Local food advocate believes infrastructure is key to the future

KENT, Ohio — Meet Abbe Turner. A mother, wife, founder of the Ohio Sheep, Goat and Milk Initiative and last but not least: local food advocate.

Turner is one of the people behind Lucky Penny Creamery in Kent, Ohio, and the Farm Girls Pub and Grub in Alliance, Ohio.

“It’s been an interesting journey,” said Turner as she describes how she and her husband, Anderson, got started in the desire to provide local food to families and what keeps her going.

The creamery and the restaurant are two separate entities but have one common goal: locally grown food that focuses on farming that keeps soil and water healthy.

Cheese

Lucky Penny Creamery uses goat and sheep milk to produce farm fresh cheeses including Feta, Chevre and Ricotta. Lucky Penny Creamery has a total of 80 accounts across Ohio and in 2012, it produced 10,000 pounds of cheese.

She said the creamery opened about four years ago. It sits in a setting that many would not expect to see a creamery — near a college campus on a dead end lane. The 6,000 square feet building that now houses the creamery was a former labor temple meeting hall. The warehouse has been adapted for use in an urban facility.

Renovations

Portions of it have been renovated for the cheese-making process. It is a state licensed facility held to the same regulations as other dairies in Ohio.

Turner said she purchased dairy equipment from farms across the country in her pursuit to build the creamery. The cheese-making room contains a stainless steel sink and the necessary machinery, including a kettle out of a Chicago restaurant and bulk tank out of Columbiana County. The facility also includes a 300-gallon pasteurizer.

The only machine purchased brand new is a vacuum packing machine from Italy.

Infrastructure needed

As she built her own enterprises, Turner realized one of the weak link when it comes to local food production is the infrastructure to support local producers. She said it can be difficult and too costly for entrepreneurs trying to transport goods to the market themselves because there is no system to get it there for them.

“Small processing facilities like the Lucky Penny Creamery is critical to building healthy and vibrant local food systems,” said Turner.

For example, traditional dairy farmers can ship their milk by truck and all the farmers are sharing the cost. This isn’t so for dairy goat and sheep farmers who depend on the Lucky Penny Creamery to truck it.

“Small processing facilities like the Lucky Penny Creamery is critical to building healthy and vibrant local food systems,” said Turner.

Increase in popularity

She said it is important to her to build consumer choice and create new offerings, to provide quality ingredients and to be able to create products that go from the animal to the consumer or pasture to plate.

She said goat and sheep cheeses have increased in popularity in the past 10 years.

She added Ohio is ideally suited for ruminants, with its clean water and farmland. In addition, Ohio has a long supportive dairy history and a great infrastructure for dairying.

Farming families

Turner works with seven Amish families in addition to her goat farms to produce enough milk for production. The sheep farms that produce milk for the creamery are in Ashland County and the goat farmers are located in Wayne and Holmes counties.

She also raises her own herd of goats. Her farm, Lucky Penny Farm, includes around 30 Alpine, Nubian and LaMancha goats.

There are seven farms producing the milk needed for the creamery; two are sheep and five are goat farmers. Turner said she and her husband, Anderson or others involved with the creamery travel to the farms and pick up the milk three times a week.

Pasture to plate

The goal of the creamery is to get the cheese to the restaurants as quickly as possible. Many times, there are only a few days between the milking and the final product.

The primary business of the creamery is in wholesaling the cheese.

Turner said the creamery uses traditional recipes in the creation of the cheeses. The only ingredients the creamery uses in its cheese is milk, salt, culture and rennet.

Chef inspiration

Turner said one of the best parts of the cheese-making business is seeing chefs work to make masterpieces with the cheese.

She’s also done that herself by integrating her cheese into the Farm Girls Pub and Grub restaurant in Alliance.

Drew Racin, the lead chef with Farm Girls Pub and Grub, said he wanted to be a chef since he was 6. He said he got interested in using local foods in dishes after working in Nashville, Tenn. He entered a pork competition and won at the state level, earning a berth in the national competition where he learned how important it is to use locally raised products including meats, vegetables and cheese.

He then moved to a Cleveland restaurant where he started using cheese made by the Lucky Penny Creamery and, before he knew it, he was named the head chef at the Farm Girls Pub and Grub.

The restaurant has been open almost a year and it prides itself on creating dishes using the local foods available throughout the year.

One of Racin’s specialties is soups made with local cheese, meats and eggs.

New products for 2013

The Lucky Penny Creamery has plans for two new products in 2013. They include selling quarts of goat milk and Cajeta, a goat milk caramel sauce. Turner said every year they try and add a product. They are hopeful that within a year they will have some more renovation on the creamery and a room for aging cheese will be built.

However, she is cautious to say when the product will be added because everything takes money and sometimes finding the right niche and profit are difficult.

“It’s baby steps,” said Turner.

About the Author

Kristy Foster Seachrist lives in Columbiana County raising sheep and horses. She earned her degree from Youngstown State University and has worked in both print and broadcast journalism. You can follow her on Twitter at http://twitter.com/fosterk96. More Stories by Kristy Foster Seachrist

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