As y’all know, we spent a week cheesing it up in Madison, Wisconsin, at the 30th Annual American Cheese Society conference this summer. Our time there wasn’t all play, though, as I also moderated a panel on crowd-funding in the cheese industry with Kickstarter alumni Gail Hobbs-Page of Caromont Farm and Carolyn Stromberg of Righteous Cheese. If you follow us on Twitter, you already got the play-by-play of advice shared (and no, to quash the rumors, I was not live-tweeting from the podium. Jill had that job.).
While a lot of food industry projects are raising funds to launch a new business, Caromont Farm was an established goat dairy, here in Virginia, ready to expand. After seven years, Gail had cultivated a steady business at Charlottesville farmers markets, with local restaurants and retailers. Her cheeses had even been picked up by Murray’s in NYC. Rapidly outgrowing their production capacity, they were making cheese in three batches a day, seven days a week to keep up with demand. A new vat would allow them to produce more efficiently, but came with a $35,000 price tag. Gail explored USDA and state grants, but ironically, her business credit was too good to qualify. Someone suggested Kickstarter and Gail thought, “Why not?” As she explained at ACS, running a crowd-funding campaign felt like a full time job on top of all the demands of keeping up on the farm — but ultimately, her campaign was successfully funded and the new vat was on its way to Esmont, Virginia.
Almost exactly a year later, this August, her Esmontonian took second place at ACS in the American-made, International-style goat cheese category.
Since ACS, the Redhead Creamery team from Minnesota has successfully raised creamery-building funds through Kickstarter, and Sheri LaVigne of Seattle’s Calf & Kid is currently campaigning to open the city’s first cheese bar. (Click here to back her campaign.)
In a time when the demand for American artisan cheese is growing faster than traditional financing can keep up, Kickstarter and similar crowd-funding sites can be a powerful tool. Considering crowd-funding? ACS members can download our powerpoint presentation from the conference website. If you’re not a member, or just want more individual advice, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. And if you’re running one, give us a heads up so we can share it!