Iowa is full of entrepreneurs who just need a little nudge to take their farm or business to the next level. This year, that nudge is coming from the Choose Iowa Grant program administered by the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship (IDALS).

Dairy farmers Austin and Jenna Schulte of Norway were among 13 recipients of the grants awarded recently to help farm-based businesses get more Iowa-made products into the hands of local consumers. 

The Schultes plan to use their grant to build a farm business they hope will carry on to the next generation, just as the Benton County dairy and row crop operation was passed onto Austin by his parents. 

“Milk hasn’t been profitable much in the last decade,” Austin said. “We were looking for a way to add value to the product we produce.”

So was born the idea of creating their own cheese brand. The Schultes plan to use milk produced on their farm to make and package cheese. They will use the Choose Iowa Grant to help purchase cheese-making equipment and improve facilities.

“Cheese is less perishable than other milk products,” Jenna pointed out. “We can store it or ship it; it’s easier to work with.”

They are still finalizing their plans for the new business, like picking out a name and deciding on the specific cheese varieties they will make. 

But they have plenty of help in working toward their goals.

Austin and Jenna are working with Neville McNaughton and his company, Cheezesorce, part of Sanitary Design Industries of St. Louis.

“They call him Dr. Cheese; he’s the go to for this sort of thing,” Austin said.

They also signed up for cheese-making classes at Iowa State University, learning from dairy scientist Stephanie Clark, who heads up the on-campus creamery. 

The Schultes' aim is to add on to their existing barn, add equipment and start producing cheese early next year.

(Photo above: Dairy cows at Schulte Farm. PHOTO / CONRAD SCHMIDT)

Creating opportunities

They are working with Travis and Linda Schulte, Austin’s brother and sister-in-law, to sell products through their direct sales beef and pork company, Moovin’ Ridge.

“We’ve also seen a lot of support from local folks,” Austin said. 

Not only will thie venture offer the Schultes another revenue stream for their farm, it’s also creating opportunities for the next generation. The couple has three children, Caleb, 11, Cole, 8, and Grace, 4. Jenna said they want the kids to have the chance to run the farm themselves one day. 

“This is a way we can sustain the farm for our kids,” she said.

The Choose Iowa grant program included 13 projects this year, distributing a total of $250,000 in grants. Other recipients include Stens­­land Creamery in Larchwood, Country View Dairy in Hawkeye, Kerns Farms in Clearfield, T-A Family Premium Meats in Marquette, SkyView Farms in Nora Springs, Iowa Food Hub in Waukon, Franklin Street Brewing Company in Manchester, Whitetail Valley Farm in Stanton, Local Harvest CSA in Solon, Clear Sky Flowers in Leon, ChopLocal in Wayland and Brun Ko Farm in Exira.

“Iowa agriculture is the envy of the world as our farmers continue to lead the way in producing healthy, high-quality, affordable food. It is essential that consumers have access to the Iowa-grown products they know and love,” said Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Mike Naig. 

“The Choose Iowa grant program makes this possible through value-added projects that help Iowans grow their businesses and access new markets. I am proud to invest in these projects that continue to position Iowa as a top place to grow, today and in the future.”