By Lauren Moore, FSA Public Affairs Specialist
Generations of the Marcoot family have raised and milked Jersey dairy cows in southern Illinois since the mid-1800s. John Marcoot took over the operations at Marcoot Jersey Farm in 1979, starting the sixth generation of dairy farming for the family.
In 2009, John and his wife, Linda, told their four daughters that they wished to retire from the farm. They gave their daughters the option to either take over the dairy or pursue careers off the farm.
“We didn’t want to be the generation to break the dairy farming tradition,” said Amy Marcoot. She, along with her sister, Beth, decided to return to the farm and continue the family business.
While still operating the farm, the sisters wanted to take the dairy in a slightly different direction. Instead of selling milk, they decided to put all of their milk product into cheese production and open up a creamery. To help achieve this goal, the Marcoot sisters applied and secured a loan through the USDA Farm Service Agency’s (FSA) beginning farmer and rancher loan options.
FSA offers support to beginning farmers and ranchers through its beginning farmer direct and guaranteed loan programs. Producers who have not operated a farm or ranch for more than 10 years are eligible to apply for these programs.
Eligible beginning farmers and ranchers can apply for farm ownership loans, farm operating loans and microloans. Ownership loans can provide access to land and capital, while operating loans help finance the cost of operating a farm. Microloans provide beginning farmers and ranchers a source of financial assistance during the start-up years.
Amy and Beth opened Marcoot Jersey Creamery in 2010 and started making cheese, something they had not done before.
“I didn’t study to be a cheesemaker,” Amy said. “We did some training with a Vermont cheesemaker, Peter Dixon. However, most of the learning came from practice. It was tough the first few years. We worked very hard to make sure we could make great products for our customers.”
It took nearly two years to get the creamery built and operating. They currently produce over 15 types of cheeses, some of which are cave-aged.
“We built a man-made cheese cave for sustainability purposes,” Amy said. “The cave stays at the perfect temperature for aging cheese nearly all year. This allows us to save quite a bit of money on heating and cooling an aging room.”
In addition to making cheese, the Marcoots also educate consumers about the dairy industry and the importance of agriculture. Not only do they provide tours of their milking parlor, calf barn and creamery, but also host demonstrations and other educational events at the farm.
“We are constantly evolving to meet our customer needs,” said Amy. “We have quite a few plans for growth. Yet, we have to be careful and grow in a way that is sustainable and makes sense. In 10 years, I hope we are still making great cheese.”