Wow, what a year it’s been. December is a natural time to reflect, look back and think about all we’ve accomplished at Milton Creamery over the past 365 days. It’s hard not to highlight all the challenges vs. successes but we’re still here, and that’s something pretty incredible for our small family-owned business. What’s exciting is that we appear to be on the brink of a return to normalcy, and we have a lot to celebrate in 2021 as we will be making cheese for 15 years this May.
Before we get to that momentous occasion, let me recap 2020 a little.
In the beginning of the year, all of my energy was focused on the facility expansion. We’d been working on it for a few years, and in March 2019 we started pouring concrete. The construction moved pretty quickly, and it was extremely exciting to finally launch the new 17,000 square foot space, move in and enjoy the fruits of our labors. In late February 2020, we cut the ribbon and sent out a press release sharing this exciting news. But before we even had a second to settle in, COVID hit America.
“Social distancing” became a part of our everyday language, kids were no longer in school, all travel was halted and we started to settle into this new normal. Business was hit by 50% in April and May, but we still had paychecks to cut and milk to buy, as we’d committed to our community to support them, no matter what. So, among other things we developed an e-commerce website to sell directly to consumers and started having frank conversations with our business partners.
April, although the world was in an upheaval we had committed to buying the milk from another farm and thought by spring and warmer temperatures. The pandemic would be just another bump in the road and in the rear view mirror. We went on as planned and added another cheese vat and hoped for the best.
National Dairy Month was in June, and even though we had significant sales loss due to shelter-in-place regulations, we stayed committed to buying 100% of the milk we purchased prior to the pandemic. We did not want our farmers dumping milk. We added Frisian Farms goudas to our Retail Store and online offering and figured out ways to continue to show support to our community farmers.
June and July were hot in Iowa, and not as much milk was being produced from our family farms. This affected our production crew and we moved them to a temporary 4-day/10-hour work week. We still saw a lot of visitors in the Retail Shop, as people traveled through Southeast Iowa. We also launched the Iowa Victory Cheese Box, a rally cry of American Cheesemakers, to support local and connect directly with consumers.
As September started to roll in, we were now working with 11 farms, up from 9, that we were receiving milk from. From cash standpoint, we were all a little nervous with the current economic climate. But we kept strategizing with our sales team and working with our partners to help us sell more cheese.
As we came into fall we are keeping busy with making more cheese a week than we ever have and also facing the highest milk prices in the history of our company. While I don’t begrudge the farmers making money I wish we wouldn’t see the extreme price swings.
And that brings us to December. We are still here, making cheese and finding innovative ways to place it in new retailers across the country. We want to thank our farmers, our internal team and all of our customers, big and small, for standing by us as we wouldn’t be here without.
From our family to yours, Merry Christmas.