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A 6th generation farmer revitalizing the family dairy. My small jersey cow dairy will supply premium milk to an artisan cheesemaker!

THANK YOU EVERYONE who made this a success. 

At 26 years old, I can make my career dreams come true right now because I've had the help and support of many incredible people.

We reached our funding goal, but donations continue to come in and I am so grateful to those people! I want you to know any additional funds will go towards purchasing a milk tank, a feed tank & feeders, alfalfa and grain. 

Here is another reward: I have a small flock of sheep, which will begin lambing any day. For a $100 pledge you can name and adopt a lamb!! Check it out in the rewards section!

Who?

I am Marissa Thornton, 26 years old and the sixth generation of my family to care for our 1,000 acre ranch. 

I grew up raising animals, which naturally led me to a B.S. degree in Animal Science. Since graduating, I moved back to the ranch to apply what I learned and start my own dairy business. Dairying is in my blood, and I can't imagine doing anything else with my life.

Marissa Thornton, 6th generation farmer
Marissa Thornton, 6th generation farmer

A couple of years ago I was introduced to Seana Doughty & Dave Dalton, owners of Bleating Heart Cheese. Early in 2013, they leased and renovated a building on our ranch, transforming it into a small but modern microcreamery. Bleating Heart now produces delicious, award-winning cheeses right here on the ranch.

Seana Doughty & Dave Dalton from Bleating Heart Cheese
Seana Doughty & Dave Dalton from Bleating Heart Cheese

What?

What is a boutique cow dairy? The definition of "boutique" is: 

  1. a business that serves a sophisticated, specialized clientele.

Most dairies these days exist for mass production of fluid milk. My "boutique" dairy will break that mold! I will be very small and specialize in high-quality milk sold exclusively to an artisan cheesemaker. Fortunately, I already have an artisan creamery located conveniently on my family's ranch, just waiting to buy my milk!

 What will the Kickstarter money do?

With $35,000* I can buy 20 organic Jersey Cows. The jersey girls will freely graze our 1,000 acres of pasture and produce an average of 700 gallons of milk each week.

 I will sell the milk to Bleating Heart, who will make small 150-200 gallon batches of cheese several times per week, yielding 600-700 pounds of hand-made cheese. (This may sound like a lot, but it's not - industrial cheese plants in California produce well over a million pounds of cheese per day!)

This is Sammie, who belongs to a local dairy friend. We will buy our cows from the farm where Sammie was born, but we can't buy Sammie because she is her owner's favorite!
This is Sammie, who belongs to a local dairy friend. We will buy our cows from the farm where Sammie was born, but we can't buy Sammie because she is her owner's favorite!
Wheels of a freshly made tomme-style cheese from Bleating Heart. Their handcrafted batches usually yield 30 to 50 small wheels of cheese.
Wheels of a freshly made tomme-style cheese from Bleating Heart. Their handcrafted batches usually yield 30 to 50 small wheels of cheese.

Where? 

one of the many majestic views on the ranch
one of the many majestic views on the ranch

Both the dairy facilities and Bleating Heart Creamery are on my family's 1,000 acre ranch, which is in coastal Northern California. 

150 years ago my ancestors immigrated from Ireland. They settled on the best farm land they could find, where the cool climate and lush pastures were perfectly suited for dairy cows. They established the dairy in 1852, and with each passing generation the business grew.

 In 1977 my grandpa built a new, bigger parlor for his 200 cows. My dad and grandpa ran the dairy business together until 2001, when my grandpa sadly passed away. My dad was forced to sell all the cows in order to pay off unexpected taxes he faced upon my grandpa's death.

 I was a kid at the time and absolutely heartbroken to see the family dairy shut down because it had always been my dream to take over the business someday.

The original dairy barn, built in 1852
The original dairy barn, built in 1852
This is the "creek road", a favorite hiking trail on the ranch that leads to Walker Creek
This is the "creek road", a favorite hiking trail on the ranch that leads to Walker Creek
The production room at Bleating Heart Creamery
The production room at Bleating Heart Creamery
Marissa in the milking parlor. This is where your name will be painted and become a permanent reminder to everyone, and the cows, that you backed the boutique dairy project!
Marissa in the milking parlor. This is where your name will be painted and become a permanent reminder to everyone, and the cows, that you backed the boutique dairy project!
young Marissa with the family cows that had to be sold
young Marissa with the family cows that had to be sold

Why? 

Ever since the cows had to be sold in 2001, I kept my dream alive. I pondered ways I could re-establish the dairy but with a different business model than most other dairies, who had to "get big or get out." 

