A family operated grass-fed dairy farm in the Northeast Kingdom, featuring its own on-site processing facility producing lightly-pasteurized, non-homogonized milk and cheeses.
When a freak fire destroyed Sweet Rowen’s leased bottling facility, Paul Lisai used an Emergency Loan from the VFF to help build his own creamery on family land.
Paul Lisai was on a mission to produce the highest quality grass-fed milk for direct sale to consumers and artisanal cheese makers. He began with a small herd of 12 heritage Randall Lineback cattle, raising and milking the cows, as well as growing and cutting hay for their feed.
Having run the numbers, Paul knew that his operation would be much more profitable if he could sell all of his milk directly to consumers and local producers. While he built his direct market, he had a deal with a local cooperative to buy the balance of the farm’s production at a contracted rate.
Things were going according to plan until September of 2011, when a malfunctioning propane heater started a fire that rendered the bottling facility unusable. Though much of Paul’s equipment survived, Sweet Rowen was left without the ability to process its own milk. His only option was to sell just about all of his milk to Agrimark at the going commodity prices.
The Bottom Line
As soon as he heard about the fire, Pete Johnson encouraged Paul to apply for a Vermont Farm Fund Emergency Loan. Grateful that he didn’t have to sit at the bank and wait for a decision, Paul had his check from the VFF only two weeks after he applied. He immediately used the money to buy materials for a new processing facility on his own property, securing a family loan to cover the rest of the building expenses.
Sweet Rowen’s new creamery opened in May of 2012. Paul is confident that he’ll be able to process and sell 100% of their output directly as bottled milk and cheese by late summer of 2013. He is in the process of refinancing a larger loan to expand the barn and, if approved, will most likely pay off his VFF loan about 6 months early. A strong believer in VFF’s mission, Paul would like to see his loan “paid forward” quickly to help out the next farmer in need of expedited, low-cost financing.
All photos for this story were provided by Sweet Rowen Farmstead.