Nestled in the hills along the Iowa – South Dakota border is where Stensland Family Farms are located, just outside of Larchwood, Iowa. The Stensland Family Farm has been expanding since twin brothers, Jason and Justin, restarted their Grandfather’s dairy in 2003. They started with only 45 cows and have grown to a 200 cow dairy, complete with their own creamery. The heritage of the multi-generation Stensland Family Farm that dates back to 1915 is a significant factor on their time line.
Jason and Justin began their dream of dairying at age 16 with the help of FFA and family. In 2005, the twin brothers won the National FFA Entrepreneurship award. When I asked Justin about attending FFA convention to receive this award, he responded that he was unable to attend because it was his turn to stay home and milk. The brothers alternated between milking and events, so Jason attended National FFA convention to accept the award. Justin recalls his FFA instructor saying that ag careers should also be brains and not all hard work. He acknowledges FFA record keeping as being vital to helping them grow.
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Six years ago the Stensland brothers incorporated this advice as they utilized a milking system that includes three robotic milkers. They chose this type of milking system because it ensured them that the cows were being taken care of. Knowing that the cows were being taken care of enabled the brothers to concentrate on building their own creamery, a continuation of their dairy farm dream. The creamery broke ground 18 months ago and started operations 2 ½ months ago. The brothers studied on-farm creameries and knew what they wanted. Their philosophy is that when cows are fed different, genetics are different and the process is different; then you get a different product. Another part of their vision is that you can taste the difference so people will start to realize that not all milk is the same. With their dairy located only 15 minutes from Sioux Falls, South Dakota, the operation stresses the Farm to Table aspect. It is apparent that the urban areas lack education in regards to where milk comes from. As they focus on presenting tours this spring, they encourage everyone to watch the process that includes feeding baby calves, robotic milking system, observing the creamery and samples of their products.
Just as Justin and Jason strive to educate the public about dairying, they explain that they themselves are continually learning. This was evident when I asked if they believed they had achieved their dream. Justin replied that the creamery was the ultimate goal but that it led to more specific goals about wanting their product to be nationally known. Recently they invited a highly renowned cheese judge from New Zealand to assist and give tips in their cheese making process. He trained with them at the creamery in Larchwood for 2 weeks.
Throughout the interview, it was obvious that this is not just an ordinary dairy/creamery combo. During our discussion, I asked Justin if he considered their dairy comparable to the large continually growing commercial dairies in the area. He elaborated on the idea that their operation is family owned and operated. Even as they’ve grown to about 30 employees, the operation’s driving force is family which includes half of those employed. In addition to the long hours that both brothers devote to the dairy, are the duties of their uncle as the general manager, their dad as herdsmen and their sister as the marketing manager. Since their sister is a graphic designer, she maintains the website, labeling design, and promotional material. Marketing, via social media is key in promoting their product.
I visited their retail store located on the farm site. It contained cheese curds flavored with ranch, garlic, or even pepper jack that boasted the Stensland Family Farms logo. Quart size containers of ice cream featured creative names such as Heavenly Holstein or How Now Brown Cow. About two dozen other flavors were also originally named. Both white and chocolate milk were available. A second retail outlet store is now open in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. Justin commented that despite the winter season, they struggled to keep up with the ice cream demand. He added that was a good thing. The local convenience store also carries their products.
They’re proud of the fact that Stensland Family Farms still reside on the same location where their grandfather milked up until 1989. The brothers recognize the support that they have received from their community. Now as their own children become involved in the area, they understand the concept of giving back. This coincides with the instant connection between Stensland Family Farms and local farm fresh dairy products.
Tours will be starting this spring at the Stensland Family Farm. For more information you can visit www.Stenslandfamilyfarms.com.