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Laurel Valley Creamery: Winning Back the Family Dairy Farm

June 26, 2012

A 4th generation dairy farm, Nick and Celeste Nolan are living on over 100 acres on what used to be Nick’s grandfather’s farm near Gallipolis, Ohio. Like many kids raised on the farm, Nick headed off to college not planning to return. He became a food engineer, hired by General Mills to identify the processing requirements and packaging specifications for marketing food products to the general public. But the land called and 15 years ago they returned to the farm to run a permaculture operation with emphasis on sustainability.

They started with a larger dairy herd than they have now, supplying their milk to the regional dairy conglomerate. Over a few years they determined that there was no way a small farm could stay financially viable when the commodities market was actually setting the value of their product months after it had been delivered. As Nick watched manysmall family farms in his area fold, he was determined that they would be successful. It meant they had to rethink how they could produce the most income from the fewest number of cows, permitting the work requirement to be handled without the additional cost of a lot of hired help.


Celeste had already dabbled with making cheese and friends and family who tasted it gave encouragement to expand it into a commercial venture. So Celeste became the Head Cheesemaker and Nick calls himself the Head Entremanure, a play on the term entrepeneur and the medium he is often stepping in.

Careful selection of the breed of cow, the way they are raised from the time they are calved until they can join the herd in the pasture, the pasture rotation to maximize the nutrition available, and the kind of supplemental feed used all plays a part in how much milk is produced.

Nick’s day starts early and ends late as he milks 17 of his 35-head herd twice a day. Rotating the cows into the dairy barn four at a time, using milking equipment from the 1960s, takes a couple of hours from start to finish.

The cows produce 1500 pounds of milk every 3 days which Celeste turns into about 175 pounds of cheese. Between milkings, Nick repairs equipment and structures, supervises Nicole who is in charge of the pork production on the farm, trains their son Edgar on how to raise the calves into heifers, and transports the milk to the cheese room.

Celeste produces cheese from raw milk as well as homogenized milk and some are set aside for aging in another climate- controlled storage area. Her cheese making days take 12-15 hours, and she uses whatever breaks are in the process to cook meals, do laundry, pay attention to her children-all those normal household tasks that need to be done. A full day of work that starts before 9a.m. and ends after midnight is typical for both of them.

Those of us who have already been enjoying the Laurel Valley Creamery cheese know that this cheese is excellent. Soon, when the Wild Ramp opens, everyone will be able to enjoy. Soon, very very soon!!

  • 930 Laurel Road
  • Gallipolis, Ohio 45631
Phone  1 (740) 245-9044
13 Comments leave one →
  1. June 26, 2012 9:28 pm

    Great post! I hope they do extremely well in their venture and deserve two thumbs up!!!

    • June 27, 2012 1:06 am

      They’ve been doing well. Everywhere they have marketed, they have sold their cheeses easily. I was happy to hear they had a problem getting some of their product to one of the markets they had served before—that meant they had cheese for the Wild Ramp!! Selfish me!!

      • June 27, 2012 2:45 am

        not selfish…smart 🙂

      • June 27, 2012 12:10 pm

        Very smart. Growing up in the New York City area, I used to have an image of a farmer as a hayseed…some relatively simple person. However, I have been blown away not only by the numbers that not only have a college education but PhDs and also just the broad knowledge base they have to achieve their goals. To recognize a problem in the dairy agribusiness is one thing. To turn their farm around to find a market that will work economically for them is VERY smart! (Compare it to all the people moaning that they lost their job in the economic downturn and can’t find another..because they are unwilling to start over or drive or whatever to work. We city and suburban dwellers are lazy bums compared to the farmers I have been meeting.)

      • June 27, 2012 12:41 pm

        Almost to a person, every farmer and cattleman I know have sent their children to collage…most of them have majored in agriculture. Today you have to be an astute business person to make it. A farm or ranch is in fact, a multi million dollar business if you add everything up. I like the commercial where it shows a rancher and the narrator is saying. “Most jobs are 9 to 5. Ours is a 5 to 9 job!”

  2. June 27, 2012 1:16 am

    That is absolutely awesome and encouraging. I love to see people getting back to the land and putting the food supply back in the hands of local and responsible people. Exactly where it SHOULD be. If you don’t grow or forage for your own food, then by all means, KNOW YOUR FARMER!! It’s a win-win all the way around. And remember… friends don’t let friends eat GMO. 😉

    • June 27, 2012 12:14 pm

      This past weekend we had friends visiting from out of state and I looked at the meal we were serving….chicken from Avalon Farm (that we helped process), veggies from our Fish Hawk Acres CSA box, eggs in the lemon curd tart from Mil-Ton Farm…..the lemons, sugar and flour were the ONLY things from the grocery store!!! Our transition to local food continues and yet our food budget is essentially unchanged. When teh Wild Ramp opens in a few weeks it will make acquiring all these yummies so much easier for so many people.

  3. June 27, 2012 2:43 am

    I love it and I cannot wait for the Wild Ramp to open…!

    • June 27, 2012 12:10 pm

      Soon! Soft opening (no big fanfare made right away) in a couple of weeks but it will be open in July!!!

  4. June 27, 2012 4:17 am

    What a cool family. I love reading about small farmers that have figured out a niche and are making it work. Gives us all hope for the future!

    • June 27, 2012 12:03 pm

      I am gaining and regaining tremendous respect for the people I am meeting. Recognizing that the way farming used to be done no longer works economically has caused many people to quit but the people I am meeting have recognized that there is a tremendous need and a high value for producing excellent food. Providing a quality product for a niche market is smart thinking!

  5. June 27, 2012 11:53 am

    I love your stories about the small family farms. It’s very inspiring.

    • June 27, 2012 11:59 am

      I am meeting people whose work ethic put the rest of us to shame…they have a vision and they work very hard to achieve their goals. Hard work, long hours and low pay. And yet, many FEEL wealthy beyond the guy who has a lot in the bank because they appreciate better the value of their efforts to chase their dream.

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