The mold-ripened goat cheese path to prosperity and enlightenment


by John Van Hecke | September 24, 2009 • Central Minnesota farmer Brad Donnay and his brother faced the same problem that my Belgian forbearers faced 120 years ago: not enough farmland. My family migrated to America. Brad started raising goats and making cheese.

I met Brad today at Surdyk’s Cheese Shop in Northeast Minneapolis. He was passing out samples and experiencing the same demand problem he faces on the farm. Cheese was moving faster than he could make it.

Hindsight is the official blog of Minnesota 2020. Hindsight gives the run down on the news that jumps out at us on the issues that matter. Often times these stories show us how much further we need to go to have the progressive policy realized in Minnesota.

Brad owns Donnay Dairy, a certified organic goat farm and dairying operation in Kimball, Stearns County. His brother has the 300 acre home place; Brad has ten acres. Where Brad milks 130-odd goats, his brother, also a certified organic grower, milks 50 cows. This is not the dairy industry of their youth. It is the value-added face of Minnesota’s rural future.

I learned most of this standing in about six square feet of space across from the cash registers while a good 30 people stepped around us, grabbing samples and shopping. Trying to be polite and not inhibit much-needed Minnesota commerce, I started to excuse myself, saying, “I’ll just visit your website. Do you have one?”

“Um, no. Sorry.”

“Oh,” I said, awkwardly, beginning to wonder who, in this day and age, doesn’t have an on-line presence?

“The truth is, I can’t keep up with demand so more advertising doesn’t really help me.”

That caught my attention. On a day that Minnesota’s State Economist affirmed a $4.4 billion state budget deficit and Governor Pawlenty hurriedly minimized this important forecast’s growth-stunting impact, I met a small business entrepreneur who couldn’t make cheese fast enough to meet sales demand.

Two and a quarter years ago, Minnesota 2020 launched by asserting an elemental rural economic development framework, effectively turning traditional economic development policy upside down. Rather than “chase smokestacks,” the conventional high risk, hail-mary-pass industrial expansion strategy, we think Minnesota should be focused on incremental growth.  Applying that perspective to Donnay Dairy, consider the local economic impact when Brad Donnay doubles his goat herd, doubles his sales and hires staff who, in turn, also live in Stearns County.

The money stays closer to home and Brad Donnay, his family, his community, and every Minnesotan benefits. That’s a tall order, particularly for a goat cheese maker, but I’ve tasted (and purchased) Brad’s chevre and his Granite Ridge Mold Ripened Goat Cheese and I think he’s up to it.