheddar, Rocky Mountain Rosemary Cheddar, Queso de Colorado, Queso de Buena Vista, and others. The dairy produces only cheeses.
The new products themselves have brought an “uptick in local sales – absolutely,” noted Gee. But all of the activities that flowed from the grant funding have led to growth in company operations and returns. There was an almost immediate local sales increase of 14%. More dramatic was that regional sales increased by 36% in one year, 2015-2016.
The dairy sells product through major commercial retail outlets such as Whole Foods and Kroger in Colorado, additional regional health food stores, its own small on-site retail store and numerous institutional outlets, like restaurants.
Such growth in production and customers necessitated rethinking operations. Dawn Jump remains the head cheese maker. But the focus of all Jumpin’ Good dairy staff had to move toward management, marketing and cheese production, with less time spent tending the herd that produced the milk input.
“As business grew, and especially with the growth in retail sales, we found ourselves spread pretty thin,” explained Gee.
Jumpin’ Good Goat Dairy began to partner with other farmers to bring in milk product. It sold part of its own herd to an Amish family farm business and now purchases milk from that source, as well as others. A manager to oversee packaging and processing was hired. Labels have been improved to offer a professional in-store appearance and are purchased from an outside vendor. Four outside distributors now link dairy with customers.
And yet, goat milk production is still a viable and visible part of the business framework. Visitors arrive daily, most months of the year, to see how the herd is tended and milked and to watch cheese being made. Educational tours are available.
“It’s super-important to us that we are connecting our community with its food. Visitors can see what we call our ‘working girls’ being milked. When it is 3 p.m., those goats know they are going to get milked, seven days a week,” said Gee. She added that the whole production side of the facilities is encased with large windows, so people can see cheese being processed.
As a result of the grant, Gee said the dairy had the opportunity to see how it could grow – without having to worry so much. “The fear factor is less. We took some major leaps, thanks to the VAPG.”
About USDA VAPG
VAPG funding has been offered by the USDA periodically since the early 2000s. A new round of funding is anticipated to be announced in 2017. To be considered value added, projects must show how products are differentiated in specific ways from commodity crops. Typically, projects must also show how they may deliver greater returns to producers.
Independent producers, farmer or rancher cooperatives, agriculture producer groups and producer-owned business ventures, including non-profit organizations may apply. In previous cycles, applicants were required to be producers of the raw commodity who will maintain ownership of that commodity through the process of creating a value added product. Grants have been available for planning projects (such as marketing and business plans and feasibility studies) and working capital projects (which might include wages or packaging supplies). (http://www.rd.usda.gov/)
Ag Marketing Resource Center (AgMRC) Assistance
Producers and ranchers, cooperatives and other agricultural businesses can find a wide-ranging set of tools and information to help them in pursuing VAPG funding at the Agricultural Marketing Resource Center (AgMRC) (www.agmrc.org). On a variety of value added topics and across products, AgMRC is a rich resource for agricultural businesses, from startup to advanced growth stages.
Directories for state and federal resources, specialty crop information, legal guidance, assessment and spreadsheet tools and other types of business training are available.
Goat Cheese Product
Jumpin’ Good Goat Dairy Owner Dawn Jump