The Crave Brothers’ Sustainable Farming

Food and Travel, Heroes, Regional Food
on April 11, 2012
herbed tomato salad
Mark Boughton Photogrpahy / styling by Teresa Blackburn

The Crave Brothers of Waterloo, Wis., have sustainability and recycling down cold. Not only to they raise all the food (alfalfa, soybeans and corn) for their 2,000 Holsteins, they use two-thirds of the milk produced (30 million pounds of milk each year) by their 1,200 milking cows to make cheese. And they generate enough electricity to power their farm, cheese-making operations and 300 nearby homes by using a methane digester to handle the “manure management problem.”  Even the whey that’s a byproduct of cheese making is recycled into fertilizer and feed. See the process:

Their 1,700-acre farm started out in 1980 purely as a dairy operation. But as the four brothers—Charles, Thomas, Mark and George—saw their own families grow, they realized that they would need to grow their operations as well. Instead of simply taking on more cows and producing more milk to sell in bulk in a market with wildly fluctuating prices, the brothers built a 6,000-square-foot cheese factory in 2001. Crave Brothers Farmstead Cheese now makes Classic Mascarpone, Fresh Mozzarella, Farmers Rope String Cheese, Les Frères (French for “The Brothers,” a rind-washed cheese available in 2 1/2-pound wheels), and Petit Frère (French for “Little Brother,” an 8-ounce version of Les Frères).

One would think that with four brothers running operations clashes would occur. But each has his own areas of responsibility: Charles, bookkeeping and feeding; Thomas, crop production and maintenance; Mark, herd and personnel management, and George, cheese factory management. Debbie Crave, George’s wife, is vice-president of Crave Brothers Farmstead Cheese and works in marketing. In all the brothers employ 6 members of their own family and 50 other dairy, farm and cheese-factory workers. It’s a family affair that works smoothly, garnering the family a 2008 Dairymen of the Year award.

Crave Brothers cheeses are available through Whole Foods and at Fromagination.

—By Candace Floyd