Apr 30, 2017
Located in a small Washington County town called Argyle, is new goat dairy and goat cheese producer Moxie Ridge.
Located in a small Washington County town called Argyle, is new goat dairy and goat cheese producer Moxie Ridge. Owner Leah Hennessy has years of experience in all aspects of goat tending and goat cheese production, but this is her first solo venture. Hennessy purchased the business from a husband and wife team who recently retired from farming and cheese making, and has big plans to expand the operation. While it is a small farm, the former owners invested in some important infrastructure, including a state approved and inspected creamery on site. In 2016, Hennessy approached HVADC to participate in our Incubator Without Walls (IWW) program, which provides technical business assistance to farmers in any stage of their farm business.
Hennessy raises Alpine and Saanen goats, heritage breeds that are known for their high milk production. Hennessy manages every aspect of the farm, from raising to milking to cheese production. She makes farmhouse artisan goat cheese on site. Hennessy uses only horse power in the form of two Shire horses, whom she refers to as her co-workers, they help her with tasks that a tractor would normally do.
Hennessy does not come from a farming background, she grew up in a suburb just south of Albany with little exposure to agriculture. From a young age though she was fascinated by the farms that she did visit, in particular a farm near her grandparent’s house where she would go and watch the cows. She just assumed that every kid loved doing this, but it wasn’t until later in life that she realized farming was a viable option for someone that wasn’t born on a farm.
The path that led Hennessy to farming was an indirect one. She studied at a conservatory and graduated with a communications degree. Leah then moved to Los Angeles where she worked as an agent representing writers, directors and films. After a few years in Hollywood, Hennessy was ready for a change and delved into the wine industry – from sales to sommelier. While going out to the vineyards and meeting the growers, she caught the agriculture bug. After that, while on a work related trip to France, she met a woman who ran a goat fromagerie and realized that this what she wanted to do with her life. Hennessy was enamored with goat cheese even prior to the trip, she knew all of the California goat cheese producers, had books on every aspect of goat dairy management and cheese production, and was always going to cheese shops. But her experience in France was what really sealed the deal. Soon afterwards, Hennessy left Los Angeles and returned to the Hudson Valley, with the idea of making her goat dairy dreams a reality.
Before completely committing her life to farming, Hennessy wanted to learn how to farm and make sure that she could manage life as a farmer. She took classes at Cornell Cooperative Extension on general agriculture and agronomy, as well as online classes in animal behavior, welfare and nutrition. In the winter of 2015 Hennessy was hired on as the kid manager at Coach Farm in Pine Plains, with a total herd of 950 goats, 200 of them kids. Hennessy describes the experience as both incredible and incredibly hard. At the time she was living in Albany, driving 80 minutes each way to get to the farm and working 10 hour days. While at Coach she met her mentor, who she continues to work with today. Through her time at Coach she learned a lot about animal health, diagnosis and treatment. This is especially important with goats because as small ruminants they are not considered “valuable”, normally people don’t call vets in for a $300 animal unless something life threatening occurs. As a result, goat farmers have to be their own health experts, and Hennessy feels confident in her ability to do this.
Hennessy left Coach Farm after a major restructuring of the business. She took this as an opportunity to learn the sales side of the cheese business and worked as a cheese monger at the Cheese Traveler in Albany. Farming soon called her back, and Hennessy became the assistant herd manager at a small New York creamery. In January 2016 she decided it was time to start her own venture.
In the late fall of 2016 Moxie Ridge farm was formed, although she has only recently moved on to the land. She heard about the land through Farm Link and American Farmland Trust, but did not have the capital or the credit to purchase it. Hennessy reached out to the Agricultural Stewardship Association, a non-profit land trust, and they referred her to Dirt Capital Partners, a private company whose mission is to preserve farmland and support small farmers. Dirt Capital Partners then urged her to get in touch with HVADC, at which point Hennessy began participating in the Incubator Without Walls (IWW) program.
Hennessy states that IWW was absolutely crucial to obtaining the Moxie Ridge property and business. Although she has a background in business, marketing and goat dairy management, she did not have a lot of capital. IWW connected Hennessy with business consultants BusinessOpportunities Management Consulting (BOMC), and through working with them she was able to figure out how to sustainably scale up her business to support her full time. BOMC helped her pitch and present ideas to Dirt Capital Partners, which ultimately resulted in a successful offer on the farm and the business.
The IWW program again provided valuable assistance while Hennessy was working with the sellers on the offer. The process was layered because Dirt Capital purchased the actual property and farm buildings, while Hennessy purchased the business. This meant that there were 3 parties involved: the seller, Dirt Capital and Hennessy– HVADC provided Hennessy with a lawyer specific to agriculture who helped navigate the legal process of closing on the sale, as well as the insurance needs for the business. Hennessy continues to work with BOMC as she sets up Moxie Ridge’s books and applies for loans.
Spring 2017 marks Moxie Ridge Farm’s first season. Hennessy will be selling at the Saratoga and Glen Falls farmers’ markets, as well as on site at the farm. Hennessy plans to have agritourism be a big focus of the new business, she is establishing a farm stay, and plans on holding events such as a mother’s day baby goat party, baby goat pajama party and goat yoga with a local certified instructor. The combination of Hennessy’s marketing, business and agriculture experience, plus the guidance and support of BOMC allowed her to realize her dream of running her own fromagerie. Hennessy wants to provide connections, experiences and cultivate interest within the community, even to those not interested in farming.
Hennessy manages all aspects of the farm herself and as such, is not counting on a lot of time off in the next few years.
“IWW, first and foremost provided me with a business consultant – Business Opportunities Management Solutions – working with them was how I was able to figure out how to sustainably scale up this little farm in Argyle so that it can support me full time.”
In order to have one person working the farm, managing and milking the goats, making the cheese and selling, BOMC advised on expanding the creamery, installing a new parlor and pipeline, all details that will save Hennessy precious time and ensure that the equipment is able to accommodate an expanding herd. BOMC helped Hennessy to streamline processes, an essential component of a sustainable business.
Hennessy currently has 300 baby chicks, a laying flock of 21, 2 Shire horses, 16 baby goats, 7 adult goats, and heritage piglets will be arriving any day now. In addition to goat cheese, she will also be selling goat milk, eggs, chicken, and heritage pork.
“I could never have run all these processes by myself–let alone at a profit – without the changes that are being made right now thanks to IWW’s assistance.”
Hennessy strongly recommends that other farmers and farm businesses take advantage of the IWW, she describes it as “an absolute unicorn of agriculture. Being able to pick up the phone and call HVADC and become a part of the IWW literally saved the farm”. Hennessy says that she will spend the rest of her life extolling the virtues of the IWW to other farmers.
“There is no way that I could ever say enough good things about the IWW, it’s an incredible program that it is run by proactive people who understand what small producers go through - frankly, I hope that by the time this farm is profitable that I can give back to the program.”
Visit Moxie Ridge at a farmers’ market and on the farm.
Supporting passionate and dedicated farmers like Moxie Ridge and helping them reach their goals is what we do here at HVADC. Contact us and see how we can creatively work together to improve your business. HVADC strives to enhance the bottom line of farm businesses and strengthen the agricultural industry as a whole.