Small and Alternative Enterprise - Feature Farmer
Wesselhoeft Family - Ocheesee Creamery - Calhoun County - Florida
Among Calhoun County’s fields of cotton, peanuts, and soybeans, are the Jersey cows of Ocheesee Creamery. This third generation dairy is one of Calhoun County’s two remaining dairy farms, and one of only about 140 dairies in Florida. Because of fluctuating milk prices, a challenging economy, and the loss of small dairies since the 1990s, the Wesselhoeft family realized they needed to change their current operation if they were to survive. Thus began their vision of one day pasteurizing, processing, and selling their own milk products on site, rather than ship it elsewhere. Theirs is a great example of a value-added agricultural commodity.
The capital to invest in such a project was very difficult to acquire as many banks and institutions were unfamiliar with their goals. After 20 years of perseverance and mountains of paperwork, however, the Ocheesee Creamery became a reality in 2009.
The Wesselhoefts built a combination processing plant and storefront on their farm. The store has large glass windows so customers can view the bottling operation. The milk is sold in recyclable glass bottles. They chose glass bottles because they feel the milk tastes better, and because they are recyclable. They currently process fresh milk (regular, low fat, and chocolate), cream, butter, and yogurt with more goods such as ice cream and cheese to follow. Ocheesee Creamery is the only dairy in Florida that makes butter! Their products can be purchased directly from the Ocheesee Creamery, or from local farmer markets, and grocery stores.
In 1999 the Wesselhoefts were honored as the Calhoun County Extension Service’s Outstanding Farm Family because of their land stewardship, dedication to agriculture, and dedication to community. This family is proud of their farming heritage and mindful of how their management affects and influences the community. Over the years many 4-H youth, citizens, Extension clients and agents have toured this dairy operation. They are eager to promote awareness and appreciation of agriculture. They participate in NW Extension District Dairy group meetings and workshops, and value the services and information provided by UF/IFAS Extension.
A strong, diverse, agricultural community is critical to Calhoun County’s economy. Instead of becoming another statistic in today’s economy, the Wesselhoefts determination has energized Calhoun County. They are members of the Chamber of Commerce, and work with local and regional markets to sell their product. For example, their products are available in a number of panhandle markets, and other sites throughout Florida as far south as Miami. Their story has also been published in resources such as Florida Market Maker, 850 Business Magazine, and the FDACS Fresh From Florida online blog. The impact of Ocheesee Creamery, whether in published form, market items, or personal contact, has been a positive one for agriculture in the NW Extension District.
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