A goat dairy near Dexter is suffering from its own success. What's been a labor of love for many years is becoming impossible to sustain without an infusion of cash. Ferns' Edge Dairy is turning to crowd-funding to stay alive.
Shari Reyna has been tending her Mt Zion Dairy Goat herd on this land southeast of Eugene since the 1970s. She and her partner Fred Warner own Ferns' Edge Dairy which produces popular chevre and other cheeses.
Reyna takes me on a tour of the dairy.
Reyna: "You can come in here. This is where we age our cheese."
Inside the cooler, she points to the aging goat goudas on shelves.
Reyna: "We're going to have caraway gouda very soon and cumin gouda…"
This is a farmstead dairy. The goats are milked every morning and evening and the milk is pumped directly into the dairy to be made into cheese. Ferns' Edge is the only goat dairy in Oregon licensed to sell raw milk.
Reyna: "We strive to be super-local, super sustainable, you know, and have these great relationships with other small farmers that is beneficial to all of us."
For example, the mushrooms for Ferns' Edge Chanterelle Chevre come from the vendor next door to her at the Farmers Market. The goats eat spent grain from local Agrarian Ales.
Goats relax in the shady barn near the dairy. Reyna says there's not enough room here for her to increase milk production. That's the problem. Ferns' Edge is successful and popular, but it can't meet demand.
Reyna: We haven’t had a herd big enough to, for example the raw milk, we haven’t been able to begin to fill our orders. And there's a waiting list of places that want to buy it, but we don't have enough."
Meanwhile, the cost of organic feed keeps rising. Alfalfa has to be trucked from Eastern Oregon-- and it's expensive. Reyna herself delivers cheese and milk to Portland, Corvallis and Salem in an old van with 300 thousand miles on it. She says she has never gotten any money out of the dairy.
Reyna: "Why do we do it? We produce a really excellent product. Our customers love us and we love our customers. We employ people that depend on us. But we have put money in every month and we've just frankly run out of money. We live on social security."
So, Reyna is hoping a Kickstarter campaign will help them expand the barn and pay for feed so that they can increase the herd and the supply of milk.
At the farmers market, it's clear the cheese is a big hit. Reyna and her assistant stand at a table with trays of samples of the many different flavors of soft goat cheese. People gather round tasting..
Customers: "So good. This is like our favorite. Phenomenal. I could eat one of these a day…."
Shari Reyna says if the Kickstarter campaign is successful, the funds will help the farm increase capacity and pay for feed. Otherwise, she doesn't think the business will make it. She says 4 other goats dairies in Oregon have gone out of business in recent months.
Reyna: "Having a labor of love is really great if you can afford it, but we've come to rock bottom. We have no more money to put into it."
Reyna is hoping to raise $60 thousand by September 3rd.