As many of you know, Alan and I live on a farm. While it’s no longer the operation it once was, it has given me a special affection for those who grow and raise food for a living – especially those who do so in a sustainable way. While I tend to feature artists on this site, I can’t think of a more essential creative profession than those who literally sustain their communities.
Kevin and Kristyn Henslee are the cheesemakers, farmers, and educators behind Yellow House Cheese. I asked them about the challenges they face both in general and during the pandemic, and they told me how authenticity and connection helped them emerge even stronger than before.
I hope you enjoy.
Cheesemaking is such a balance between art and science and Kristyn chooses to skew towards art in cheesemaking. The cheeses she creates are made with intention and inconsistencies are celebrated. Farming for Kevin is much more science than art, all while paying close attention to nature’s natural cycles. It’s interesting how far we’ve come since we started in 2011. We are much more conscious of how we are connected to the soil and community around us. Our mission is to uphold the tradition of the family farm in local agriculture. We do that through transparency in what we do and being accessible to our customers. It’s important to be authentic. We don’t try to follow trends or use buzz words. We find joy in connecting people to the food they eat and telling the story behind it.
Our biggest challenge is trying to gain customers and educate them about food choice. Food doesn’t have to come from the grocery store, delivery service or market. Food can come directly from the farmers who raise it in an easy to access way. We are working to grow our customer base where people can order online from inventory that flexes with the seasons and be delivered to their neighborhood on Saturdays. Kristyn works hard to be visually creative on social media to connect with customers and potential customers. We are selling our story and the easiest way to communicate that is on social media with photos and captions. Sharing the spectrum of struggles and successes as farmers shows our passion. Images need to be interesting and captions have to be educational and entertaining for us to be successful.
Working through 2020 ended up being the most beautiful challenge. The lows were so low (losing most of our restaurant & wholesale accounts) but the highs were so high (adapting to the marketplace with a grocery delivery service). Our customers kept us afloat. We were fortunate to have a loyal customer base before the pandemic and were able to retain most of them as we changed our sales focus. Before 2020, we primarily sold our retail products through farmer’s markets. Even though markets were considered essential and ran under a modified model, we didn’t think that it was the safest option for our customers or ourselves. We developed our grocery delivery to be non contact because we had health & safety in mind first. We were pleasantly surprised to realize that the grocery delivery made us more profitable and more importantly was much more time efficient for us. Farmers markets are long, exhausting, not always profitable as a vendor. Changing our sales model saved our farm. I don’t say that lightly. We are continuing to grow through the challenges and we are always so happy to share our farm with our community.
Thank you Kevin and Kristyn for sharing your passion and your story.
You can find them online at yellowhousecheese.com .