 My concept is to have just a small herd of cows I can manage myself. This will allow me to have an intimate bond with each cow and make sure the girls are always happy and healthy. I want to see my premium milk made into a valuable end-product I can take pride in. When I see, smell and taste the cheeses Bleating Heart makes with my milk, I'll have the fulfillment of knowing my cows and I contribute to something truly special. I would love to see the soil, grasses and ocean air of my land and region reflected in the products. This was simply a vision in my mind until I met Seana & Dave. Now with our synergistic partnership, my vision has become a solid, feasible business plan.

Bleating Heart has been looking for a source of premium quality jersey cow milk in order to develop new cheeses. They recently won Super Gold for their "Fat Bottom Girl" cheese, and a Gold for "Ewelicious Blue" at the 2013 World Cheese Awards. Now they wish to adapt their award-winning recipes to create 2 new jersey cow milk cheeses. This will allow them to expand their selection of fabulous cheese and continue cheese production year round. With my small boutique cow dairy, Bleating Heart will have a guaranteed milk source and I will have a guaranteed buyer...right next door! It will provide more stable year round income for them and for me, making both small businesses financially sustainable, while upholding our mutual commitment to responsible stewardship of the land and the well-being of the animals producing the milk. Plus it will bring delicious new cheeses into the marketplace that we can truly say capture our terroir.

Young wheels of a tomme-style cheese from Bleating Heart
Young wheels of a tomme-style cheese from Bleating Heart
Wheel of blue cheee made by Bleating Heart
Wheel of blue cheee made by Bleating Heart

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*If your support goes beyond $35,000, the money will be used to buy a small milk storage tank, feed for the cows (to supplement their diet when there is no grass) and miscellaneous supplies for the milking parlor.

Risks and challenges Learn about accountability on Kickstarter

Getting the required permits and licenses is always a challenge for any business. Fortunately, I've already secured the necessary approvals for my small cow dairy operation. The final item I need (besides the cows!) is the dairy license which will permit me to sell my milk to Bleating Heart; even though they are making cheese right next to my milking parlor, I still need this license to legally sell them milk. I will apply for the license when the cows are on site and I'm ready to start milking. I've built a productive working relationship with my local dairy inspector. She has already visited the facility and will continue to be involved along the way, so I feel confident and well-prepared.

It may seem risky to have just one buyer for all of my milk, but we already have a milk contract for Bleating Heart to purchase all of the milk. Their business growth is dependent upon being able to turn more milk into cheese, so the risk of them backing out is extremely low. They are counting on this additional milk supply! In the unlikely event that the contractual obligations could not be met, there are numerous other artisan cheese companies within a small radius of my farm who would jump at the chance to purchase my jersey milk. I am confident that even without the contract with Bleating Heart, I would have no problem selling all of the milk my cows would produce.

FAQ

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341
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  • Pledge $10 or more
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    8 backers

    THANK YOU! You get a facebook shout-out thanking you for your support of small-scale, sustainable agriculture!

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  • Pledge $20 or more
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    72 backers

    DAIRY WALL OF FAME! Your name will become a permanent fixture in my dairy parlor, on the "wall of fame". Plus you get a Facebook shout out!

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  • Pledge $50 or more
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    5 backers

    A great quality jersey tee-shirt with my Marshall Home Ranch & Dairy logo and picture of one of my Jersey cows. Good for men or women!

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    Ships within the US only
  • Pledge $50 or more
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    56 backers

    FARM TOUR FOR TWO! You and a guest will come out to the ranch on a beautiful spring day for a complete farm tour followed by a cheese tasting with an assortment of Bleating Heart cheeses. We'll also write your name on the dairy parlor "wall of fame" and send you home with some cheese treats! (Dates to be arranged)

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    16 backers Limited (8 left of 24)

    VERTICAL TASTING EVENT IN THE CITY! An exclusive vertical tasting event that showcases the milk from the boutique jersey cows! This special seated event will take place in an intimate setting at Mission Cheese in San Francisco. Marissa from the boutique cow dairy and Seana from Bleating Heart will be your guides on this tasting journey, as you sample fresh-from-the-udder milk to curds to young cheese to aged cheese. We will throw in a little yogurt for good measure. This is a very special and super fun way to compare various products side-by-side that are made with the same milk. You will see and smell and taste how the boutique jersey cows have transformed the bright grasses, herbs, and flowers of the pastures where they live into luscious milk, and how cheesemakers at Bleating Heart transform that milk into cheeses with depth & complexity. The Mission Cheese gurus will also be on hand to school you in the basics of cheese tasting. To really round out the fun, we will pair the cheeses with local fermented libations, and other tasty cheese accompaniments. Join us for this exclusive educational celebration of small-scale dairying and cheesemaking! (this event will be held at Mission Cheese on Monday 06/02/2014 at 7pm, minimum age: 21)

