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Springfield, MO

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A Conversation With … Kelli Stephens

Owner, Edgewood Creamery LLC and Marbut Valley Farm LLC

Posted online

You finalized the purchase of Edgewood Creamery in January. Why did you want to get into the creamery business?
[Founders] Charlie and Melissa [Fletcher] are friends of mine, and I raised their heifers on the dairy farm. They wanted to move to Colorado, and I didn’t want to see it shut down because it’s a good business with a lot of potential. A lot of people love the milk and cheese. When we get the milk in the creamery in the morning, it was grass 12 hours before. It’s that fast … and very fresh.

What products does Edgewood produce?
Edgewood got started in August 2015 and we have our cream-line milk, white milk and chocolate milk. We produce cheddar, which is young aged two months or less, and then sharp cheddar, six to 12 months. We have cheese curds we make fresh every week, Fromage [Blanc] we make fresh every week, farmhouse cheese fresh every week and blue cheese, which takes a couple months. A friend of mine is a dairy farmer and has grass-fed cows. I work with him to get my milk. He’s actually a family member; I think we’re all related in Purdy. He’s just a couple miles down the road, and we’re milking right around 89 head. He’s going to buy some more.

And you also raise cattle for veal?
The rose veal is under Marbut Valley Farm, which is another business I have. I’ve only been doing that a couple years. We were looking for a better outlet to sell the calves except the stockyards, so I can set my own price. I sell the veal to chefs in northwest Arkansas.

Where does your passion for the agricultural industry come from?
I’ve been raising cattle a long time. I grew up on a beef and poultry farm. I’ve had my own farm for seven years. I like cows. I had at one point almost 300 head on a bottle. My kids are getting older and my help was a little different, so this was a better fit for right now.

Where do you distribute product?
We go to Joplin, Springfield twice a week, northwest Arkansas and Branson. We’ll be looking into getting into Eureka Springs and Tulsa within the next six to nine months and now we’re actually in St. Louis and Columbia – I just got a couple of new distributorships there. We use around 45,000 pounds of milk a month, so that’s around 6,000 gallons. Right now, it’s 75 percent milk. When it gets up back where it needs to be, it will be pretty much half and half. We try to go more on the cheese side because of the higher price point. Retail at our store is $5.75 a gallon for milk. It’s nonhomogenized, so the cream rises to the top and you have to shake it before you drink it. It’s also pasteurized at a lower pasteurization point, so it doesn’t have a cooked flavor.

What was the company’s 2018 revenue?
They were doing about half a million a year. With the new distributorships and I’ve hired some new people – and we’re going to look at processing seven days a week instead of just five to keep up with the demand – it’s just exploding.

In 2000, the state boasted 158,000 dairy cows. Last year, that had dropped to roughly 84,000. How is your business growing despite that?
It’s an artisan thing. With the [commercial] dairy farms, the prices are so low for the milk, for what they’re getting paid. What I do for the dairy farmers I have, I pay them a premium for their milk. My milk has to be grass fed and it has to have certain components with the butter content. I ask them to do some things, but I also pay them substantially for their milk. It not only helps the family for the farmer, it gives me the quality product that I need and keeps them in business because they are dropping like flies. I can provide them an actual living wage.

Is the business scalable?
We’re looking at expanding with a possible building project and adding a couple more vats. We’re going to have to. Right now, we’re looking at expanding our workforce into seven days a week and look at adding a night shift.

Kelli Stephens can be reached at sales@edgewoodcreamery.com.

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