Rural Jackson County family mixing farming with retail

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MAQUOKETA, Iowa (KCRG TV9)- Many farmers in eastern Iowa struggle with low prices these days. But one Jackson County farm family is adding value to its products by turning a small dairy farm into a successful Main Street business.

Ice cream is doing better than cheese for the Moore Family Farms shop in Maquoketa. But the family is pleased that a storefront for cheese from a local dairy herd is helping boost income.

Heather Moore says the Moore Family Farm operations, like many, struggle with low dairy prices. But last winter, they tried a new tactic to boost farm income.

They take milk from their herd and turn it into custom-made cheese at a small processor in Wisconsin. And shoppers 10 miles away in Maquoketa are willing to pay a premium.

The Moores say they added that small herd of about 50 dairy cows to the farm a few years ago just in time for the bottom to fall out of the milk market.

But rather than continue to lose money selling their milk wholesale, Heather Moore had an idea.

Put branded cheese from their farm on sale out of a retail storefront in Maquoketa.

Brandon Moore says some might have been skeptical at first.

“It was kind of a fly-by-night thing—take a chance on it. We looked into it and it wasn’t as hard as people would think it is,” Brandon Moore said.

Heather Moore says she got a good deal on a Main Street storefront in Maquoketa for what she thought would a holiday-season-only business.

But the first batch of 700 pounds of cheddar cheese got snapped up at a premium price in just six weeks.

“We really had no idea what to expect but our community and customers supported us in ways we couldn’t imagine,” she said.

Rather than quit after the holidays, the Moore Family Farm store kept going.

Heather Moore says she added other foods from nearby local producers to go along with their Moore-brand cheese.

And she quickly realized that personalizing her dairy herd appealed to customers.

Each of the dairy cows has a name and consumers can keep up with what’s going on with them at the farm on social media posts.

Moore says she realized it was working when she had to close up early to tend a sick cow and put a post on the store’s Facebook page about the problem.

“I said Hiccup was sick today so we’re closing early. And over the next month, people constantly asked me how’s Hiccup, how she’s doing, what’s wrong with her,” Moore said.

Mixing farm and retail is just a small step and obviously won’t work for the majority of farm operations.

But it’s helping one farm family come a little closer to making money in the dairy business.

And the Iowa Farm Bureau recently gave the family a monthly Renew Rural Iowa Entrepreneur Award in recognition of finding a new and novel way to boost farm income.