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  • Pledge $100 or more
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    48 backers

    CHEESE LOVER EXCLUSIVE! Be among the first people on the planet to try the 2 new cheeses to be made from the milk of our lovely dairy cows! You will receive 1 lb each of 2 different cheeses handcrafted by Bleating Heart. Enough to share with family and friends! The cheeses will be hand selected, cut fresh from the wheel, and lovingly wrapped in special cheese paper. Accompanying the cheese will be tasting notes, serving information, pairing suggestions, and a frame-worthy color postcard featuring the boutique jersey cows. Your cheese will be sent in an insulated box to ensure a safe journey. This reward is also perfectly suited for gifting! (Add $15 for shipping & handling within the USA. Cheese shipments will be sent in May/June 2014 to allow time for the cheeses to mature)

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  • Pledge $100 or more
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    61 backers

    FARM-TO-FORK LUNCH FOR TWO! You and a guest will come out to the ranch on a beautiful spring day for a behind-the-scenes farm tour followed by a leisurely lunch enjoyed outdoors. The meal will be partially catered by famed Cowgirl Creamery Cantina, along with food from our farm and artisan cheeses from Bleating Heart Cheese.

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    8 backers

    ADOPT & NAME A LAMB! I have a small flock of sheep that will start having babies any day now. You will name one of my lambs anything you like, displayed on a name-tag around her neck. I will also send you pictures and an annual update on your lamb so you can keep up with how she's doing! Your name will also go up on the dairy parlor "wall of fame".

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  • Pledge $150 or more
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    1 backer

    A quality hooded sweatshirt with my Marshall Home Ranch & Dairy logo and picture of one of my Jersey cows. Good for men or women!

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  • Pledge $250 or more
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    5 backers Limited (10 left of 15)

    CHEESEMONGER EXCLUSIVE! When your customers saunter up to the cheese case, you can be impress them by being among the first retailers to offer the new jersey cheeses from Bleating Heart! You will get 1 wheel of blue cheese and 3 wheels of tomme-style cheese (approx 15 lbs total) to sell in your store. We will include tasting notes and a beautiful personalized color thank you postcard featuring the boutique jersey cows that you proudly display at your cheese counter. Your shop/store name will become a permanent feature on the dairy wall of fame, and we'll give you a Facebook shout out with a link to your store page. (shipping/delivery and exact dates to be arranged at the retailer's convenience)

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    Ships within the US only
  • Pledge $500 or more
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    14 backers All gone!

    ADOPT & NAME A COW! You will name one of my cows anything you like, displayed on a name-tag around her neck. I will also send you pictures and an annual update on your cow so you can keep up with how she's doing! Your name will also go up on the dairy parlor "wall of fame" and you will be invited to schedule a private farm tour and cheese tasting for up to 5 people. We will send you home with a generous cheese package after your tour.

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  • Pledge $1,000 or more
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    7 backers

    FARMER FOR A DAY! Share the fun (and the cost!) with three friends. To kick off the day you and your 3 guests will put on some barn boots and help me milk the cows. After that, you'll bottle feed calves, collect eggs from the free-range chickens, then take a hayride through the scenic pastures. Go for a leisurely walk down the creek road, enjoying the flora and wildlife. You'll have a gourmet picnic lunch near the water, complete with cheeses made from my cows' milk! Also, your names will go on the dairy parlor "wall of fame"! We will send you home with a generous cheese package. (Dates to be arranged)

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  • Pledge $2,500 or more
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    2 backers

    WEEKEND FARM STAY! A total farm immersion experience for two guests! 2 days/1 night on the farm. •Day 1: To kick off the day you will put on some barn boots and help me milk the cows. After that, you'll bottle feed calves, collect eggs from the free-range chickens, then take a hayride through the scenic pastures. Go for a leisurely walk down the creek road, enjoying the flora and wildlife. You'll have a gourmet picnic lunch near the water, complete with cheeses made from my cows' milk! Round out your day by enjoying fresh oysters and other local foods in one of our fabulous local restaurants, looking over Tomales Bay. •Day 2: After a farm fresh breakfast, you will put on a hairnet and an apron to spend a day in the creamery with the Bleating Heart staff, handcrafting cheese from the milk you collect from the cows the day before. Learn all about cheesemaking and affinage (the care of cheese while it's maturing) in a totally hands on intimate setting. Before you head home, you'll be treated to an evening cheese tasting with local libations. We'll also write your name on the dairy parlor "wall of fame" and will send you home with a generous cheese package. (Dates to be arranged)

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Funding period

- (32 days)