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   from the issue of August 24, 2006

UNL entities help state business succeed


It started over dinner with friends.

DAIRY PRODUCT - Krista Dittman holds one of Farmstead First's cheeses called quark in her pasture. Dittman and Charuth Loth started...
 DAIRY PRODUCT - Krista Dittman holds one of Farmstead First's cheeses called quark in her pasture. Dittman and Charuth Loth started the farmstead dairy business with the help of UNL's Food Processing Center, the NebraskaEDGE program and the Nebraska Cooperative Development Center.

Two years later business partners Krista Dittman and Charuth Loth are at the beginning stages of having a successful farmstead dairy business.

Farmstead First's success, though, couldn't have happened without the help of UNL's Food Processing Center, the NebraskaEDGE (Enhancing, Developing and Growing Entrepreneurs) program and the Nebraska Cooperative Development Center.

"The university is a great resource to have right here and a good place for entrepreneurs to start out," said Dittman. "There are a lot of frustrating things about starting a business. One foot has to be tenacious and the other foot has to keep going and iron out all the bugs."

Dittman and her husband, Doug, operate Branched Oak Farm, and Loth and her husband, Kevin, operate ShadowBrook Farms, both near Lincoln. Together, the two women began the venture of artisan cheese-making through Farmstead First, LLC.

The idea to start a farmstead dairy came about two years ago, mainly because of the women's love of good food and wine, and they wanted to be a part of that.

"Right now we're seeing a resurgence of the interest in the production of farmstead cheeses," Loth said. "People are giving more thought to how their food is being produced. The organic food movement has influenced this, and also gourmet and ethnic foods have become very popular."

Farmstead First's cheeses will be made from the two farms' own grass-based Jersey cow and alpine goat herds.

The business won the most recent Nebraska EDGE Best Business Plan Contest, which includes a $500 prize.

It started with a call to the Nebraska Cooperative Development Center, said Elaine Cranford, NCDC coordinator.

After the initial consultation, Dittman and Loth went through the NebraskaEDGE program.

The business got its first break when it received a Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education grant and then a U.S. Department of Agriculture value-added producer grant.

The SARE grant allowed Loth and Dittman to work with the Food Processing Center's dairy pilot plant. As part of the SARE grant they also hosted a cheese-making workshop.

Loth and Dittman also went through the university's EDGE classes, did the feasibility study through UNL's Food Processing Center, took the Food Processing Center's Recipe to Reality course and then the From Products to Profit course.

Dittman and Loth received a travel scholarship through NCDC which allowed them to travel to an artisan farmstead cheese-making course at California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo, Calif.

"We have visited on-farm cheese producers in five states over the last two years," Dittman said. "What we have seen shows that it is possible to produce a quality and very safe product."

Branched Oak Farm offers a cheese called Quark, available at farmer's markets in Lincoln and Omaha. Dittman is getting ready to branch into a cow's milk mozzarella, and Loth will be making a goat's milk chevre, and both plan to work together to make an aged mixed milk - goat and cow - cheese.

For more information about classes or the NebraskaEDGE program, go online to

For more information about the Food Processing Center, go online to



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