Jul 1, 2020
“I grew up in the suburbs of southern California and wasn’t around farming,” said Shereen Alinaghian, owner of Ardith Mae Farmstead Goat Cheese and a recent HVADC Farm and Food Funding Accelerator program (FFFA) graduate.
“I grew up in the suburbs of southern California and wasn’t around farming,” said Shereen Alinaghian, owner of Ardith Mae Farmstead Goat Cheese and a recent HVADC Farm and Food Funding Accelerator program (FFFA) graduate. Though she may have come to goat farming a little later than some, it’s clear through the quality and success of Ardith Mae’s delicious products that Alinaghian was born for raising goats and making cheese.
Running a herd of 60 Saanen, LaMancha and Alpine goats, the farm crafts a variety of French style cheeses. Ardith Mae has received oodles of well-deserved praise for their product line which includes a smooth and tangy Chevre, a briny Feta, a vegetable ash-aged Silhouette, a Camembert-like Mammuth, and more. All are made to the highest standards and enhanced in quality by originating from the farm’s Animal Welfare Approved operation and a happy, free grazing herd.
Alinaghian started her career in catering and food service. While working in NYC restaurants in 2002 she fell in love with the farmers’ market. So, in 2004, she and a former partner did a ten month internship at a Vermont goat farm. They purchased a herd of goats and built a farm and cheese making facility in Pennsylvania. In 2007, now on her own, Alinaghian wanted to move her operation to the Hudson Valley, the source of all that NYC market bounty that had sent her down the path to farming in the first place. She said she was also drawn by the way the community and agriculture organizations appeared to be welcoming and supportive to businesses like hers. The Columbia Land Conservancy helped match her with a farm in Stuyvesant, where she has been for 8 years. Seven years ago, HVADC had the pleasure of beginning its collaboration with Alinaghian, and she has worked closely with HVADC consultant and FFFA advisor Brian Zweig to navigate the complexities of the business end of running a farm.
“I can untangle a baby goat stuck in-utero but I really struggle with paperwork,” she said with a chuckle. “As a farmer you have so many ideas. HVADC really helped me find what was feasible and showed me how to make it stable. I’ve been working with Brian for so long, when he says something I did was right it’s like a ‘Dad’ moment. I would not have gotten this far without them. I would have folded years ago.”
With a little help and a lot of hard work, Ardith Mae was well positioned coming into 2020 and was developing its plans for the future, when COVID-19 turned everything upside down. Despite the tumult, Alinaghian never lost her footing.
“When the pandemic first hit we were very unsure how it would affect our market. We go to three farmers markets in the city and the Hudson Market. No one was really sure what would happen and all my staff dropped out. It left me in a very scary position.”
However, in this crisis, because Ardith Mae was well structured, Alinaghian found opportunities to adapt, fill a new need, and even grow.
“Something incredible happened. When we were short staffed, some very talented people who were out of work came to help me. A writer who needed work came on and now she’s my operations manager and is growing my business. An antique dealer friend has taken control of my market operations, staffing them and has been really incredible,” she said.
“I had goat farms calling me that were dumping milk,” she continued. “I thought, ‘I’ll buy the milk and see.’ I bought enough to increase production and business is up. We’ve been selling a lot more to food hubs and food businesses with delivery.”
“With her growing sales and expanding reach, last fall was the perfect time for Shereen to take advantage of the FFFA program. While her final pitch proposes one of the largest asks of the FFFA program, it includes solid financials and bold but realistic projections, and it is clear that Ardith Mae’s potential is limitless,” said Mary Ann Johnson, HVADC Deputy Director.
Part of the plan is for Alinaghian to purchase her own property and set up a new facility which can accommodate her growing business. Along with the new farm’s ability to support a larger herd and increased production of their existing line of popular cheeses, Alinaghian says it will also allow them to branch out into new products like yogurt and even begin catering services, taking advantage of Alinaghian’s background in the lucrative field.
Ardith Mae is now a standout in the Hudson Valley not just for its quality of product but for the way Alinaghian has adapted and thrived as a strong and successful businesswoman.
To learn more about the HVADC FFFA program, visit https://www.hvadc.org/farmand-food-funding-accelerator