Pa. dairy wants to help others find success in tough market

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vale wood farms sign
(photo courtesy of Vale Wood Farms)

SALEM, Ohio — A Pennsylvania dairy farm is sharing the secrets to its success to help other farmers do the same.

Vale Wood Farms is offering the “From Moo to You” short course to teach farmers how to process and market their own farm products, just as the Itle family has done since 1933.

“As a farm family, you have to pay attention to what people are interested in and be creative about different assets you have that may help continue your farm tradition,” said Carissa Itle Westrick, director of business development for the farm. “It seemed like there was an opportunity here.”

Delivering the goods

The Cambria County farm is operated by the third and fourth generation of the Itle family.

Vale Wood started when Westrick’s great-grandfather, C.A. Itle, loaded milk onto a horse-drawn wagon and took it into town to sell.

Now they milk about 200 cows on the farm, fed by crops grown on the farm, as well as getting milk from three neighboring farms that milk about 200 cows between them, Westrick said.

Vale Wood Farms processes the milk into a line of dairy products, including flavored milks, butter, ice cream, cottage cheese, sour cream and buttermilk, which they deliver directly to area homes, businesses and schools. They also operate an on-farm store where they sell their products.

They’ve hosted school tours for students of all ages and organized events, like their customer appreciation event in June that featured a cow milking contest, cow patty bingo and live music, Westrick said.

“We’ve definitely learned some lessons along the way, and we thought those lessons might actually be useful for other people having these same conversations,” she said.

Lessons to share

Westrick said they’ve gotten an increasing number of requests for information from other farmers who want to take more control over their operation, especially considering the challenging milk prices.

The Itles made time where they could to answer other producer’s questions, but it was hard to keep up while running their own dairy. Westrick said they decided they could set aside dedicated time to teach each week if they were compensated for it; and the short course was born.

The two-day course costs $250 per person and $200 for each additional person from the same family. Sessions are available every week, year-round, and limited to 10 people.

“We don’t want to waste anyone’s time,” Westrick said. “We’re asking for payment for this experience, and we want to be sure they leave here with the full set of questions answered.”

Westrick said they answer any questions, big or small, like how to create a product label, how to start a delivery route, how to bill customers or how to host an on-farm event for the public. Each session is tailored to the individual needs and interests of the people attending.

Ready for change

The course is intended for anyone who is eager for different ideas, Westrick said. It doesn’t matter the size of their herd size or their management style.

They’ve already had about a dozen people attend the course, she said.

Westrick said she’s not worried about giving away family secrets. They see the short course as a way to help other farm families future-proof their operation and preserve their way of life.

“There are so many different things that farms can be involved in,” she said. “It’s not a zero sum game. We all win by helping people understand.”

The Center for Dairy Excellence is offering a $50 scholarship to attend the course for Pennsylvania producers. For more information on the course or to book a session, visit valewoodfarms.com, email carissa@valewoodfarms.com or call 814-886-7171, ext. 106.

(Reporter Rachel Wagoner can be contacted at 800-837-3419 or rachel@farmanddairy.com.)

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Rachel is a reporter with Farm and Dairy and a graduate of Clarion University of Pennsylvania. She married a fourth-generation beef and sheep farmer and settled down in her hometown in Beaver County. Before coming to Farm and Dairy, she worked at several daily and weekly newspapers throughout Western Pennsylvania covering everything from education and community news to police and courts.

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