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Can a cheese CSA save this family farm?

How can you save a family farm? Keswick Creamery's answer is to eat more cheese.

The Newburg, Pa., dairy, a favorite at local farmers markets for its Dragon's Breath pepperjack and seemingly all-you-can-eat samples, is at risk of closing down, according to message on the creamery's Web site. "My parents are divorcing," writes daughter and cheesemaker Melanie Dietrich Cochran, "and my father insists on 'cashing out' his half of the farm, quickly." To buy his stake, Cochran and her husband, Mark, need to raise $300,000 by Sept. 1.

That's where eating more cheese comes in. To help raise the cash, the couple is offering a community-supported agriculture (CSA) program. Keswick's scheme is similar to traditional produce subscription. Customers pay up front, but instead of receiving a weekly box, they are given vouchers that they can use at Keswick stands at area farmers markets over the next five years.

A lack of cash to buy out one another is a plague for agricultural families. Land prices have risen significantly over the past several decades -- the Dietrichs bought their land in 1974 -- and it is difficult for a spouse or, after the parents die, one child to buy out other family members who hold a stake.

Keswick's CSA offers three levels of membership. A King's Share costs $1,000 and offers $1,500 worth of vouchers (limited to $300 per year). A Queen's Share costs $500 and offers $750 or $150 per year. A Duke's share costs $200 and offers $250 or $50 per year. Customers can choose to have large boxes delivered to their homes once or twice per year, depending on the share.

The program makes sense for loyal Keswick customers who help keep the farm afloat and, over time, get a discount on the cheese they love. But five years is a long time. If Keswick doesn't gather enough money or stumbles in the near future, will CSA members get their money back?

Keswick Farm did not return several calls for comment. For more information and a subscription form, visit Keswick's Web site. The creamery sells at farmers markets including Bloomingdale, Dupont Circle, FreshFarm by the White House, H Street and Takoma Park.

-- Jane Black

By Jane Black  |  June 17, 2010; 2:00 PM ET
Categories:  To Market, To Market  | Tags: Jane Black, cheese  
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I'd love to help out but a five year commitment is far too long for me. I hope they'll consider offering other options.

Posted by: arleneivana | June 17, 2010 2:57 PM | Report abuse

Keswick makes some fantastic cheese, we've been buying Dragon's Breath and others at the Takoma market for years now. Will definitely look into this, and hope others do too. I wonder, are they also marketing in the Philly & Baltimore markets as well?

Posted by: vtavgjoe | June 17, 2010 5:50 PM | Report abuse

Thank you for the posting. The short answer is yes, if the unthinkable happens the CSA members will get their money back. But keep in mind that Keswick Creamery has been successfully making and marketing cheese for the last 10 years while "renting" the farm - so the risk is not as great as with a start-up! And to answer the shorter time period question: if you enjoy Keswick cheese and you move out of the DC area you can always switch your subscription to the shipping option so you can enjoy the cheese at your new location. Cheese vouchers make great gifts too!

Posted by: keswick | June 18, 2010 8:18 AM | Report abuse

I am definitely thinking about doing this. I guess since there are no suppliers convenient to me, I will have to just go for the shipping option. I hope this works out for them.

Posted by: rukidding4 | June 18, 2010 11:44 AM | Report abuse

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