Kamrar has cheesy new dairyman
By BILLIE SHELTON
KAMRAR – Along a quiet, winding gravel road dotted with fields and farmsteads a few miles south of Kamrar is something you don’t see very often in Hamilton County – a dairy farm.
Even more unusual, this is a farm where cheese is made using the milk from those cows.
The business is a long-held dream of Kevin Dietzel, one that he has been actively pursuing ever since moving to the small farm from McCallsburg in 2012 with his wife, Ranae. They acquired their first cows in 2010.
The Dietzels named their homestead Lost Lake Farm, and it’s the product name on their cheese labels.
The name came from Lake Cairo, a 1,500-acre lake that at one time was located just south of the Dietzel property. The lake was drained in 1895 so it could be farmed.
The herd of 24 bovines that supply the milk to make Lost Lake Farm cheese includes 15 milking cows that are Brown Swiss, Holsteins, and Jersey cross.
According to Dietzel, all of the milk produced goes to make cheese.
“The basis of good cheese is good milk,” he said, adding that the cows at Lost Lake Farm are fed primarily hay with a small amount of grain to supplement the hay.
Dietzel, 35, and a native of Minnesota, says he “fell in love with farming” when he was 8 years old.
He lived for five years with his family on a working farm in central Minnesota. He’s never forgotten that experience, even when the family relocated to the Twin Cities.
After high school, he spent three years in a training program on an organic dairy farm in Germany before returning to the U.S. to earn a bachelor’s degree in biology from the University of Minnesota-Morris.
A circuitous route through several positions in agriculture eventually led to Hamilton County and Lost Lake Farm, where Dietzel now puts in 80-90 hours every week perfecting and producing cheese.
Wife Ranae does research in agronomy at ISU, and the family has grown to include a son, 5, and a daughter, 3.
The Dietzels raise hogs on a small scale, with halves and quarters for sale, but it is the milk and cheese that is the focus of the operation that uses organic practices with sustainable agriculture to try to provide a premium product, Dietzel said.
Making hand-crafted cheese is a time-consuming process, Dietzel points out. And it is a long, arduous process to be licensed by the state to make and sell dairy products.
But in mid-September Lost Lake Farm was at long last approved by the state to sell cheese. So far, three varieties are offered – fresh mozzarella, mozzarella cheese curds, and a provolone-type cheese called Ingrid’s Pride.
For now, the cheeses made in Hamilton County are for sale through the Ames Main Street farmers’ market, Farm to Folk in Ames, and Alluvial Brewing Co., also in Ames.
Dietzel recently joined the Iowa Food Cooperative. Since his cheese is a premium hand-crafted product, he said it’s somewhat high priced and is unsure about when it will be marketed locally in retail outlets.
What’s his favorite cheese?
“What I like is to make what I think there might be demand for,” Dietzel said. “I’m most excited about the Alpine cheese I’ve made on a home scale, so the challenge is in getting it up to a commercial scale.
“And in the future I want to do a Camembert, which is similar to a brie.”
By now the young farmer is more than accustomed to a cautious approach to developing and growing his business. Solitary work weeks lasting 80 to 90 hours are still the norm for Dietzel, who now has two part-time employees.
“Dairy farming is really rewarding,” according to Dietzel. “But if you want to follow through with something that’s really hard, you have to stick with it and stick with it and stick with it.
“It helps to have someone on your team to encourage you.”
Some of that has come from mentor Mike Bandstra, of Frisian Farms, in Oskaloosa. The rural development revolving loan fund of the Ellsworth Co-op Telephone Association provided some financing for the new business, as did MIDAS.
And he hasn’t learned only about the technical aspects of the dairy business and about making cheese since he started to live his dream.
“I’ve learned that when people tell you that no matter what’s in your business plan, it will take more time and cost more, they’re right,” Dietzel states. “Everything took more time to get here than I expected.
“It’s been a long time coming, so it’s exciting to finally be at this point.”
Check the Web site www.lostlakefarmllc.com to find where the cheese will be available for sale.
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