Ithica Creamery: AgStory
“We have cattle and goats and chickens, and we are busy all the time.”—John Carter
John sums up his and his family’s farm life quite well in those 14 words, but it certainly doesn’t tell the full story. In between the cattle, goats, and chickens is a life filled with passion, education, success, failure, entrepreneurship and most importantly, family. The Carter family may stay busy, but they take advantage of every moment to make it all count.
Neither John, nor his wife, Allison, are native to North Carolina. John grew up in Georgia; Allison in New York. Both went to school at the University of Georgia where they met; both received Animal Science degrees, John at UGA and Allison at Berry College. From graduation until now they’ve been involved in some type of animal production. It’s been their life.
In 2005, they moved to North Carolina for John’s job and bought property with the goal of farming through retirement. The cut over land had zero amenities so everything started from scratch. Cape Fear Farm Credit supported them through every step. When it came time to find financing for chicken houses, they spoke with several commercial lenders but when they met with a manager at Cape Fear, they felt right at home.
“She was great! She walked us through the whole process,” John explained about their Cape Fear representative. “They understand farming. That’s huge to us. It is more than a partnership; it’s a relationship. It’s much more in depth than I think most commercial relationships with bankers are.”
While Allison and John developed a passion for agriculture in college and worked for several large farms through the years, it wasn’t until they moved to North Carolina that they were able to embark on their own farm journey. They began that journey with two of their four children growing chickens for Perdue 14 years ago.
“It is a family farm adventure. Don’t get me wrong, it’s hard. Sometimes we have our struggles, but we just keep plugging along at it and see wonderful things come about from it,” John said.
The can-do, never-give-up mentality and passion for agriculture that John and Allison have are things they’ve tried to instill in their children. When their daughter, Stephanie, graduated from Appalachian State with a marketing degree, she returned to the farm.
“I did a lot of interviewing for different jobs and didn’t like what I’d be doing for some of the larger firms. So, I came back to the farm and thought about what we could create here,” explained Stephanie.
After some thought, she and her dad landed on the idea of starting a goat creamery. While Stephanie had experience with cattle and meat goats through 4-H, she had no experience with dairy goats or dairies. So, before starting the new venture, they knew they needed to do a lot of research. They toured dairies in North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Georgia, and Colorado and talked with farmers. During all of that, Stephanie and John decided to go ahead and purchase a few dairy goats to do hand-on research. Stephanie started experimenting with making goat milk soap and cheese for family and friends. They hired a cheese consultant. It took 2 years to for the creamery to be built and licensed.
“The first batch of soap was definitely a fail. I didn’t’ understand that there’s a key phase in soap making called tracing,” recalled Stephanie, “A neighbor of mine very nicely offered to step in and show me how to make soap. She also showed me how to milk my first goat.”
Through lessons, failures, and lot of passion, Ithaca Acres Creamery was established in 2017. Today, they produce goat milk cheese, soaps and lotions that they sell at farmers markets and local shops across the state.
Through their ventures, the Carters have been able to experience both the commercial side of agriculture through the chickens and the more local side through the creamery. However, the scope of jobs is very different. As Perdue contractors, the Carters’ and helpers care for the chicks for about 34 days, at which time Perdue picks them up, processes and markets the birds. In contrast, at the creamery, the family plus help, does everything from birthing the animals to packaging and selling the products. While overwhelming at times, it has allowed them to see agriculture from different perspectives. Their goal is to produce healthy and nutritious food for people to enjoy while at the same time helping them understand where that food comes from.
“I think that farming is just a great opportunity to contribute to society, to feed people—a basic need. It’s also a great opportunity to invite people out to see what farm life is like,” John shared.
The Carter family enjoys educating the public about farming and agriculture through opening their farm up to tours, bringing baby goats to farmers markets, hosting FFA and 4H students, working with extension agents, homeschool groups and any other opportunities that come their way.
“It blows people’s minds how hard farming is. I think there is this romantic idea, and we try to provide some reality to that romantic idea,” explained Stephanie. She went on to say that they are constantly battling misconceptions. “It’s been really interesting to get out there at a farmer’s market and explain why we produce our animals one way over another. I think a lot of farmers don’t have the opportunity to do that,” Stephanie noted.
One reason Stephanie so keenly advocates for the importance of education is because of her understanding that without other’s past willingness to share their knowledge with her, Ithaca Acres Creamery may never have existed. As a young farmer, Stephanie is grateful for the help of older, wiser more experienced individuals, farmers, business professionals.
“They were open and so excited to see someone from a younger generation show interest, because if we don’t have that, the industry will fail,” said Stephanie.
Both John and Stephanie know that getting the younger generation involved in farming is key. The average age of farmers today is 58 years old and increasing. It is vital to encourage the younger generation to get involved in farming. Stephanie’s advice to those looking to get started: find a good mentor, do an apprenticeship, work in the industry for a bit if possible, and have knowledge of what you are getting into.
“I would encourage anyone young to do it, but realize that it is a high-risk venture. It’s rewarding, but things are going to go wrong. Understand there is a love and a passion that goes into it, and you have to have that because that’s what gets you up every day,” said Stephanie.
For the Carter family, the joy of serving and feeding others makes every struggle and failure worth it. Farming is busy, but the moments in between the busy and hard work are what make it worthwhile, like the little 6-year-old boy at the farmer’s market who tasted some of Ithaca Creamery’s feta cheese, dug deep in his pocket, and with a big smile on his face declared, “I want to buy that!” It was his birthday money, but he totally bought what the Carters were selling—good food.