Micro-dairy serves community with value-added grant

Farm and Food

Malloree Barnes knows a little can go a long way. Milking just four cows per day, she’s supplying raw milk to 30 customers each week.

With support from a Value Added Producer Grant (VAPG), she’s planning to do even more with her micro-dairy business. Administered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the VAPG program helps agricultural producers expand their businesses through value-added products and services.

Malloree and her husband, Ty, own Smilin Ranch, a cow-calf operation near Gothenburg, Nebraska. After researching the health benefits of raw milk and acquiring a nurse cow from their herd that wouldn’t take a calf, she decided to start milking it for her family’s consumption. Before long, community members and neighbors joined in her interest in raw milk products. Raw milk has not been pasteurized.

“I did my research to make sure it was safe, and that’s when we started drinking it and haven’t looked back,” Malloree said.

While Malloree welcomed turning her hobby into a small business, there was one issue: She didn’t have the space or equipment to properly prepare products for her customers. That’s why she decided to apply to the VAPG program.

Malloree gathered the necessary paperwork to demonstrate good financial standing and outlined her long-term goals and list of eligible expenses. For The Milk House, this included an ice machine, stand mixer, packaging, and Square card reader, among other equipment to help run her small business efficiently.

Because VAPG funding is awarded as reimbursements, Malloree is responsible for her purchases up front. However, each reimbursement frees up capital to experiment with new products, such as buying cultures to make yogurt and cottage cheese.

“The reimbursements are helping me gain more opportunities more quickly than having to wait to save money to buy something,” she said.

As a rancher and mother, Malloree is keeping her long-term goals in check and doesn’t plan to expand beyond what she can handle. At most, she imagines having a self-service shop for her customers to stop by for their weekly jug of milk or a pint of ice cream. However, she encourages other applicants to set their sights high, noting the diversity of projects and budgets awarded.

“It’s 100% worth it,” she said. “I can already see how it will help us in the future.”

Producers interested in submitting a VAPG application are encouraged to contact their state Rural Development office for more information.