Grass Root Dairies
Grass Root Dairies (GRD) is a family-owned and -operated dairy farm situated in Salmon Arm, British Columbia. The business has been around since 1981, when the Gort family established the small operation after emigrating from Holland.
In 2007, Kathy and Gary Wikkerink purchased the farm, continuing the Dutch tradition of making fine natural Gouda cheeses and raising happy, healthy cows for a range of in-demand dairy products.
Kathy and Gary work on the farm with their two sons, Paul and Mark; each family member plays an important role in operations. The business also employs five non-family members in the production side of the business. The small staff takes great care and responsibility in providing high-quality dairy products for regional consumers. Additionally, the farm is open to visitors.
“One thing that is unique about our operation is that we process all of our own milk,” Kathy explains. “Our cows and bulls are 100 percent grass-fed, a factor that improves the health benefits of our products and animals. Our product line includes cow’s milk, yogurt and cheeses.”
While Gouda is the company’s strongest line, marketed as Gort’s Gouda Cheese, demand has been growing for all of the family’s healthy, natural foods.
While dairy products are the main commodities for GRD, the business is taking on science these days, as well. In 2013, a research doctor at nearby Thompson River University approached the Wikkerinks with an unusual proposition.
Working as a professor at the school, he first introduced himself to the family while working with a graduate student who was putting together a thesis on vitamin K2. Gouda cheese is naturally high in this vitamin, so the family farm seemed like a great backdrop for some research. “The Thompson River University first tested our cheese for CLA content, then the student doing his thesis on vitamin K2 was introduced to us,” Kathy clarifies.
The project has evolved in recent months and now includes a hydroponic grass system that will allow the Wikkerinks to provide fresh grass to their stock year-round. “The fodder system arrived two weeks ago,” says Kathy. “We just got the tools we need now. We will be working along the way with the professor from Thompson River University. He has tested all of our products, as well as every cow on the current system. He will be testing our animals and products when the system is up and running. This is to provide year-round grass to our grass fed animals; now in the winter months we feed dry hay to our animals – since from mid- to late October until early to mid-May there is no grazing done in fields.”
It is evident GRD takes great pride in its work. “First, he is doing the meat on our bull calves and bulls to see if it changes through any of the syntax,” she continues. “The research centers around the fats and vitamins in meat and dairy, so he wants to see what aspects of the end product change when we use this system. After that phase of the project, he will move to the dairy end and repeat the process with milk instead of beef, monitoring the same changes in congugated liniolic acid [CLA] and vitamins.”
Throughout the project, the Wikkerink family will maintain operations at the farm as usual. Customers will still be able to find the same tasty, natural products onsite and in stores throughout British Columbia. According to Kathy, the market has been great and demand continues to rise for grass-fed beef and dairy products.
“Our greatest challenge right now is keeping up with consumer demand,” she explains. “It has been integral to our success to listen to customers and hear what the demand is. We also need to keep the farm running as efficiently as possible, keeping our overhead low. We have strong values as a business and regardless of where the market takes us, we focus on keeping things environmentally friendly and rebuilding the environment around us.”
As grass-fed products grow in popularity, the company’s identity as a small, natural farm becomes more important and simultaneously harder to hold onto. Kathy and her family plan to keep the business small, especially as the second generation of Wikkerinks comes into the business.
“Our boys are grown now and have been in the business their entire lives,” Kathy notes. “They have both completed high school and while I always pictured them leaving to pursue degrees, they have been learning a lot about the business by working here.”
Paul and Mark are learning through experience and participating actively in the farm’s development. The expertise they are developing through practice will someday prove invaluable when taking over the family business.
Kathy mentions the possibility of diversifying the operation as demand grows for her family’s products, though nothing is set in stone yet. For the time being, the operation will prioritize quality production in a niche market that is becoming more popular day by day. In the coming years, Grass Root Dairies will continue to provide nutritious dairy products through low-impact natural farming.