An Unexpected Startup

  • Article
  • October 7, 2015

When you think “startup business,” the image of a dairy farm probably doesn’t come to mind. People often assume that all farms started several generations ago, but, speaking from experience, I can tell you: that just isn’t true. And if you’re curious, starting a dairy farm in upstate New York isn’t quite like starting a tech company on the West coast.

For starters, unlike computers, cows are live animals that can’t be left for the weekend or holidays. As a result, our business is a lifestyle and something our whole family takes part in. Being a farmer also requires a tool-box full of skills, including being a sharp businessman.

My husband, Austin, and I first entered the not-so-forgiving world of startups in 2013 when our farm, Ivy Lakes Dairy, was established. Then, in 2014, I also started an independent human nutrition business: Farmstead Nutrition and Consulting.

To provide some background, dairy farming and I go way back. I grew up on a dairy farm, and Austin grew up dreaming that he might someday have a dairy farm. This started our farming passion (or healthy obsession) at a young age. As I helped on the family farm, I gradually became more interested in teaching my community about farming and how food is produced. Austin fed his hunger for farming by working on his uncles’ dairy farms. There he learned, worked, and then went to college for dairy farming, which is where our “start-up dairy farm” story really begins.

We met the two other couples at Cornell University where the six of us majored in Animal Science (in the dairy program) and all became friends. Although we had different skills and interests, we all shared a common passion for dairy farming and the pride we felt in caring for a farm that produces food for our country.

Throughout college, the six of us furthered our farming education by getting internships on dairy farms or with agricultural companies. During the semesters (and many times during class), the boys would draft plans for their dairy dream. While Austin played out his start-up on paper, I focused on studying agriculture and dietetics (human nutrition) to make a career out of agriculture and food education.

Our first startup, Ivy Lakes Dairy, was formed in February of 2013 when the partners entered into a joint venture with Todd and Nori Hathorn from Stanley, New York. At that time, Todd and Nori owned and operated Hathorn Farms with Todd’s retired parents, Tom and Barbara. Now, the 700-cow dairy farm operates as Ivy Lakes Dairy and is comprised of three partners: Austin, Garrett and Clayton.

Starting my own business was not a life-long dream—the idea evolved over time. I have always enjoyed people, and feel it’s extremely important to show consumers where their food comes from. I want them to know the large role U.S. agriculture plays in feeding America and other countries as well.

Over the years, this interest spread to additional work outside of my full-time job. In 2014, I decided (with Austin’s entrepreneurial encouragement) to make my business official, and Farmstead Nutrition and Consulting was born. Farmstead Nutrition focuses mainly on agriculture and food production education. Over the past year I’ve been attending speaking engagements throughout the Northeast in addition to working full-time.

Running one startup business (let alone two) is no stroll through the barn. With our farm only being in its second year of business, we have learned much, and have much to learn.

And starting up is only part of running a business. Yes, my husband now has a farm, but he is also an accountant, people manager, mechanic, pricing contactor, chemist, and is always on call. Just think of the time and work it would take to keep 700 women happy.

Many things come to mind when I think of what it took for us to be brave enough to start our businesses. We utilized our experience, college education, networking skills, mentoring relationships, motivation, and sweat to take our businesses from ideas on paper to real-life establishments.

Along with much support, we also hear comments, such as “doesn’t the risk scare you?” or “you are too young.” The way I see it, there is no perfect equation for starting a business (although there are many factors to consider). We are simply six people doing what we love, and right now it’s working for us.

It has been said that the average person will switch careers five to seven times in their life; I sure hope that by starting up young, we will beat those odds.