Honey Creek Creamery, Milking Goat Dairy
Honey Creek Creamery, Milking Goat Dairy Diversifies for the Future
HONEY CREEK, IA- What started as a passion for goats as companion animals, has now blossomed into a milking goat farm that offers goat yoga. Sharon Oamek’s dedication to her dairy goats and the products that they offer, has led her creamery to receive multiple regional, state, and national awards. She is the owner of Honey Creek Creamery.
Honey Creek Creamery has been a certified milking goat dairy since 2010. The property that the farm operates on has 125 acres, and it is a century farm. They milk 25 goats, and this produces around 450 pounds of cheese a month for the creamery. In the last 3 years, they have added goat milk gelato to the products they offer along with their award-winning goat cheese.
Sharon's passion for goats began long before the creamery ever existed. Living in Colorado gave her the opportunity to connect with the owners of Haystack Mountain Goat Dairy. Haystack Mountain Dairy is known for its award-winning goat cheese. Through this connection, she learned how to raise goats and about the goat milking industry. Eventually, she decided that her interests lay more in the goats themselves than in the dairy side of the operation. Sharon bought two wether goats to use as hiking companions. She eventually moved back to Iowa and brought the goats back with her.
After working as a Community Development Specialist for over 30 years and most recently with the Federal Reserve, Sharon decided to quit her job and start milking goats. “It got to a point where I was working and traveling so much that I was hardly ever home. I wasn’t fully able to enjoy living on the farm. It was time for a change,” states Oamek.
The goats are milked once a day. Milking takes around 3 hours each day, and she can get 85% of what the goats produce in one milking. “It’s a huge time saver for me to only have to milk once a day. This allows me to spend my time making other improvements on the farm,” explained Oamek.
Sharon’s husband grows alfalfa to use as feed for both the goats and the small herd of cows they have. The farm was heavily affected by the strong flooding that occurred earlier this spring. The flood waters ruined hay and affected some of the feed that they had stored for the goats. When the goats aren’t out grazing the Loess Hills they are fed organic oats and corn. They blend their own feed on the farm, and the goats receive 3 lbs. a day when being milked.
Honey Creek Creamery has received top national awards for its cheese at the ADGA Cheese competition in Boise, ID. “Simply Pure” received second place and “Little Italy” and “Cranberry Horseradish” took third place in 2015. Also, four cheese submissions received top awards at the Iowa Quality Dairy Products Showcase at the Iowa State Fair.
When it comes to making the cheese and gelato, everything is pasteurized on the farm, they create their own base for the gelato, and they use all natural ingredients. It takes roughly 4 days for the milk to come from the goat to become chevre that is ready to be sold. They make the gelato from fresh milk, unlike some traditional forms of ice cream which can be made from a dried powdered milk product.
“I believe that our products offer a higher level of quality as we are a small lot producer. Therefore, we can really pinpoint what we want to change to produce the best products,” noted Oamek.
The goat milk gelato has a longer shelf life than chevre and they have found that there is a higher demand for it. The chevre has a distinct taste due to the goats grazing the unique prairie plants in the Loess Hills instead of being confined. The gelato is only 4% fat compared to 20% fat with premium ice creams or cow milk gelato. Oamek explained that goat milk is naturally homogenized; has less lactose, and is a better option for people with digestive problems.
This is the second year that the farm has offered goat yoga. The yoga classes are available from mid-April to June 1st. This allows her to use the goat kids for the classes as they weigh less than they will at maturity. Sharon has her goats scheduled for three different birthing sessions so there can be a longer season for goat yoga. There are 10 yoga instructors that come out to the farm from Council Bluffs and Omaha. They had over 800 people attend this past season.
The addition of the grant money has allowed Honey Creek Creamery to increase their advertising and promotional efforts. They also hired consultants to work on improving and perfecting the gelato, as well as someone to do photo shoots of the products, and they re-designed their website. The money also allowed Oamek to hire an intern this summer as well as some part-time workers.
Some future plans for the operation include selling more products at farmers markets, expanding the retail offering, and increasing promotion of the farm and its products. Soon the farm will host the grand opening of “Stanley’s Snack Shack”, a seasonal cafe and retail market that will include their goat cheese and gelato in the menu.
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 the coming months. 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, agricultural 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/)