Stensland Creamery

Stensland Creamery, Two-Time Recipient with Product Development Focus

Sandra Yerges

There is nothing more refreshing than a cold treat on a hot summer day. Whether it is cheering on the players at a local ball game or sitting by the pool in town, these activities are perfect for indulging in concessions, especially those produced locally. Stensland Creamery creates dairy products to cater to these outdoor audiences as well as customers at their Iowa-based farm and café located in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. Originating from the milk produced from their cows, this business has a wide variety of year-round offerings that showcase the passion of the tight-knit group of 12 family members who run it.

Although this family farm began years before the creamery was established, owners Jason and Justin Stensland helped to establish the production side of the creamery in 2015. To get their new dairy products started, they required financial assistance that inevitably led them to their first experience with the Value-Added Producer Grant (VAPG).

Starting out with milk, cheese, and ice cream as their primary offerings, the grant funds helped support their initial product creation efforts. Everything from cheese cultures to product labels, which are added expenses in this business stage, were funded through the grant’s reimbursement process. After this experience, Stensland Creamery became hooked on creating more products with their milk on the farm.

From there, their minds shifted to a new culinary craft: pizza making. They first experienced a trial and error period of figuring out the best mix of ingredients. By formulating a cheese blend with lower percentage milk left over from their ice cream processing, the company created a mozzarella cheese for their pizzas that minimized waste on the farm. Once they found their perfect recipe, they expanded from simply selling the pizzas at their stores to outside retail and restaurant outlets. Knowing that this growth required more financial resources, they decided to consult the VAPG for a second time.

In 2020, the grant funding was awarded to the farm as a way to propel the launch of the pizzas and grow this aspect of the business. At the time, they had received access to their reimbursement funding for 18 months as it was laid out in their application. However, the unanticipated COVID-19 shutdown prevented them from reaching the growth they desired in that short amount of time.

Fortunately, with the help of the USDA, Stensland Creamery was able to extend their grant period to three years to work toward their pre-pandemic business goals. Because this change was a seamless process, the company did not have to worry about how they were going to fulfill their grant responsibilities.

As the first step toward their expanded selection of dairy products they have now, including ice cream sandwiches and cakes, cheese curds, and block cheeses, the launch of their newly funded pizzas was one way they were able to create multiple offerings for customers to enjoy. “We’re always looking for more products that they can get in one stop,” Justin’s wife, Chelsea, stated.

Of the multiple locations these products are offered, a popular place for all ages to try their products is right where they are created: the Stensland Creamery property. One of the easiest ways to do this is through the 90-minute tours they offer for school groups, 50 and older charter bus tours, and anyone interested in the farm.

While touring the property, visitors are able to get a front row view of the milking process, the first step in creating Stensland Creamery products. With a fully automated robotic milking system aiding in this stage, customers are able to witness what this process entails and be in company with the cows. As a full-circle experience, they are also offered samples of the products in their final stage and given the opportunity to shop as well.

To ensure farm tours and production go smoothly, help is required in all areas of the farm. However, the creation of their products, which takes up a lot of their time, is not a one-person job. “Being that we are a smaller facility, we have a lot of physical labor that goes into our productions and packaging,” Chelsea explained.

Outside of the 12 Stensland family members who work on the farm, the company has a staff that ranges in numbers throughout the year to help with this labor. With some overlooking retail operations and others being part-time summer help, Stensland Creamery reaches up to 80 employees during their busiest times of the year. In the slower winter months starting in September, that number drops down to approximately 30 workers.

Efficiency is a large priority for this farm, a factor influencing their long-term view. Ensuring overstaffing or overproduction is not an issue, they are going to continue looking for ways to make the operation work smoothly. With the newest Stensland family member joining the team and learning the ropes on a wide variety of business-related tasks, the farm is expanding their training to move toward an optimized future.

In the current economic climate, however, farms like Stensland Creamery are feeling the effects. This makes it important for businesses to consider applying for grant funds like the VAPG to help support their operations and continue down their road to success.

“It’s definitely a great way to grow within your business so that you don’t always have to put all of that capital in,” Chelsea shared.

After going through the VAPG process twice with varying levels of work placed into each project, Chelsea expressed that both experiences were worthwhile for the business. Product launches are not always easy, but with the right financial support and a determination to access the funds, the process can be successful.