Terrible news. I called up Steve Young-Burns, the CEO of PastureLand, to tell him how much I’m in love with their Meadowlark cheddar, and to find out all the cheese’s retail locations, and he told me that there are only about 60 wheels out in the world right now—and that’s because the company is in imminent danger of going under!
PastureLand of course is the local maker of fantastic, critic-loved, people-loved pasture-raised butter, and an increasingly skilled local cheese-maker. So what’s the problem? “It’s the long tail of the recession,” Young-Burns told me. “Last summer was really tough, there was no market for our organic skim milk,” and if they can’t sell the skim milk that results from turning whole milk into butter, they can’t survive. “What I should have done is find an enduring partnership for our skim milk ten years ago,” Young-Burns told me, “but I might have some good leads now. Someone who wants to make organic Parmesan. I could sell it as organic skim-milk powder,” to companies which would use it for baking or other manufactured goods, but the plant that processes skim milk powder doesn’t have space for a small producer like PastureLand. “Minnesota has just pissed away its history of small and medium-sized processing plants,” sighed Young-Burns. “If we were in Wisconsin there would be people from the dairy board all over us trying to help, but because we’re here there’s no infrastructure.”
I’m going to guess that PastureLand’s problems are not being helped by Young-Burns's very Minnesotan instinct not to worry anyone: “When people on Facebook ask, where’s the butter, I don’t want to start whining, so I say, well it’s not here yet, be patient. But in truth we haven’t started rolling for the year, we should have started churning a month ago, and we’re not churning yet.”
What’s next? PastureLand has a board meeting scheduled for June 14. If Young-Burns doesn’t have a buyer for his skim milk, a new investor, or some positive news about the company, the future looks very dark.
What can you do? Buy PastureLand’s cheese, wherever you see it. Forward this around to people you know in food manufacturing—surely someone knows someone who can take a tankerload of grass-fed organic skim milk every 48 hours? If not, Minnesota may lose one of the best dairy producers the state has ever known.