Apr 1, 2021
At the age of just 25, Dan Diehl has taken over operations of his sixth-generation family dairy farm. Formerly Diehl’s Homestead Farm,
At the age of just 25, Dan Diehl has taken over operations of his sixth-generation family dairy farm. Formerly Diehl’s Homestead Farm, Dan has already taken the first major steps to transform the struggling Sullivan County dairy into the diversified Ma & Pa Creamery. With assistance from HVADC’s Incubator Without Walls program and Cornell Cooperative Extension Sullivan County (CCE), the young business owner (and new father) is setting the family farm up to thrive for another six generations.
“I’ve been on the farm my entire life,” said Diehl. “When I was eight I started working with my uncle Jack. Two years ago I offered to buy it from him.”
The economic insecurity of dairy farming as well as generational ownership transition are two of the most difficult challenges facing agribusiness today. Dan, who always wanted to be a farmer, understood this at a very young age. He started talking with HVADC Deputy Director Mary Ann Johnson about his future farm when he first met her at the age of 14.
“Dan is an ambitious young man pursuing a life long goal of owning his own dairy farm,” said Johnson. “ I have had the pleasure of working with him on this project since he was in high school – before he was even old enough to apply for a loan! His persistence, fortitude and work ethic is admirable and I have no doubt he will do what it takes to make this business a success.”
The bills never seemed to stop piling up at the family farm and the Diehl’s milk buyer no longer even wanted to send a truck to pick up from the farm in remote Callicoon New York. So, Diehl decided that if he was going to make a life of farming he would craft a plan to start bottling his own milk and expand into making value added products like cheese curds.
In June of 2020, Diehl was awarded a $25,000 business grant by Sullivan County. Though he had ambitious plans for developing his own manufacturing facility on site, the first step toward his goal was to work with HVADC business adviser Brian Zweig to focus on improving profitability on the farm so it could support further growth and use this amazing but limited grant to its full potential.
Instead of investing in new equipment right away, Diehl’s growing network of support at HVADC and CCE found a smaller scale regional bottler he could use to produce inventory and establish a market presence. He also has been working with HVADC marketing consultant Diane Greco and graphic designer Laura Alosio to create a brand identity for Ma & Pa Creamery.
“Rather than invest right away in new equipment, we worked with Dan to start bottling with someone else and establish a customer base and build a track record in the market before establishing his own infrastructure,” Zweig said. “To his credit, Dan was open to it.”
However, while the project was shifting focus, and the pandemic was slowing everything down, there were deadlines that needed to be met for usage of the grant funds. HVADC and CCE staff and consultants often worked nights and weekends when needed to help Diehl find a bottler in Utica and produce new labels and bottle inventory. Diehl even tracked down a used delivery truck in Connecticut that fit in the budget, as well as some bottling machinery of his own for use down the line.
“The plan we ultimately came up with has much less risk,” said Zweig. “Now, at a smaller scale he can prove his concept.”
While the grant funding was the catalyst. The services provided by the business technical assistance professionals sourced by CCE and HVADC worked extremely hard to make sure a driven young farmer is set up for success.
“I’m 25 years old. There’s a lot I don’t know. Everyone helped so much,” said Diehl. “My Grandpa inspired me to do what’s right. Dairy farming is not the most profitable business but it’s the best.”
To learn more about how the HVADC Incubator Without Walls program offers Business Technical Assistance to farms and food producers, visit https://www.hvadc.org/incubator-without-walls.